Of Arms and Artists brings those turbulent negotiations to volatile life, while delivering unexpected ironies ... The book is furnished with 16 pages of handsome color plates, which give some notion of the paintings’ quality. It also supplies black-and-white reproductions of them on the pages where they’re mentioned, for handy reference ... Staiti, in casting an analytical eye on the paintings, can’t always compete with the dramatic lives he’s recounting. But he does drive home two points very effectively. First, the art of the American Revolution was as much about 'spin' as documentation...Second, bitter conflicts between the Founding Fathers could give our present-day Congress a run for its money.
Staiti’s group portrait permits comparisons of the painters’ various paths to artistic accomplishment and reveals the mix of cooperation and competition that shaped their careers ... Staiti, in the end, is less concerned with the painters themselves than with the legacy of their prodigious talents.
In Of Arms and Artists, their experience in and depictions of the Revolution provide an effect similar to a series of well-done portraits introduced by a knowledgeable guide ... Mr. Staiti, too focused on a Patriot-Tory dichotomy, dismisses the painting ['Watson and the Shark'] as portraying an insignificant event in the life of the unsympathetic Tory Watson and calls the inclusion of a black man a 'cynical propaganda stunt' to criticize the Revolution’s slaveholders.