Conceptual Art and Vietnam War

For our final unit in grade 11 we went in depth into the Vietnam war. As you know from previous posts, every year we participate in two exhibitions every year. This year we presented our themes of the Vietnam war in a way that had never been done before in PLP, using conceptual art. 

Now the first question you are probably wondering is what is conceptual art?

My Conceptual art:

Examples of conceptual art:

Conceptual art is all about the idea behind the art, not the art it self. I was a little optimistic at the beginning about the fact we had to make art since I am not an artist. However, we were reinsured that our art didn’t have to be a masterpiece, it just had to have a solid idea behind it. The idea/story becomes the machine that makes the art. I was happy to hear that to make good conceptual art you don’t need any artistic skill or any technical abilities.

Interestingly we looked at the neuroscience behind it:

In class we looked into the neuroscience behind conceptual art, this made me really think about how to get my art piece to catch someone’s eye. It is all to do with what people find appealing to the eye. It is about what colours, form or even the spatial arrangement. The main questions is “What is beauty in the brain?”. Interestingly the simplest art is the most appealing, reduction and constant. It makes people focus on the things or concepts. For contrast the article was referring to the artist placing an object within a specific context, to make the art noticeable.



The Research…

We did a lot of lessons on conceptual art and some activities where we had to try and figure out what the artists story was. It was pretty challenging at times to try and figure out the idea behind it. It was interesting to hear everyone’s perspectives of the story, since everyone had a different take on the art. That just shows that with conceptual art, the audience can interpret the story how they want. I was surprised on how many stories can be made from just one piece of art.    

With all that knowledge of conceptual art, our task was to create conceptual art to represent an aspect of the Vietnam war. We learned about the Vietnam war in class an then our teachers had to go on a trip with another class. That being said, we were given the resources we needed to learn about the Vietnam war independently. Our teacher had spilt up the war into themes (ex; leadership and decision making, who fought in the war, how the war was fought etc).

We were told that when they come back, we would have an “exam” on the Vietnam war… We thought they were kidding but they came back and gave us a test, half multiple choice, half written. We never received our marks for the written but lets just say I should have studied more for the multiple choice!

By the time they got back, we were able to sort the class out into themes. I chose to focus on leadership and decision making. When we were learning about the war, there was a lot about Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) sending troops to Vietnam. I thought it would be interesting to do some further research on his decision to deploy more troops. Something that I was unaware of, was how fixated LBJ was on the number of Viet Cong killed vs US killed. He even manipulated the statistics to make it look like more Viet Cong where dead when of those numbers weren’t just Viet Cong but civilians and US troops. 

“I counted sixty-two bodies, when he later read the official tally of dead, he found that it listed them as 130 Viet Cong killed”(Turse, p 210).”

For our art work, since we were creating a gallery we had to write a historical and ethical judgment piece to go along with our art. The historical paragraph basically explains what my piece is and what it is all about. To constrict these paragraphs we went through a process of getting our pitch approved. The first pitch was not to satisfactory so I had to revise my writing. I actually decided to slightly change my idea and I did more research on my new topic so I could write a well written paragraph. 

Historical paragraph During Lyndon B. Johnson’s (LBJ) presidency, he made some clouded decisions that could be argued as morally wrong. LBJ did anything he could to halt the spread of communism, such as being fixated on inaccurate statistics of deaths in the war. This was to show that America was governing the Viet Cong in North Vietnam. His ideology was that if there were more Viet Cong deaths than US troops, America’s propaganda made the public believe that they were winning. LBJ was so obsessed with the numbers, that he demanded that his troops were to “Kill any thing that moves”(Turse, p 211). This implies that US troops were detonating Vietnamese villages, or even shooting at unarmed women and children in the area, “I described them as so many women between fifteen and twenty-five and so many children, usually in their mothers arms or very close to them.” (Turse, p 212). At the time American civilians were oblivious to what LBJ’s intentions were. In this situation LBJ was not the enemy, he was escorting the US to “victory”. However, from a troops perspective they could all see through LBJ’s plans and it was obvious to them that the deaths were being miscounted on purpose,. “I counted sixty-two bodies, when he later read the official tally of dead, he found that it listed them as 130 Viet Cong killed”(Turse, p 210). Moreover, LBJ wasn’t aware that by sending more troops to Vietnam just widened the war. In reality the constant deploy of troops blocked any kind of victory for the US.
Artist Statement In my art piece, I wanted to reveal the unknown truth about what LBJ was suppressing to the public. I think that when people think about sending troops to Vietnam, they don’t consider what was really happening behind the scenes. Even I was unaware at the beginning of how LBJ managed to persuade government to keep sending more troops until it got to around nine million troops. I found it really upsetting that LBJ was sending troops based on inaccurate statistics. In my art piece, as you look through the tunnel, you will notice more and more troops until they block out the light at the end of the tunnel. This exemplifies that by sending more troops to Vietnam, just widened the war. The troops at the front is what the American public saw, just Viet Cong deaths. However, if you delve further into LBJ’s decision you can see that unarmed civilians and American troops were being killed at a higher rate than the Viet Cong.



The Building…

My art work wasn’t too difficult to build. However, it was definitely time consuming. It involved multiple trips to the Dollar Store to pick up more paint or lollipop sticks. Essentially I used a giant card board box to be the tunnel and then I just create a bunch of people representing Viet Cong, civilians and US troops (read historical paragraph to find out what they mean in my piece). It was challenging to place the figures in the tunnel so you could see them all. I also had to find a very bright light to light up all of the people. I chose to use tissue paper so that it would look cool when a light is shining from the back. 


The exhibition…

For the exhibition we had the trouble of dividing up us up into rooms. We wanted people with the same sort of ideas to be in the same room. Mimi, Simon and I all had a similar topic.

We were focused on the troops that were sent, therefore we were all in the same room. We had our usual chaos an hour before the exhibition started with not finding enough curtains and making our room fit the theme. 

Over all I would say that the exhibition was a success! We got a lot of  really positive feed back on our projects. Also as I was explaining my project to the parents, I realized how much I really learned about the Vietnam war. I had a quick look at my peers projects and it really showed that I think our grade got a good grasp on the Vietnam War. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *