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American Regionalism Collage

American Regionalism

Started: 1928

Ended: 1943

American Regionalism Timeline

Quotes

"I began to realize that there was real decoration in the rickrack braid on the aprons of the farmers' wives, in calico patterns and in lace curtains. At present, my most useful reference book, and one that is authentic, is a Sears, Roebuck catalogue."
Grant Wood
"I came back because I learned that French painting is very fine for French people and not necessarily for us, and because I started to analyze what it was I really knew. I found out. It's Iowa."
Grant Wood
"I am willing to go so far as to say that I believe the hope of native American art lies in the development of regional art centers and the competition between them. It seems the one way to the building up of an honestly art-conscious America."
Grant Wood
"I have a sort of inner conviction that for all the possible limitations of my mind and the disturbing effects of my processes, for all the contradicting struggles and failures I have gone through, I have come to something that is in the image of America and the American people of my time."
Thomas Hart Benton
"Modern French painting is all right; it has produced many beautiful and interesting things, fully worthy of admiration, but it has also set up response habits among our artistic authorities which have worked against a free approach to other artistic forms."
Thomas Hart Benton
"I paint every day. Sometimes I hate painting, but I keep at it, thinking always that before I croak I'll really learn how to do it - maybe as well as some of the old painters."
Thomas Hart Benton
"I paint life as I would like it to be."
Norman Rockwell
"I paint my life."
Andrew Wyeth

KEY ARTISTS

John Steuart CurryJohn Steuart Curry
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Grant WoodGrant Wood
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Thomas Hart BentonThomas Hart Benton
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Norman RockwellNorman Rockwell
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"My early work is the result of going around that very territory where I lived and not seeing it."

Grant Wood

Synopsis

At the height of the Great Depression, American Regionalists turned away from European modernism and urban abstraction to embrace subjects of the heartland. These works were figurative and narrative, returning back to an ideal of art-as-storytelling, rendered in precise detail. The American Regionalists celebrated familiar subjects in ways accessible for a general public, making their work popular among a broad range of audiences. Yet, with the rise of totalitarian governments in Europe, who used such realist and figurative art as propaganda, Regionalism came to be seen as politically problematic and retrogressive. It would be soundly rejected in the rise of Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s.

Key Ideas

The most famous Regionalist painters, Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood, were all associated with specific regions of the American Midwest. This gave their art a local character that suggested its authenticity. They rejected the styles and theories of modern art to embrace techniques and stories that were more connected to an American folk tradition and traditions of Old Master painting.
Not all American Regionalism was clearly celebratory. The sincerity of work by Grant Wood, in particular, has been the subject of ongoing debate; some find his depictions of middle America to be reassuring and nostalgic, others see elements of satire and criticism. The work of Curry and Benton is generally more straightforward, although both include darker emotional and moral narratives in their work as well.
The sharp rise of American Regionalism, supported in part by the funding of federal agencies such as the WPA, was halted as totalitarian governments employed Socialist Realism as propaganda to support their regimes. Figurative art quickly became tainted by its stylistic similarities. The emergent Abstract Expressionism, which completely rejected Regionalist aesthetics (even though Jackson Pollock was a student of Thomas Hart Benton), would come to represent the American values of freedom and individuality in the 1940s. While certainly some artists, like Andrew Wyeth or Norman Rockwell, continued to work in a figurative and realist style, they were marginalized by the dominance of mid-century abstraction and not considered part of the Regionalist movement.

Beginnings

American Regionalism Image

Early Influences

The term American Regionalism refers to a realistic style of painting that began around 1930 and became popular during the Great Depression. Although urban subjects were included, the most popular themes of Regionalism were rural communities and everyday situations. Rather than a deliberate movement, guided by a manifesto or unified agenda, it developed organically through the works of Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and John Steuart Curry who were dubbed the "Regionalist Triumvirate." Rejecting abstraction, they were responding to a cultural isolationism that saw much of modern art as foreign and out of touch with a true American spirit. These three men dominated the movement; although other artists were briefly associated with Regionalism, most remained limited to their local communities or else passed through to other styles for their mature career.

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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