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ARTH210: American Art

Unit 6: The 1930s Through WWII   The New Deal offered government employment for artists.  Themes related to self-reliance, as represented in broad categorical styles best known as *Regionalism and **Social Realism, crossed racial lines in the art world.  Public murals were a new feature of the national cultural landscape, and were largely influenced by Mexican mural painters.  Documentary photography gained prominence.  Artists fleeing Europe in the 1930s brought “avant-garde” art forms to America, definitively.     *

6.1 "American Scene” Painters and Documentary Photography   Note: Generally, rural artists or artists focusing on rural subjects were considered Regionalist, while those in and of the cities were known as Social Realists, although the artists themselves, as well as their subjects, overlapped.  Many combined narrative figuration with idiosyncratic stylization that was likely influenced by contemporary abstraction.  The Farm Securities Administration (FSA) commissioned extensive photographic documentation of rural families around the country that had been deeply affected by the Depression for widespread publication.  FSA photographs have been much studied in terms of “deconstructing” the supposed neutral and mechanical work of the journalistic photographer.

  • Web Media: Smithsonian American Art Museum: Ann Wagner’s “Picturing the 1930s” Link: Smithsonian American Art Museum: Ann Wagner’s “Picturing the 1930s” (HTML)
     
    Podcast available in:

    Quicktime

    iTunes (Podcast #30)
     
    Instructions:  Scroll down briefly until you have access to a podcast tour via Quicktime or iTunes and download the podcast (it may take a few minutes; the program is 31 minutes long).  Listen to the curator’s tour of the traveling exhibition “Picturing the 1930s,” organized and opened at The Smithsonian Institution of American Art (2/27/2009-1/3/2010).  The emphasis is on the nature and extent of government work and support for artists in this period.  Take notes on general comments and on a few specific works discussed.  Afterwards, return to the main page and browse the website.  (Note the national touring schedule, extended through May 2014; perhaps you may be able to view the exhibition first-hand.)  Go to the “slide” section near the top of the page, which includes over 50 images. 
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: Smithsonian American Art Museum, “Scenes of American Life” Link:  Smithsonian American Art Museum, “Scenes of American Life” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: View this online presentation of 62 works from this period with brief descriptions. 
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s American Art Activity 6 Link: The Saylor Foundation’s American Art Activity 6 (PDF)

    Instructions: Choose two of paintings viewed on the Smithsonian Art Museum sites above for a comparative essay (2 – 3 pages in length).  In making your choice, consider how each relates to the exhibition’s themes and scope.  (Always present introductory data and a detailed description of the works of art discussed.)

  • Web Media: New Britain Museum of American Art, “The Murals of Thomas Hart Benton” Link: New Britain Museum of American Art, “The Murals of Thomas Hart Benton” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Explore the site above for a good overview of America’s leading “Regionalist.”  The images are unfortunately small; visit the website below (among others) for better reproductions (of similar works). 
     
    -Whitney Museum of American Art, Collection Database (HTML)
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: University of Virginia American Studies Program: “Going Back to Iowa: The World of Grant Wood.” Link: University of Virginia American Studies Program: “Going Back to Iowa: The World of Grant Wood” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: “Enter” and browse this website on the second leading Regionalist, Grant Wood.  This will broaden your understanding of the issues, styles and subjects associated with this loose movement.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: Missouri Senate: Kids’ Page: “New Video-The Thomas Hart Benton Murals” Link: Missouri Senate: Kids’ Page: “New Video- The Thomas Hart Benton” (Windows Media Player)
     
    Instructions: Click on the link for an excellent, detailed 14-minute talk about a mural project in the Missouri State House, including subject matter, style, technique, development.  (Note: The quality of the video images varies throughout.) 
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: Library of Congress: “FSA/OWI Photographs” Link: Library of Congress: “FSA/OWI Photographs” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Click the embedded link for “‘Migrant Mother’ Photographs”; view the renowned series by Dorothea Lange.  Back on the homepage, near the bottom, view: “Documenting America: Photographers on Assignment.”  See also:
               
    -Living History Farm: Billy Ganzel’s “FSA Photography” (HTML)
    Note: This is the website of Wessel’s Living History Farm.  See the main page, examining the images and exploring several of the extensive links about photographic journalism in the West during the Depression.
     
    -The University of Virginia: Shelley Staples’ “Negotiating the Racial Mountain: The Depression Era Murals of Aaron Douglas” (HTML)
    Note: Read through this site on later work by Aaron Douglas.
     
    -The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “African American Artists 1929-1945: Prints, Drawings and Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art” (HTML)
     

  • Web Media: Smithsonian American Art Museum: “William H. Johnson” Link: Smithsonian American Art Museum: “William H. Johnson” (HTML and Adobe Flash)
     
    Instructions:  Read and view images; then, from links on lower right section of the page, under “Online Exhibitions,” click on “William H. Johnson: American Art” and run through the presentation.  (Move cursor over images for data).  Then return to the main Johnson page and choose “Works in the Collection by William H. Johnson.”  You will see that the museum owns over 1000 works.  Run through a few pages and enlarge several images.  
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s American Art Activity 7 Link: The Saylor Foundation’s American Art Activity 7 (PDF)

    Instructions: Describe briefly the overall aesthetic (artistic feeling/form) of Johnson’s main style (1 page in length).  Judging from your viewing, what appear to be some of the major influences on his work?

6.2 Abstraction and Surrealism   Note: Abstraction and other “progressive” styles from Europe were fostered by emerging art criticism in New York; this development helped establish New York’s prominence as the center of the contemporary art world after WWII.

  • Web Media: Museum of Modern Art, “Stuart Davis” Link: Museum of Modern Art, “Stuart Davis” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Examine the linked material above.  Davis takes subjects of the “American scene” and pushes them towards abstraction, largely influenced by cubism.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: The Metropolitan Museum of Art "Surrealism" Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: James Voorheis’ “Surrealism
     
    Instructions: Read the linked entry and browse the accompanying images for an overview of the Surrealist movement, which began in Paris.  Then see the links below on specific American artists.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.
     

  • Web Media: Museum of Modern Art: “About Joseph Cornell” Link: Museum of Modern Art: “About Joseph Cornell” (HTML)
               
    Instructions: Read about the artist and run through available images at the sliding bar on the top of the page, enlarging several of them.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: Smithsonian American Art Museum: “Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination” (2006-2007) Link:  Smithsonian American Art Museum: “Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination” (2006-2007) (Adobe Flash)
     
    Instructions: View the slide show of 21 works.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: Dorothea Tanning Website Link: Dorothea Tanning Website (HTML)
     
    Instructions: As of October 2010, the artist Dorothea Tanning is 100 years old and continues to supervise this website.  Click “Dorothea Tanning” for an introduction.  Then return to homepage to click, “Life and Works”; click on the reproductions on the first page; each has a statement by the artist about the work. 
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

6.3 Case Study: Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s Premier Architect   Note: Wright became the first internationally recognized American architect.  His unique “Prairie Style” for domestic buildings was inspired by the mid-Western landscape.  He rarely looked to European forms and was instead influenced by Japanese aesthetics (this is especially apparent in his use of natural materials).  He deplored the verticality of New York City and only reluctantly took on the commission for the Guggenheim Museum in the late 1940s.

  • Web Media: Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust: “Robie House” Link: Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust: “Robie House” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read the introduction; click on the link for “Prairie Style” (in the left menu or embedded in the text) for an explanation of the term. 
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Website Link: Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Website (HTML)
     
    Instructions: On the menu at the top, click on the link for “Wright’s Life and Work” and read the overview.  Then read “A Brief Biography” from the menu at left.  Return to the left menu and click on “Public Sites.”  Scroll down column of images; click website links for the following: 
     
    -Beth Shalom Synagogue (PA); from the bottom menu of the homepage, click on and read “History; then return to choose “Virtual Tour,” and visit.
     
    -Fallingwater (PA); a major, extensive website.  By clicking on “Explore,” then “Multimedia,” and then “Tours,” you can take the “Seasonal Tour” to get a feel for the site; then return to take the “Architectural Tour.”
     
    -Hollyhock House (CA); from the top menu, click on “Media”; then scroll to “Main Gallery” and click through the images.  
     
    -Unity Temple (IL); from the top menu, click on “The Building” and then “Explore Unity Temple,” then “Photo Galleries.”  Browse the images.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: Guggenheim Museum: “Keeping Faith with an Idea: A Time Line of the Guggenheim Museum 1943-1959” Link: Guggenheim Museum: “Keeping Faith with an Idea:  A Time Line of the Guggenheim Museum 1943-1959”(HTML)
     
    Instructions: Explore the “Timeline.”  Note that Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth are prominent among artists who continue with “American Scene” painting into the post war years.  See the links below for further information on them: