Art Works Blog

The Soul of America: The Arts and the Military

About the cover: Lance Corporal Nicholas G. Ciccone by Michael D. Fay, a portrait drawn during their duty in Afghanistan. Ciccone committed suicide in 2003. Courtesy of the Art Collection, National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, Virginia

This week on Art Works we're featuring stories from the latest edition of NEA Arts, which focuses on the intimate relationship between the arts and the military. As we write in the editors' note, from the plays of Aeschylus to Walt Whitman's poems to war memorials such as August Saint-Gauden's Civil War sculpture of Robert Gould Shaw and the all-black 54th Regiment, "there has always been an overlap between conflict and creativity." In this issue we take a look at NEA-supported programs, such as Blue Star Museums and Operation Homecoming at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at Walter Reed National Military Hospital, as well as artist occupations within the military itself, including the musicians who play in military bands and visual artists who work alongside troops, capturing on-the-ground visual testimony of U.S. military engagements. And, of course, no look at the arts and American military personnel would be complete without the United Service Organizations (USO), which for more than seven decades has employed the arts in service of lifting the spirits of troops at home and abroad.

In our first story---The Magic of the Arts: Using Creativity to Help Heal Troops---Rebecca Gross looks at the ways creative writing and visual arts therapies are being employed at NICoE to help troops cope with a range of physical and psychological ailments, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. In this story we meet not only the dedicated staff involved in this pioneering project, but also E-4 Army Specialist James Saylor who knows first-hand the healing power of the arts. Here's what Saylor had to say when we first interviewed him for NEA Arts:

“There are times that I’ll wake up and not remember my dreams, I’ll just be furious all day long. I won’t want to be around anybody, I don’t want to do anything, and I don’t know why…With art and stuff like that, I take my irritability and my anxiety and I can get that down on paper, or I can write words to whatever song I want to and express how I’m feeling. It’s a way of actually regaining control over the way I feel."

Visit to read the full text of The Magic of the Arts and browse the rest of the issue, including several online-only features.

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