|Social Realists||Unit 7|
|Franklin Delano Roosevelt became
president in 1933 and tried to pull together a country which had nearly been destroyed by
Depression. Agriculture was in desperate straits as markets crumbled; the nation's
breadbasket was a dust bowl.
Twenty five percent of the labor force was unemployed. Once-busy cities were grinding to a stop.
Roosevelt worked to rally a demoralized people with his inaugural address: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
The New Deal put the U.S. on the road to recovery. Business which suffered a $2 billion loss in 1932 had a $5 billion profit in 1936, but labor was still behind (5 million people were out of work) and totalitarian regimes were gaining power abroad.
Many artists rejected fashionable, intellectual abstractions; they wanted to paint perfectly real, recognizable subjects.
- American Scene painters emphasized virtues of idealized rural past
- Social Realists attacked head-on the injustices and dehumanization of industrial and urban life.
The latter included Ben Shahn, Raphael. Moses and Isaac Sover, Reginald Marsh, Philip Evergood, Peter Blume, Jack Levine and George Tooker.
From 1933 on, artists were assisted by variety of government bureaus: Farm Security Administration, Federal Housing Administration and especially Works Progress Administration.
architects: design housing projects
photographers: record tragedies of ruined farmers and eroded land
writers: record state and regional histories
composers and playwrights: produce symphonies and plays for people who previously had known only second-hand recorded music and movies
painters: cover walls of public buildings with murals, supply pictures for small-town museums, schools, traveling exhibits
The Federal Art Project was abandoned in 1943 after 3,600 artists created 16,000 works in 1,000cities.
Murals illustrated familiar scenes appropriate to their settings in bus and airline terminals. radio stations, schools, housing projects: trains pulling into stations, crowds at work, events in history of transportation and communication. Unfortunately, many were destroyed or painted over. The artists were influenced by
1) fresco painters of Renaissance
Diego Rivera Mural Project
more about Orozco
The latter influence involved:
American artists became convinced art should serve higher purpose.
The WPA made important contributions even though few murals or other art of any consequence have survived. It radically altered the relationship of art and artist with the art audience and society. Effects of the WPA included:
1) no formal distinction between
These artists sometimes took active roles in politics. In 1936 they organized the Artists' Congress dedicated to propagandizing antifascism.
One of principal themes involved the worker and his plight. Social Realism emerged from a graphic tradition of magazine illustration and poster art, sometimes consisting of little more than stylized drawing. Art was seen primarily as a means of communicating a social message.
American Scene: caricatures
For some artists, the reality of the 1930s was too oppressive to deal with realistically, so they excaped to personal fantasy (such as Surrealists).
Social Realists believed that art was an integral part of society.
The artists came from a wide range of backgrounds, from exclusive prep schools and Ivy League universities to Jewish and black ghettos. Their styles were also different.
Social Realism did not mean they used realistic technique. They frequently heightened colors for emotional impact, exaggerating features and distorting physical scale for emphasis while using technical devices of posters and advertisements which were easily understood by the public.
Social realists showed what was wrong with America with the hope that it could be changed.
Annunciation - NMAA
Raphael Soyer (1980)