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Social Realism Collage

Social Realism

Started: 1929

Ended: Late 1950s

Social Realism Timeline

Quotes

"If art is to survive it must describe and express people, their lives and times."
Raphael Soyer
"Revolutionary art.. is decreed by history."
Louis Lozowick
"Paint America, but with your eyes open. Do not glorify Main Street. Paint it as it is - mean, dirty, avaricious."
Moses Soyer
"Schools don't influence me, as much as life."
William Gropper
"I would describe my work as expressionist. The expressionist point of view is stressing your own feelings about something."
Jacob Lawrence
"Art is a response to life. To be an artist is to undertake a risky way to live, to adopt one of the greatest forms of liberty, to make no compromise. Painting is a form of love, of transmitting the years in art."
Antonio Berni
Let's bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material, crude, rough, neglected. Then let's sing it, dance it, write it, paint it."
Aaron Douglas
"When you talk about war on poverty it doesn't mean very much; but if you can show to some degree this sort of thing then you can show a great deal more of how people are living and a very great percentage of our people today."
Ben Shahn

KEY ARTISTS

William GropperWilliam Gropper
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Ben ShahnBen Shahn
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Isamu NoguchiIsamu Noguchi
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Raphael SoyerRaphael Soyer
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Philip EvergoodPhilip Evergood
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Jacob LawrenceJacob Lawrence
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"To me propaganda is a holy word."

Ben Shahn Signature

Synopsis

The Social Realist political movement and artistic explorations flourished primarily during the 1920s and 1930s, a time of global economic depression, heightened racial conflict, the rise of fascist regimes internationally, and great optimism after both the Mexican and Russian revolutions. Social Realists created figurative and realistic images of the "masses," a term that encompassed the lower and working classes, labor unionists, and the politically disenfranchised. American artists became dissatisfied with the French avant-garde and their own isolation from greater society, which led them to search for a new vocabulary and a new social importance; they found their purpose in the belief that art was a weapon that could fight the capitalist exploitation of workers and stem the advance of international fascism. The art period is quite distinct from the Soviet Socialist Realism that was the dominant style in Stalin's post-revolutionary Russia.

Key Ideas

Social Realists envisioned themselves to be workers and laborers, similar to those who toiled in the fields and factories. Often clad in overalls to symbolize unity with the working classes, the artists believed they were critical members of the whole of society, rather than elites living on the margins and working for the upper crust.
While there was a variety of styles and subjects within Social Realism, the artists were united in their attack on the status quo and social power structure. Despite their stylistic variance, the artists were realists who focused on the human figure and human condition. Social Realists built on the legacies of Honore Daumier, Gustave Courbet, and Francisco Goya in their politically charged and radical social critiques.
While modernism is most often considered in terms of stylistic innovation, Social Realists believed that the political content of their work made it modern. Social Realists turned away from the painterly advancements of the School of Paris.

Beginnings

Social Realism Image

During the 1920s, American artists searched for a greater importance within society. The presence of Mexican muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco in New York City, together with the widespread teachings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, served as inspiration to the emerging artists. Later, with the lingering effects of the Great Depression of 1929, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided many struggling artists with patronage, a sense of community, and the mandate to paint realistically. Within the above historical context, a very large and diverse group of artists later called the Social Realists joined together to publish magazines, organize unions, convene artists' congresses, and publicly agitate for the importance of their revolutionary work, the role of the artist within society, and radical anti-capitalistic change for America.

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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