Art of the Vietnam War


Art is an extraordinary vehicle from which to view the world. Like poetry, and writing generally, it affords the creator a new means to express his/her thoughts and emotions. Composition joins with color and texture to offer new perspectives from which to view historical events, traumatic experiences, and haunting questions.

The visuals that follow in this section of the curricula, as well as the headers used for illustration, are part of the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum (NVVAM). Visit the Internet site,, and view the large number of artists.

Activities: The Vietnam War Through the Eyes of Artists

In this section of the module you will find a number of representative art works that draw on the Vietnam War. Each piece evokes special feelings for the person seeing it, and tells a story. The story might not be the one  the artist envisioned, but that is the beauty of art, what appeals to one person can be totally different for another.

Activity One: Learning to Look*
Use the steps below to help you relate to a piece of art in this section.If you have an opportunity to locate the picture in full color, make a copy from which to work.
  1. Select a piece of art in this section of the module with which you want to work.  Remember as you look at the art that there is no “pre-determined truth” about the piece.
  2. View the image silently.
  3. Ask: What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that?
  4. Write down your comments. Consider the entire picture. Select portions of the piece in which you are interested and comment on them. Think about shades of light and darkness. Consider the images. What strikes you as being of primary interest? What questions does your piece bring up? What life lessons does it offer? How would you explain the piece to others?
  5. Discuss your piece of art and share your ideas with others. Take turns explaining your piece. Ask for comments after you offer yours. Accept each person’s comment without judgment. Remember that art is subjective.
  6. Encourage more input. Notice how each person’s thinking evolves, and how some observations and ideas stimulate others, and note how opinions change and form.
  7. As this activity ends summarize what was learned through the exercise. Comment on how viewing art is an ongoing process and consider what skills are required in “viewing” art.
*The above exercise is based on the Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) based on the research and developmental theories of Abigail Housen, a cognitive psychologist, and Philip Yenawine, an art educator.

Activity Two: Looking at the Work of One Artist


Locate the works in this section by William Dugan, “Back in the World Again” and “I’m so Short, My Head Hurts;” Keith Decker, “Four Untitled Pairs” from his Vietnam Petrospective series; and Richard Russell Yohnka, “This is How You Died (The End)” and “Echoes.” Select the works of one of these artists. Look at the works to determine if the theme of the pieces is the same or different. What are your feelings as you view the works? How does the subject matter, the movement of the work, the tone impress you? Write out your thoughts. Read the artist statements. Compare your emotions and feelings to those expressed by the artists.

Activity Three: Reacting to a Statement, Part I

Select a piece of art that “speaks” to you. Read the statement by the artist. Read it again. Write down a few words or phrases that immediately come to mind. Decide on creating your own work of art, a drawing, a painting, a sculpture, or any other type of two or three dimensional art. After completing your piece analyze how your work is similar to or different from the original piece you selected.

Activity Four: Reacting to a Statement, Part II

As in the previous exercise selected a piece of art that “speaks” to you. This time don’t read the artist’s statement. Look at the piece and jot down the feeling you have about the piece. Write the artist statement as if you created the piece. Compare your statement to that of the artist.