The Things They Carried: the Paintings

In 2010 and again in 2011, New York based artist Steve Mumford was embedded with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. He documented his time with the troops through a series of paintings, which were later published in Harper’s Magazine.

FIRST, Click the image below to view all the paintings published in Harper’s.The Things They Carry Mumford

Learn about what inspired Mumford’s paintings by clicking here. You can also view more of Steve Mumford’s “Baghdad Journals”―a collection of sketches and paintings from his time in Baghdad―by clicking here.

SECOND, read this Daily Beast article in which Steve Mumford discusses his experience being embedded with the soldiers.

THIRD, below are other galleries featuring artists whose work also explore the nature of war and wartime. Browse through the galleries.

ANSWER / REFLECT (notebook is fine):

  1. Which Mumford painting is your favorite? Why?
  2. What do the Mumford paintings (a particular favorite or all of them) convey about war? How do they compare with reading war literature like The Things They Carried? In other words, how does the medium (painting) affect or inform the purpose?
  3. Why do you think Mumford would use O’Brien’s novel as the title for his series?
  4. Comment on the ways in which other artists depict war through art (additional galleries).


7 thoughts on “The Things They Carried: the Paintings

  1. I thought these pictures were an interesting take on war. Similar to O’Brien, Mumford focuses on the soldier’s lives, not necessarily the battles or violence. He paints the downtime in between battles, not the killing. O’Brien described the war as long stretches of boring “drudgery” mixed with exciting moments of violence. I noticed how the paintings were not extremely realistic, which I found interesting. My favorite painting was “Kids Scrambling for Candy, Baghdad”. This one was surprisingly happy, and showed that there can be beauty in war, which was one of O’Brien’s points.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For some reason, my post from Friday must not have loaded, sine it isn’t here as I’m checking now…But I loved these paintings so much. I think these paintings convey innocence and honesty in their medium, but darkness and violence in their content, which is also how I feel about TTTC. My favorite painting is the painting of the dog. I found this painting to be very different from the others, and it is one of the few photos that really shows gore, which plays into the honesty aspect of war and shows an immense sense of reality. I also really love the way that other artists can showcase war in abstract ways as well. For example, Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” is very abstract, but very busy and constantly causes you to see new things in the painting each time you look at it. I noticed this when I saw it online after seeing it in real life this past summer, and I believe this is very similar to how a lot of people view war.


  3. My favorite painting was the one with the village elders and the soldiers sitting in the shade sipping on their water. Although you can clearly tell their differences from their clothing, both groups seem more humanized as they are avoiding the sun. This also brought them together in a way that looked like cooperation instead of opposition. Similarly, in all of Mumford’s paintings I felt a sort of casual and matter-of-fact atmosphere that could only be shown through pictures. Like “The Things They Carry” the paintings were of singular moments, but the fact that they did not tell a complete story but just a mere shot set the paintings apart by allowing for personal interpretations. As for the title, I feel that it gives a theme and content to the paintings. They are not just for art and beauty, but for a deeper reason: to show the soldier’s lives and what they went through.


  4. Like Patrick, the painting of the village elders and soldiers sitting in the shade was my favorite. The differences between the two groups is clearly apparent, but their common activity overshadows these differences. The way the painting shows that people from two entirely different worlds can sit down together and have a civilized conversation made me like it a lot. I think that that the paintings are similar to TTTC in the sense that both the novel and paintings were very honest. While the painting/writing was beautiful, neither tried to hide reality. This was especially evident in the painting of the dog. I believe Mumford likely used O’Brien’s title to pay homage to a previous artist who had a similar purpose for their craft. Both men worked to help others who had never fought understand war through several short scenes. Contrastingly, while looking through the galleries I noticed that the style of the Civil War painters was very different. They focused much more on the landscapes of war, rather than the lives of the actual combatants.


  5. My favorite painting of Mumford’s is Kid Scrambling for Candy, Baghdad, because it shows that despite the war going on, the soldiers and people around them can still be in good spirits. I also like it because it is so different from most war paintings, photos, or sketches because it is so colorful. The Mumford paintings convey that war is bloody, gruesome, and painful. Yet, at the same time, it is strengthening, compelling, and invigorating. War can also be sacrificing, helping, healing, and generous. I think that Mumford used The Things They Carried, as the title for his series of paintings because the title, along with the story so perfectly portray his artwork. You can see the worries and strife in the eyes of the soldiers. I find it interesting the way that other artists portray war through art. A lot of them aren’t singling out particular soldiers or events happening, some are just painting the landscape, the sunrise or sunset, they are showing how the Earth is at this time.



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