In 1933, as the threats of World War II were beginning to take root, Duncan Phillips delivered an address called “Nationalism or Peace?” in which he voiced his strong feelings about the power of art to establish peace and world unity.
Art is surely one of the greatest natural links between the various breeds of men . . . the rallying point of opposition to all the destructive and anti-social forces which divide them. It offers the only worldwide currency of thought-exchange and self-expression.
Phillips wrote to a fellow activist in 1928, “I see how I can help materially, as well as morally, through an extension of our own work at the Phillips Memorial Gallery. Here in Washington, where provincial minded Congressmen meet, is not a bad place to foster the international spirit so necessary to world peace.” In the late 1920s and ’30s, Phillips curated exhibitions with the explicit intention of evoking peace by hanging works by artists of different nationalities side-by-side, calling one show “Art is International”. What we often view as Phillips’s pioneering artistic spirit–pairing what were considered raw American painters next to the old guard Europeans–was just as much an expression of his deep yearning for understanding and equality between nations and people.
Learn more about International Day of Peace here.