Sunday, 10 August 2008

WILLIAM A. SMITH



During World War II, the illustrator William A. Smith was sent by the OSS to China, where he spent time behind enemy lines working on the propaganda war. It was an eye-opening experience for a boy from Ohio, and he drew everything he saw.



He drew soldiers on a bumpy flight in the back of a C-47 aircraft. He drew Chinese children playing in the street. He drew vanquished japanese prisoners in camps. You can see his thirst for knowledge in these wonderful drawings.














I find it uplifting that, in the midst of war, an artist retained such curiosity about the world around him and such sensitivity for his subjects. There is a lot of humanity in these drawings.



It is especially interesting to contrast Smith's personal drawings with the propaganda drawings he was doing at the same time (caution: some of these are a little raw).









Smith's personal drawings were clearly an educational process. He learned a lot from keeping his eyes open. On the other hand, his propaganda drawings demonstrate none of the same effort. Great art enriches us by exposing us to the complexity and nuance of life, but in times of war complexity and nuance can be a hindrance.

These twin sets of drawings are a good example of why William Butler Yeats said, "We make rhetoric out of arguments with others but we make poetry out of our arguments with ourselves."