The setting could not have been better. The Society of Artistic Veterans hosted a fundraiser in the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, a venue that echoes with military history. Civil War soldier portraits gazed down from richly finished, wood paneled walls while voices from the current conflicts shared their stories and shared their art with the crowd.
The range of creative expression on display was impressive in both scope and impact, and perhaps the only possible criticism one might make would be the virtual absence of the female veteran experience. Nonetheless, the energy of the four-hour event hardly waned. Among the most notable (and there were many) parts of the evening were Matt Gallagher’s preview reading of his forthcoming novel, Youngbloods, and a sneak-peak, teaser screening of what promises to be a startling documentary, Jihan, which the organization pitched as a kind of flagship project. Between readings, screenings, and music, an exhibition of Jeremy Lock’s photography drew attendees into a different room to consider the impact of war and the nature of “the veteran.” A portion of Lock’s project, Twenty-One, filled one of the Armory’s historical chambers and demonstrated precisely why photography can be so important to a community. Lock, himself a veteran, conveys the intensity of a place by focusing on the lives of its people and the people who, for good or ill, have gone there for war, security, or motives beyond either. The work demonstrates precisely what photography can accomplish when labels like “journalistic photography” or “fine art photography” are set aside in favor of understanding art as work that shows us something about humanity in order to make us all human. Not remind us that we are. Not convince us or persuade us that we can or should be. But to actually foster within us a sense of human-ness by confronting us with our own limitations and our own small visions of an otherwise expansive world. His work alone made the night worthwhile, though I got the sense that, more broadly, a new artistic force is beginning to assert itself as a movement. Even if others aren’t yet aware of it, it promises to shape the artistic landscape. Denial won’t save us from it, but if this night is any indication, we won’t cling to our denial: we’ll be cheering the movement’s historic arrival.
Roger Thompson is the Senior Editor for Don’t Take Pictures. His critical writings have appeared in exhibition catalogues and he has written extensively on self-taught artists with features in Raw Vision and The Outsider. He currently resides in Long Island, New York and is a Professor at Stony Brook University.