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Expressing The War Experience | Southern Illinois Veteran wins national arts competition

The Southern Illinoisan - 2/2/2023

Feb. 1—MARION — War is ugly, and those who fight are forced to cope with its aftereffects. For some, creating art is one way to overcome the traumatic experience of military service.

Army Veteran Joe Stanfill is one such person who has found psychological healing and health through art. Through digital art and creative writing, Stanfill has been able to put into artistic form his painful memories of military life, while channeling his creative and emotional energies into creation instead of self-destruction.

"Expressing yourself through the arts is a great way to relate the lived military experience. One of the problems veterans face is returning to a civilian population that has a hard time understanding. Art is a way to bridge that gap and inform, while simultaneously releasing pent up emotions," Stanfill said.

The arts community within the Veteran Affairs has taken notice of Stanfill's artistic endeavors. This past summer, Joe represented Marion and took home two gold medals in the categories of creative writing and art at the National Veterans Creative Arts Competition.

"It's an honor to have been able to compete with my fellow veterans. I honestly did not think that I would win, or even place for that matter. You put yourself out there in an intimate and vulnerable way, and to have that end product be recognized is an amazing feeling," Joe said.

The Veterans Arts Festival has had a venerable history going back to 1981, fashioned by the leader at the time of recreation therapy. Since then it has taken different forms, and is now open to those who are enrolled in a VA Healthcare facility. The festival exhibits the artistic achievements of Veterans from all over the country in each of the five artistic divisions.

This April marks the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival's 42nd year. From April 10 to 17, gold-medal artwork from over fifty categories will be on view, including Joe's digital art.

"The most rewarding thing in terms of my art is watching someone else look at the finished product and seeing the light go on in their eyes. The need to tell the military story is what keeps me creating," said Stanfill.

Stanfill creates his highly dramatic digital art works from a photograph, then applies subtle manipulations with computer programs and AI technology. From these processes, an expressive and meaningful work of art emerges.

Veteran-Artist is perhaps a confusing if not contradictory term, since Veterans are supposed to be hard as stone, disciplined and regimented killing machines. But there is life after war, and many great artists were also warriors once, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Bob Ross to name just a few.

"I do think that there are misconceptions among the civilian populace about who veterans are," Joe said. "The unique thing about art in all forms is that it is a very human form of communicating ideas to others. I don't know that I think about righting these misconceptions when creating art, rather it is a natural byproduct of doing so."

Though Stanfill's digital artwork is somewhat devoid of "happy little clouds" and "happy little trees," there is some truth in saying that his creative process is a byproduct of making many "happy accidents."


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