Nose Art and the Spirit of Our Military

 

The current establishment art world cultivates insularity and isolation as a means to prop up the vapid, dysfunctional art they favor. From sterile white box galleries to haughty elitist attitudes, lots of effort is poured into erecting barriers to separate the experience of art from the despised masses and the realities of life.

But art does not exist to be plaything for decadent crypto-Marxist hipsters. It is a vital outpouring of the human soul, a visual method of spiritual communication. Art can take on surprising and spontaneous forms in the strangest places to remind us of who we really are.

A species of folk art arose when we started taking our wars into the skies. In World War I, for a time the fighting aircraft were painted with bright colors and bold designs that evoked heraldry, like pilots were knights jousting in the air. This was abandoned once it was realized camouflage-type coloration increased survival rates.

Looks cool, but makes a great target.

But even after the overall military plane paint jobs were made to blend the sky, water or land, the crews of planes created art on them, adding a little twist of character and personality in the midst of the industrial scale organization and danger of war.

These weren’t the polite expressions of a genteel upper crust. These images were the anonymous graffiti of common guys living on the edge. Pinup girls, cartoon characters, and catch phrases decorated aircraft that were made to engage the enemy, to kill or be killed. As bands of men were sent to face destruction or victory, they adorned their aircraft with images of jokes, icons of power and lovely ladies. That’s the spirit!

These were images that said we’re coming to kick your butts to protect the things we love. Such a meaningful expression of human endurance and defiance in the face of overwhelming adversity is completely lacking in the cloistered stylings of establishment art today. What our cultural institutions are serving up is completely inadequate for the troubled times we live in.

May we come to have an art world with the urgency of a beautiful woman painted on a mighty flying machine, sent off on a mission of life or death.


A version of this article originally appeared in the blog The Remodern Review. Visit for more commentary on the state of the arts.

There are 40 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. ChrisFujita Inactive
    ChrisFujita
    @ChrisFujita

    Awesome

    • #1
  2. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Great post. The art on warbird noses seems closely akin to what I call graphic art. Do you think there is a relationship there?

    • #2
  3. Remodern America Inactive
    Remodern America
    @RemodernAmerica

    @chrisfujita, thanks! I wanted to honor those who’ve done so much for us. I’m impressed by their expressiveness.

    • #3
  4. Remodern America Inactive
    Remodern America
    @RemodernAmerica

    Songwriter (View Comment):
    Great post. The art on warbird noses seems closely akin to what I call graphic art. Do you think there is a relationship there?

    @songwriter, they are forms of graphic design; but in this case, all they were advertising was how badass they were, as American warriors.

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Now, that is some art.

    • #5
  6. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    James Jones copied this in his “WWII.”  Each of the caricatures is performing his in-flight duties.

    • #6
  7. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Randy Webster (View Comment):
    James Jones copied this in his “WWII.” Each of the caricatures is performing his in-flight duties.

    I like the guys with the slingshots and the one about to drop the brick.

    • #7
  8. Remodern America Inactive
    Remodern America
    @RemodernAmerica

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Now, that is some art.

    @arahant, the real thing, versus the artifice hyped by our cultural institutions. We now have an art world that specializes in intellectual approximations of art, not genuine visceral and transcendental experience.

    • #8
  9. Remodern America Inactive
    Remodern America
    @RemodernAmerica

    Randy Webster (View Comment):
    James Jones copied this in his “WWII.” Each of the caricatures is performing his in-flight duties.

    @randywebster, thanks for sharing, that is amazing

    • #9
  10. ST Inactive
    ST
    @SimonTemplar

    MISS LAID:  Try to get away with that in these days.  The entire crew would be courtmartialed.

    • #10
  11. ST Inactive
    ST
    @SimonTemplar

    Actually I seem to recall some guys got in trouble in one of our recent Gulf Wars for chalking some nasty messages on the bombs they were loading.  Even the military is PC to the point of insanity!

    • #11
  12. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    A few years ago I was at Ford Mustang rally and saw this one that had warplane-style nose art.

    • #12
  13. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    ST (View Comment):
    MISS LAID: Try to get away with that in these days. The entire crew would be courtmartialed.

    “We don’t/can’t *draw* that anymore.” comes to mind…

    • #13
  14. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    ST (View Comment):
    Actually I seem to recall some guys got in trouble in one of our recent Gulf Wars for chalking some nasty messages on the bombs they were loading. Even the military is PC to the point of insanity!

    ARRGGHHH!  (What happens if gals start doing/owning this, I wonder?)

    • #14
  15. Melissa Praemonitus Member
    Melissa Praemonitus
    @6foot2inhighheels

    Remodern America: These were images that said we’re coming to kick your butts to protect the things we love. Such a meaningful expression of human endurance and defiance in the face of overwhelming adversity is completely lacking in the cloistered stylings of establishment art today. What our cultural institutions are serving up is completely inadequate for the troubled times we live in.

    Yes, but we have Sabo :)

    • #15
  16. Remodern America Inactive
    Remodern America
    @RemodernAmerica

    ST (View Comment):
    Actually I seem to recall some guys got in trouble in one of our recent Gulf Wars for chalking some nasty messages on the bombs they were loading. Even the military is PC to the point of insanity!

    Such misguided ideas. They are missing a great chance to motivate the troops.

    • #16
  17. Remodern America Inactive
    Remodern America
    @RemodernAmerica

    Melissa Praemonitus (View Comment):

     

    Yes, but we have Sabo ?

    @6foot2inhighheels  He’s like a one man army himself!

    • #17
  18. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Not the greatest example of nose art, but I’m going to piggy back onto your post to pay tribute on Memorial Day.

    The gentleman 5th from the left in this picture is Arthur Holtz jr.  He was a friend of my fathers.  Career Army Air Corps, he was at Pearl Harbor on December 7th.  He went on to serve 25 missions over Germany as a flight engineer on B-17s in the 100th Bomb Group.

    He was killed in 1948 when his B-29 crashed into the Gulf of Egypt on take-off during a one leg of a series of around the world flights.  I’m not 100% sure if the plane shown is the one that crashed or not.  I have a few of his citations, including a DFC and the Air Medal with multiple Oak Leaf Clusters, as well as a copy of the telegram his family received after the crash,  and his 100th Bomb Group end-of war “yearbook”.  I have vague memories of his father, “Uncle Art”, who co-habited with one of my great-aunts until his death in the 1970s.

    • #18
  19. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    In Iraq, a platoon of tanks was attached to our battalion and the tank platoon commander’s tank was named the “New Testament.”

    Of course someone complained that it made us sound like crusaders.  (Sure, what’s wrong with that?) He changed it to “Pimp Juice” which sounds vaguely obscene to me.  I’m not sure how that was supposed to be better.

    • #19
  20. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    I found a picture.

     

    • #20
  21. Remodern America Inactive
    Remodern America
    @RemodernAmerica

    Skyler (View Comment):
    I found a picture.

    @skyler Preach it! Very awesome, and better than Pimp Juice. I’m not surprised the same fighting spirit I described still comes out in our troops.

    • #21
  22. Remodern America Inactive
    Remodern America
    @RemodernAmerica

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Not the greatest example of nose art, but I’m going to piggy back onto your post to pay tribute on Memorial Day.

    The gentleman 5th from the left in this picture is Arthur Holtz jr. He was a friend of my fathers. Career Army Air Corps, he was at Pearl Harbor on December 7th. He went on to serve 25 missions over Germany as a flight engineer on B-17s in the 100th Bomb Group.

    He was killed in 1948 when his B-29 crashed into the Gulf of Egypt on take-off during a one leg of a series of around the world flights. I’m not 100% sure if the plane shown is the one that crashed or not. I have a few of his citations, including a DFC and the Air Medal with multiple Oak Leaf Clusters, as well as a copy of the telegram his family received after the crash, and his 100th Bomb Group end-of war “yearbook”. I have vague memories of his father, “Uncle Art”, who co-habited with one of my great-aunts until his death in the 1970s.

    A nice tribute, thanks for sharing!

    • #22
  23. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    On Memorial Day weekend two years ago, my wife and I took a flight on a B-25 Mitchell, restored and painted in the scheme of another B-25 called Tondelayo.

    Here’s the pilot giving us the pre-flight briefing.

    There was some nice tail art too.

    Here’s my grandfather, 1Lt Duane Wilson, who was a navigator and bombardier in the 490th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) also known as the Burma Bridge Busters.  He served in India, China, and Burma on 49 combat missions and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.  As the navigator/bombardier, he would sit in the glass dome on the nose of the plane as they dove straight toward heavily fortified bridges in anti-aircraft fire to release their bombs.

    Here’s how exposed you are in the nose.  I never appreciated what a harrowing proposition that was until I sat there myself.

    • #23
  24. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    Remodern America (View Comment):
    They are forms of graphic design; but in this case, all they were advertising was how badass they were, as American warriors.

    Ha ha!! I LOVE this interpretation. And they were exactly as advertised, huh?

    • #24
  25. Crabby Appleton Inactive
    Crabby Appleton
    @CrabbyAppleton

    ” In bombers named for girls, we burned

    The cities we had learned about in school — ”

    Losses, by Randall Jarrell

    • #25
  26. Remodern America Inactive
    Remodern America
    @RemodernAmerica

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    On Memorial Day weekend two years ago, my wife and I took a flight on a B-25 Mitchell, restored and painted in the scheme of another B-25 called Tondelayo.

     

    @markwilson, thanks for sharing. What a great opportunity, and interesting images and perspective
     

     

     

     

    • #26
  27. Bill Walsh Member
    Bill Walsh
    @BillWalsh

    If anyone finds themselves in the vicinity of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, before the end of year, the Experimental Aircraft Association Museum (which is worth a visit in any case) has a great exhibit of nose art on loan from the Commemorative Air Force in Dallas.

    They’re entertaining pieces, some of which are executed with professional skill. And some of them are in a separate gallery behind some curtains as they are, of course, the products of young men far away from the company of women…

    https://www.eaa.org/en/eaa-museum/museum-exhibits/featured-exhibits/eaa-nose-art

    • #27
  28. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    On Memorial Day weekend two years ago, my wife and I took a flight on a B-25 Mitchell, restored and painted in the scheme of another B-25 called Tondelayo.

    The Wednesday before 9/11, I got to fly in the CAF B-17 Sentimental Journey, and bulldozed my way into the Bombardier seat in the nose for takeoff.  It’s a really out there and exposed feeling!

    My dad was a B-17 tailgunner (never in combat – the war in Europe ended before he shipped overseas.  They were transitioning to B-29 gunnery training  when the war ended), but you couldn’t get back to the tailgunner position in the plane.  That was a disappointment, but the flight was awesome.

    I have an essay at home that my dad wrote about the view from the tail position as 30-some B-17s maneuvered to form up in formation.  I’ll have to find it and post it.

     

    • #28
  29. Postmodern Hoplite Coolidge
    Postmodern Hoplite
    @PostmodernHoplite

    Regrets that I didn’t take a picture, but one of the M1 tanks my battalion loaded at Camp Spearhead, KU in 2004 was named “Dickins Cider”

    (Of course, this counts as “high comedy” for a tanker!)

    • #29
  30. Remodern America Inactive
    Remodern America
    @RemodernAmerica

    Bill Walsh (View Comment):

    https://www.eaa.org/en/eaa-museum/museum-exhibits/featured-exhibits/eaa-nose-art

    @billwalsh thanks for the link!

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.