Art in Times of War

While art and war may seem mutually exclusive at first glance, the brutality and destruction of the First World War undeniably inspired many an artist. In the BIE-region, soldiers and civilians alike showed their creative side through works of art, often made from war objects.

Trench art is a collective term encompassing a wide range of artefacts created by soldiers in the front line trenches. Items like rings, letter openers, ashtrays and matchboxes were made from obus shells, bullets and other military by-products. Other soldiers designed postcards to send to the home front. Trench art pieces were often send to family and friends, or brought back home as a souvenir. Some soldiers sold their work to make a penny on the side. Trench art served primarily as a way to pass the time during the long waiting periods on the front lines, but it was not uncommon for people on the home front to engage in similar creative activities.

Behind the front lines, painters and draughtsmen used art to give a voice to the intense emotions the war instilled. Most artists carried sketchbooks around and completed their drawings after the war. Especially church towers, whether intact or destroyed by gun fire, were frequently depicted in their work.

Beside visual art, a lot of music was composed and performed during the war. Music chapels played an important role in improving the morale of the troops, and in helping the soldiers blow off some steam. Recitals were not restricted to marches and parades; soldiers often held concerts in casinos and soldatenheims, or in market places and squares, where they could also be enjoyed by the local population.

Furthermore, countless soldiers and civilians registered their war stories and experiences in diaries, letters and notebooks, many of which were published after the war.

Photo: collection Johan Vandekerkhove