Cruising the Web, I discover that contemporary Social Realism has nothing to do with Social Realism of the first half of the Twentieth Century. Instead, this new Social Realism aspires to create scenes that might be titled “Domestic Tranquility.” Photographer Alix Smith’s domestic tableau of gay and lesbian families (States of the Union) fits well in the category. At the same time Smith's photographs do have subversive intent. They appear to be ordinary family tableau, but place LGBT families in that exact position while the fight for equality continues. Other late Twentieth Century and Twenty-first century artists that belong here are (though I don’t pretend this list is complete); Peter Worsley, Andrew Wyeth, some of the photorealists, and Leland Bell. I have nothing negative to say about this Postmodern and Post Postmodern Social Realism, though I have a nostalgic longing for art and artists and a movement that aspired to make a better world by helping people to see the wrongs of the current order or at the very lest commented on or demonstrated those wrongs and the social order. However, as a subject it makes more sense as just plain REALISM, showing subjects as they exist in every day life. In fact many of those who claim this type of realism as SOCIAL realism include as its antecedents such artists as Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer and Grant Wood, all marvelous and impressive realists that fit in various other schools; Edward Hopper, Ashcan School, Winslow Homer, American Realism, and Grant Wood, Regionalism.
Artists that might actually fit in a New Social Realism include some of the Hyperrealists, like Denis Peterson. Others, from the late 20th Century are the following; Diane Arbus (though she died in 1971), Francis Bacon(deceased 1992), Banksy, Donigan Cumming, Charles Ray (yes indeed!), Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo, Kenny Scharf, David Wojnarowicz. I realize that, once again I am pulling artists from various genres and that the list is terribly incomplete. Never the less, these artists actually created/create art that commented/comments on culture and society. Additionally, this list disproves my thesis question (Is there such a thing as social realism in the Twenty-first Century?) because the artists are from such disparate genres, groups, and times, and there seems to be no consensus in the Art World that these folks and more constitute a New Social Realism. At the same time, the impetus toward Social Realism first expressed by the Mexican Muralists is alive and well in the work of many artists from various genre’s with the exception of those who call themselves “Social Realists.”
Notes and Sources
1 Smith, Alix Website, "Alix Smith," http://www.alixsmith.com/index.html. The image incorporated here is thought to comply with the law because it is used for one time academic purpose. The subversive quality of Smith's images makes it possible to argue for inclusion in a category, "Social Realism in the Twenty-first Century." Viewed 10:00 AM EDT, Sunday, March 27, 2011.
2. Scharf, Kennie, "Junglive," 1992, Edition 100, Domberger, in "Ken Scharf" Website, http://www.kennyscharf.com/. The image incorporated here is thought to comply with the law because it is used for one time academic purpose.Viewed 10:01 AM, EDT, Sunday, March 27, 2011.
Dr. Flip Flopper, Newt Gingrich interview on homosexuality, his possible presidency, and Obama. What country is this?