Dada is the sun, Dada is the egg. Dada is the Police of the Police.

5/07/2005

The spirit of the people

Lewis W. Hine, "Eight-year-old children shucking oysters" (click to enlarge):





Hine was a photographer working in the early part of the 20th century, and is probably most strongly associated with the art movement known as the Ashcan School. The movement started as a backlash against Impressionism, led by painter Robert Henri, who declared that painting ought only to "consist of the presentation of real and existing things." Typically, this meant the straightforward depiction of the often desperate life of the urban poor, as in Hine's work on child laborers.

The strong and serious political sentiment of the Ashcan School served as a precursor for the Social Realists of the 1930s. Not to be confused with so-called "Socialist Realism," the Social Realists did not countenance the sentimentalization or lionization of the working class; quite the opposite. Moses Soyer, a painter and key figure in the Social Realism movement, told his fellow artists: "Yes, paint America, but with your eyes open. Do not glorify Main Street. Paint it as it is--mean, dirty, avaricious."

The political agitation of the Social Realists included lobbying for federal assistance for the poor who were hurt by the Depression, as seen in this painting by Ben Shahn:


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Eventually, the realist art of the 20th century ended up being overshadowed, deservedly or not, by more esoteric artistic currents like Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. But the realist impulse has remained a constant presence, with more contemporary artists like 'Photo-realist' painters Chuck Close and Richard Estes continuing to carry the realist torch.

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