The Ghost Army—Sketching in Extreme Situations

August 17, 2014

ArthurShilstone_resources-GAPR6PaintingofSurprisedCyclistsLeft: Sketch © Arthur Shilstone. A painting of two Frenchmen surprised to see 4 G.I.s lift a tank. Used with Permission of the Ghost Army press materials.

My friend Charlie keeps up with World War II history documentaries and books. Recently he told me about the documentary "The Ghost Army." I believe he caught it on Netflix. I found it on Amazon Prime.

If you are interested in art, sketching, or what happened in WW II you need to see this video. You'll see how the 1100 American G.I.s of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troups, known as the Ghost Army, fought the war by artfully creating fake convoys, phantom divisions, phoney radio broadcasts—in short put themselves at risk to practice deception and confuse the Germany forces.  

You'll also see the wonderful sketches and paintings these men, many of whom were recruited from art schools, created during quiet moments, and not so quiet moments. You may also be surprised to learn how many of these young men went on to have careers in art. (I won't spoilt it by listing them in case you don't know.)

This is a short, wonderfully produced documentary that you must watch.

After watching it I went in search of a book containing all the art I'd seen in the film. I found "Artists of Deception: The Ghost Army of World War II" which is a 48-page catalog for the Ghost Army museum exhibit. Unfortunately all my favorite sketches from the film are not included here, but there is enough great stuff that I'm really glad I have the book. It makes a nice reminder. I guess I'll have to buy the DVD too!

If you think your sketch adventures are intrepid, or fraught with obstacles you need a wake up call. This is extreme field sketching beyond your imagination, a grueling sketch out like no other; with the artists doing what they always do—looking closely to observe their world. The documentary is also a very clear answer to "why draw?"

    • Kate
    • August 17, 2014

    Oooh. I’m going to have to go check this out now.

    • Nita
    • August 17, 2014

    I found this PBS documentary listing on ccombat artists, don’t know if we can find it online yet. PBS doesn’t seem to offer their stuff in streaming mode:

  1. Reply

    I’ll look for this Nita! Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Reply

    what a cool tv series this story would make… Better than MONUMENT MEN, which never seemed to convey the importance of the mission in an emotional way…

  3. Reply

    What an amazing movie! I found it on netflix last night after I read your post. I loved the sketches and the concept of the ghost army. I think I am going to show it to my students to emphasize the importance of creativity. Its going to blow their minds (as it did mine!) Thanks for posting about it.

  4. Reply

    Ellen, it would make a cool series or full movie.

  5. Reply

    Claudia I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think it would be a great documentary to show to students!

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