The Art World does not recognize the Mexican Muralist influence upon Social Realism as a movement in our country. In actuality, the great muralists were a direct precursor to and influence upon Social Realism. Our own government, through the Works Progress Administration of the 1940’s sponsored works by the muralists in the United States, all of which deal with the common worker’s role in a modern industrial society. So, why is the influence not recognized? Perhaps it comes from an artificial opposition constructed about the categories “Muralist” versus the smaller scale works of the ordinary “visual artist.” Perhaps we are fearful that the Mexican Muralist’s social concerns grew directly out of oppression and revolution, and we as North Americans have needs totally unrelated to such drastic political realities (He said facetiously.). At least, that is the way the politics of Latin countries have often been presented in our public educational institutions, of which the Tea Party and extreme right are so dissatisfied. * Okay, time to get off my ideological high horse and turn back to actuality. I move on to the part of the category that is recognized within the cannon, Social Realism.
Social Realism is defined roughly as art that describes the everyday racial, social, and economic plight of the worker and the poor in our country. Historically, Social Realism is blind to race, ethnicity, religion, and sexuality. Variations in sexuality were not present because at the time sexual categories were purposely avoided at the time, with the possible exception of Paul Cadmus. I shall limit my examination of the Social Realists here to but a few out of necessity because I cannot do the subject and the artists complete justice on such a small scale. I shall look at the following: 1) Thomas Hart Benton, 2) Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Manuel Rivera-Ortiz, photographers, 3) Ben Shahn, and 4) Romare Bearden.
To be continued
* Perhaps the right and the Tea Party better not try to fix something that preaches the conservative viewpoint so effectively.