Veterans Day Through The Lens of Art

Painting of the Battle of Waterloo by artist, George Jones
The Battle of Waterloo, 1813-1869, George Jones. Heritage Images/Hulton Fine Art/Getty Images

Veterans Day is a day to honor all veterans who have served in the American military forces. The day was proclaimed a national holiday by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954.  It commemorates the month, day, and hour - November, 11 at 11:00 am - that World War I ended in 1918 with a truce between the Allies and Germany. This day became known as “Armistice Day.”  Also read History of Veterans Day for more information.



Military art has been popular throughout history, from Ancient Egypt on, as rulers have always celebrated and marked their victories, commissioning artists to portray victorious battles. It took longer for the negative consequences of war to become subject matter for paintings. But those soldiers in the field who sketched what was going on around them were able to convey that emotion and trauma and have contributed much to our understanding of the experience of war. 

  • The British Broadcasting Company's list of the 10 greatest paintings of war shows the celebration of the victories of battle and the ravages of war through historical paintings by famous artists depicting the evolution through time of an understanding of the consequences of war. The paintings include those by Diego Velazquez, Peter Paul Rubens, Benjamin West, Kathe Kollwitz, and Pablo Picasso, among others. 
  • The Library of Congress has a collection called The Art of War, including sketches, drawings, paintings, and photographs by war veterans.
  • The Public Broadcasting Station has compiled a list of World War II combat artists, They Drew Fire, Combat Artists of World War II,  with a link to their artwork and a description of the artist.


    Every year on November 11, our country honors and celebrates the men and women who have served in our armed forces.  There are solemn ceremonies and speeches, prayers, and national recognition of those who have sacrificed for their country at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. 

    • For information about events in Washington, DC on Veterans Day see Veterans Day 2016 Events in  Washington, DC
    • The National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, IL has ongoing exhibits.
    • There are also smaller exhibits of art throughout the country that recognize those who have served, with art created either by veterans or as a tribute to them. Check out the local art museum in your city or town to see what they are planning for this day.


    • For those veterans treated in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national health care system, you can participate in the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. 
    • The Veteran Artist Program, currently located in New York City, but also creating programming across the country, is an organization that helps artists who are also veterans market their work and develop their careers through networking, mentorships, collaborations with professional artists, and original productions. 
    • The Vet Art Project website states, "The Vet Art Project provides opportunities for veterans and their families to work in collaboration with artists to create art about war and service, and to foster discussion about how war and service affect us all." Their website homepage concludes with the following quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, global spiritual leader, teacher, author, artist, and peace activist: 

    "Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, understanding, and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again."

    Art has always been a way to process the effects of war and communicate responses to it. It can also help bring about individual and societal healing, leading us closer to a more peaceful world.

    Further Reading

    Promoting Peace Through Art

    What is the Purpose of Making Art

    Picasso's Guernica Painting

    Painting and Grief

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    Your Citation
    Marder, Lisa. "Veterans Day Through The Lens of Art." ThoughtCo, Nov. 11, 2016, Marder, Lisa. (2016, November 11). Veterans Day Through The Lens of Art. Retrieved from Marder, Lisa. "Veterans Day Through The Lens of Art." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 21, 2017).