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Federal Art Project of Works Progress Admin Collage

Federal Art Project of Works Progress Admin

Started: 1934
Ended: 1943
Federal Art Project of Works Progress Admin Timeline
"The Project was terribly important. It gave us enough to live on and we could paint what we wanted. It was terrific largely because of its director, Burgoyne Diller. I had to resign after a year because I was an alien, but even in that short time, I changed my attitude toward being an artist. Instead of doing odd jobs and painting on the side, I painted and did odd jobs on the side. My life was the same, but I had a different view of it. I gave up the idea of first making a fortune and then painting in my old age."
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Willem de Kooning Signature
"The younger artists of America are conscious as they have never been of the social revolution that our country and civilization are going through; and they would be very eager to express these ideals in permanent art form if they were given the government's co-operation."
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George Biddle
"Through employment of creative artists it is hoped to secure for the public outstanding examples of contemporary America art; through art teaching and recreational art activities to create a broader national art consciousness and work out constructive ways of using leisure time; through services in applied art to aid various campaigns of social value; and through research projects to clarify the native background in the arts. The aim of the project will be to work toward an integration of the arts with the daily life of the community, and an integration of the fine arts and the practical arts."
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Holger Cahill
"I had to scheme to get work for abstract artists. I succeeded some of the time, like getting Gorky transferred from the easel project to my mural project and obtaining for him a commission to paint walls at Newark Airport. In negotiating for the work I had to agree that it would not be abstract."
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Burgoyne Diller

Summary of Federal Art Project of Works Progress Admin

During its years of operation, the government-funded Federal Art Project (FAP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) hired hundreds of artists who collectively created more than 100,000 paintings and murals and over 18,000 sculptures to be found in municipal buildings, schools, and hospitals in all of the 48 states. Additionally, nearly 100 community art centers throughout the country provided art classes for children and developing artists. The FAP was part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal during the Great Depression, in which he sought to put as many unemployed Americans back to work as possible and to buoy morale of the citizens. Some of the 20th century's greatest visual artists were employed by the FAP, along with many nascent Abstract Expressionists.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • One of the main aims of the Federal Arts Project was to invoke familiar images that spoke of shared values and American progress, including technological wonders, fertile farmlands, small town life, and big city vibrancy. Additionally, the program hoped to foster the role of the arts in public life and to bring the artist closer to everyday, American life.
  • The Federal Art Project tended to favor more realistic styles, including Social Realism and Regionalism, although many of the younger painters were able to execute more abstract work in some of the mural designs. The FAP allowed many artists for the first time to work exclusively as artists without taking up side jobs, and it brought the art they created in a variety of styles to communities and cities around the country through murals, easel paintings, photographs, posters, and sculptures.
  • One of the most consequential aspects of the Project, according to the younger artists involved, with the sense of community that it fostered. By picking up their paychecks every week at the FAP office and getting to know each other as well as working on mural teams, artists no longer felt isolated and instead a camaraderie began to develop. Without this sense of community, it is hard to imagine the formation of Abstract Expressionism, one of the most significant groups in American modern art.

Overview of Federal Art Project of Works Progress Admin

Federal Art Project of Works Progress Admin Image

In the mid 1930s, the United States remained at the center of a global economic depression. In an effort to provide economic relief to citizens who were having trouble finding work President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration. Several months later, a subdivision of the WPA called the Federal Art Project was developed in order to assist struggling artists.

Do Not Miss

  • Social Realism refers to a style of figurative art with social concerns - generally left-wing. Inspired in part by nineteenth-century Realism, it emerged in various forms in the twentieth century. Political radicalism prompted its emergence in 1930s America, while distaste for abstract art encouraged many in Europe to maintain the style into the 1950s.
  • Regionalism emerged in 1930s as an alternative to the abstract and avant-garde veins of modern art. Executed in a realist style, it often depicted scenes of everyday rural life, and frequently featured allegories about land, labor, and American history.
  • Mexican Muralism was a vibrant movement whose artists created large-scale works, executed in Mexico and the US. Relying on a mixture of Mexican heritage and classical Italian styles, murals were frequently done in a figurative, allegorical style and dealt with political, social, and radical themes.
  • A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.

The Important Artists and Works of Federal Art Project of Works Progress Admin

Aerial Map (1935-37)

Artist: Arshile Gorky

Aerial Map is one of two surviving murals that Gorky painted for Newark Airport's Administration Building. Originally ten murals comprised the cycle, entitled Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations. Drawing on his study of Pablo Picasso and Fernand Leger, Gorky's composition relies on bold colors and simple, superimposed shapes to convey a sense of the terrain that one would see from the air or perhaps the shape of the airport itself. The short black dashes and dots in the white shape at the center of the canvas, which roughly resembles the outline of the United States, call to mind flight routes that one would map out. While Gorky's mural was controversial at the time because of its abstract nature, Gorky insisted that an art of the future was necessary to depict the transportation of the future.

The murals were painted over when the airport was turned into a military base during World War II. They were thought lost, but in 1972 they were rediscovered, concealed under fourteen coats of paint that had been applied over the years as part of regular maintenance. Two of the panels were recovered and restored and now on view at the Newark Museum.

Untitled (The Subway) (1937)

Artist: Mark Rothko

Here, Mark Rothko depicts the eerily quiet and still interior of a subway station. The space is punctuated by evenly spaced columns that recede quickly into the background. The people depicted do not interact or speak with one another. The women on the bench, with their fancy hats and pointy shoes, are completely self-involved. The man who stands near the platform edge practically melds with the column he stands near. Rothko thus captures the isolation and loneliness that can befall one in a big city.

Untitled (The Subway) is probably one of the more realistic paintings Rothko created before he evolved to paint large abstract canvases with floating, sometimes translucent, rectangles stacked on top of each other. Even in this early painting, though, one can see the way in which Rothko manipulates color and space to evoke human emotions, an aim that he carried throughout his artistic career.

Cotton Pickers (c.1935)

Artist: Jackson Pollock

Few of Pollock's paintings that he created for the FAP survived, and those that do, like Cotton Pickers, have fairly traditional subject matter. Here, Pollock depicts the laborers, shielded from the sun in large hats and long sleeves, doing the back-breaking work of picking cotton. Pollock presents the plight of the workers in a sympathetic light. Solidarity with other impoverished workers was a staple of much WPA work.

The curves of the laborer's bodies and their simplified forms call to mind the style of Pollock's mentor, Thomas Hart Benton. Benton was a proponent of Regionalism and American Scene painting, which focused less on urban scenes and more on Midwest small town and farming communities. Combining this subject matter with some of the more abstract forms of modern European art, Benton forged a uniquely American art that Pollock quickly mastered and surpassed.

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein

"Federal Art Project of Works Progress Admin Definition Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein
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First published on 19 Sep 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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