Responding to Veteran Art

“We all look at the same things, yet see different things.”
~ Claude Monet

Myles, William - Short Timer
Visit the Inspiration Gallery

The National Veterans Art Museum has a growing body of artwork in our permanent collection. Currently, there are more than 3000 works of art submitted by more than 300 artists. In the Inspiration section, we have curated 200+ images to get you thinking. The subject matter in the works is as diverse as the experiences of the millions who have served, as is the medium chosen by each individual artist. Much of the work conveys emotions not possible through written or spoken words. Using the artwork from the permanent collection as a jumping off point for your submission provides not only valuable insight into the experience of others, it also helps to get the conversation started between yourself and others. The more who understand the true impact of war on those who participate, the deeper the discussion—and the understanding—becomes for the community at large.

How to respond to Art from the Permanent Collection

When you want to respond to veteran artwork from the NVAM Permanent Collection, it is important to know how to look at art critically. Here are some pointers for looking at art with a critical mindset and considering not only the artwork, but the mindset and mood of the veteran when they created the piece. Remember that much of the art in the collection is made by veterans who chose visual art as the form of expression over words. The imagery they have created speaks volumes about their biographical experiences and more importantly, their military service and/or combat experience. What they could not — or would not — say to others is being expressed through a visual medium that speaks volumes about how their service — and war — has affected their lives.

How to look at Art critically.
  1. LOOK

Take time to look at the work of art.

  • Take in the entire work of art, paying close attention to details. Ask the question, “What do you notice?” and take inventory of everything you see.
  • Look at a work of art for 30 seconds, and then to turn around and try to remember everything you observed. When you are looking at the work of art again, what are the details that you remember. What did you overlook?

Talk about what you see in the work of art.

  • Describe all of the things that you see. Explore line, shape, color, composition, material, and subject matter.
  • Use expressive language to describe what you see in detail. For example, instead of saying, “I see the sky,” you might say, “I see a dark, foreboding sky full of heavy clouds that sulk across the composition.”
  1. THINK

Interpret and assign meaning to the work of art.

  • Consider the following in the artwork:
    • What story is taking place? What is the setting, or the time and place depicted?
    • What is the mood of the work? How do you know?
    • What is this work of art about?
    • What do you think the artist was trying to communicate through the creation of this work of art?
    • What is the artist saying with the image that they can’t convey with words?

Relate what you see to your own life, or to other works of art or images you have seen.

  • Consider the following when engaging with the work:
    • What does this work of art remind you of? Why?
    • How does this work of art relate to an aspect of your own life?

Compare this work of art to other images/objects that you have seen, either in a museum or in your everyday life. How are they similar? How are they different?

How does veteran art compare to other genres of art?

What is the lasting impression of the work?

When considering veteran artwork, what aspects make it different from other artwork you have seen?

Ultimately, what does the work of art say about military service or combat as experienced by the veteran?

See the below links for more places on the web to learn about critical thinking as pertained to the visual arts.

ART 100  – Art Appreciation @ Open Course Library

Art Appreciation @ @

Art Appreciation @ Canvas Network @ Canvas Network

Tips for Critical Thinking @ Ruth Catchen

Art Criticism @ Incredible Art Department