The Art of War

Posted on Jun 14, 2013 in blog | 2 Comments

“All warfare is based on deception.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Nowhere is this more true than in the recently aired PBS documentary, The Ghost Army, a fascinating revelation of how the United States army used weapons of mass deception to help defeat the Germans in key battles of World War II. A wildly improbable scheme of recruiting artists to create armies of inflatable artillery accompanied by convincing soundtracks actually succeeded in deterring the Germans from invading undefended areas.

I’m still fixated on the tanks. For my 3D design class, I had to create an inflatable sculpture as an exploration of volume and scale. Equipped with an electric iron, plastic garbage bags, and borrowed hair dryers I succeeded only in creating a sagging air-filled blob. Mine was a Sad Sack indeed, especially when compared with the tanks and airplanes fabricated from sheet rubber inflated by air compressors and camouflaged to fake out the German army. In their free time, the artists hung out in Paris bars and spread lies to be picked up by German spies or cranked out amazingly beautiful watercolor paintings. Not surprisingly, many of these men had successful careers in fashion, design, and painting after the war.

ink sketch and water color of resting soldiers tank the-exhibit-catalog-renderings-and-images-of-a-few-of-the-artist-warriors

“Art is a deception that creates real emotions – a lie that creates a truth. And when you give yourself over to that deception, it becomes magic.”
— Marco Tempest

Without leaving my living room, I have been transported from the trenches in France to Renaissance Rome. With some sadness in my heart, I am anticipating the final episode of one of my favorite TV series of all time: The Borgias. Filled with sumptuous art, costumes, intrigue, passion, violence and improbable historic figures, what’s not to like? This show makes you root for dastardly bastards and makes incest seem like a good idea. If that is not movie magic, I don’t know what is. One episode in particular intrigued me: A Beautiful Deception. In it, a woman disguised as a man creates art for the pope. In a gutsy move, Cesare Borgia commissions her to make plaster cannons to deter the French army from invading Rome on its way home from Naples. The ploy works. Turns out, this event never happened. But I *believed* that it did because the makers of the show created a world in which this sort of thing could have occurred. For example, there are many visual allusions  to Da Vinci’s inventions, which include tanks, cannons, and flying machines. It made me want to delve deeper. I went online and I also bought a book on Lucrezia Borgia, who will not come fully into her own by the end of the series. That is the power of art–it fills you up and leaves you wanting more.

Da Vinci Tank

Da Vinci Tank


Da Vinci Cannon


  1. Cathy Hurst
    Oct 11, 2013

    I don’t know how I missed this post when it happened, but in any case I’ve forwarded it to to the Ghost Army filmmaker, Rick Beyer. I know he’ll love your description of trying to make a tank!

    • sarah hage
      Oct 11, 2013

      I want to buy the DVD and share it with my watercolor and sculpture professors at LA Valley College. It is perfect to show in the classroom.


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