The Essence of War

Jacob Lawrence’s War Series is based on his experiences while serving in World War II with the United States Coast Guard. Describing his intentions for the series, Lawrence explained:

“In approaching this subject, I tried to capture the essence of war. To do this I attempted to portray the feelings and emotions that are felt by the individual, both fighter and civilian.”

After your students have looked at the two images in the series, Beachhead and Victory, read them Lawrence’s quote. What emotions do they think Lawrence has tried to portray? How does he show them? What do they think Lawrence means by “the essence of war?”

Is he successful in capturing it in these works? Why or why not?

Ask students to gather images from magazines and newspapers of two current wars. How do the images of those wars compare to Lawrence’s depictions of war? How are they similar or different? What do Lawrence’s works add or leave out?

Abstract artwork of soldiers by Jacob Lawrence.

Jacob Lawrence, War Series: Beachhead, 1947. Egg tempera on composition board, 16 × 20 in. (40.6 × 50.8 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Roy R. Neuberger  51.13  On view

© 2009 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York