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Art and Literature in the Great Depression  cultural ferment  art, politics, and movements for social change interconnect  traditional American ideals.

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Presentation on theme: "Art and Literature in the Great Depression  cultural ferment  art, politics, and movements for social change interconnect  traditional American ideals."— Presentation transcript:

1 Art and Literature in the Great Depression  cultural ferment  art, politics, and movements for social change interconnect  traditional American ideals invoked to redefine American identity  social and cultural impact of New Deal

2 Archibald Motley, “Blues,” 1929 John Held, Jr., “She Missed the Boat,” 1927 Looking backward….

3 Robert Sonkin and Charles Todd recording a fiddler at a Farm Security Camp in California, by Robert Hemmig, 1940-41 American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

4 The Arts as a Window onto 1930s American Life:  cultural nationalism  alternative aesthetic and political standpoints  fascism and communism  class and gender themes (also race) Lest We Forget By Ben Shahn, Resettlement Administration, 1937 Gouache and watercolor in bound volume

5 Americanism in art and literature  Return to traditional ideals: gender and family concepts small town vision of America interest in "the folk" or "the people" Waiting for the Mail by Grant Wright Christian, Treasury Relief Art Project, 1937-38 Oil on canvas

6 Relation between art and politics Break with modernism Break with modernism Representational, populist Representational, populist Often radical Often radical “Bad art”? “Bad art”? The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, Ben Shahn, 1931-32, Tempera on canvas

7 “A New Deal for the Arts” National ArchivesA New Deal for the Arts Online Exhibit

8 "Fishermen's Village" by Edmund Lewandowski, 1937 Wisconsin Federal Art Project, WPA, 1937 Watercolor and gouache over pencil

9 "History of Southern Illinois," by Paul Kelpe [mural], 1935-39 Illinois Federal Art Project, WPA, ca. 1935-39 Gouache

10 "Church in shacktown community... Near Modesto, Stanislaus County,California, May 10, 1940" Dorothea Lange, Bureau of Agricultural Economics

11 The “Activist Arts"  We, as artists, must take our place in this crisis on the side of growth and civilization against barbarism and reaction, and help to create a better social order. -- Peter Blume, "The Artist Must Choose," 1936

12 "South of Chicago" by Todros Geller, 1937 Illinois Federal Art Project, WPA, 1937, Wood engraving

13 "Mine Rescue" by Fletcher Martin, 1939 Treasury Section of Fine Arts, 1939, Tempera on panel rejected study for mural in the Kellogg, Idaho, Post Office.

14 Fletcher Martin's executed mural in the Kellogg, Idaho, Post Office, showing the arrival of a prospector named Kellogg.

15 Federal sponsorship of folk music and culture Huddie William "Leadbelly" Ledbetter playing for John and Alan Lomax’s recording crew, Angola Prison, Louisiana, 1934-35

16 Other examples of folk music:  Woody Guthrie, "This Land Is Your Land" and "Pretty Boy Floyd" "Pretty Boy Floyd""Pretty Boy Floyd"  Pete Seeger, "Which Side Are You On?" and "Ballad of Joe Hill" "Which Side Are You On?""Which Side Are You On?"  songs overlap thematically with proletarian literature

17 THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND words and music by Woody Guthrie Chorus: This land is your land, this land is my land From California, to the New York Island From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters This land was made for you and me As I was walking a ribbon of highway I saw above me an endless skyway I saw below me a golden valley This land was made for you and me Chorus I've roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts And all around me a voice was sounding This land was made for you and me Chorus The sun comes shining as I was strolling The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling The fog was lifting a voice come chanting This land was made for you and me Chorus As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there And that sign said - no tress passin' But on the other side.... it didn't say nothin! Now that side was made for you and me! Chorus In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple Near the relief office - I see my people And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin' If this land's still made for you and me. Chorus (2x)

18 The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd by Woody Guthrie (March 1939) If you'll gather 'round me, children, A story I will tell 'Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an outlaw, Oklahoma knew him well. It was in the town of Shawnee, A Saturday afternoon, His wife beside him in his wagon As into town they rode. There a deputy sheriff approached him In a manner rather rude, Vulgar words of anger, An' his wife she overheard. Pretty Boy grabbed a log chain, And the deputy grabbed his gun; In the fight that followed He laid that deputy down. Then he took to the trees and timber To live a life of shame; Every crime in Oklahoma Was added to his name. But a many a starving farmer The same old story told How the outlaw paid their mortgage And saved their little homes. Others tell you 'bout a stranger That come to beg a meal, Underneath his napkin Left a thousand dollar bill. It was in Oklahoma City, It was on a Christmas Day, There was a whole car load of groceries Come with a note to say: Well, you say that I'm an outlaw, You say that I'm a thief. Here's a Christmas dinner For the families on relief. Yes, as through this world I've wandered I've seen lots of funny men; Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen. And as through your life you travel, Yes, as through your life you roam, You won't never see an outlaw Drive a family from their home.

19 Proletarian Literature  masculinist  industrial arena  manly worker-hero

20 Send us a critic. Send us a giant who can shame our writers back to the task of civilizing America. Send a soldier who has studied history. Send a strong poet who loves the masses and their future... Send one who is not a pompous liberal, but a man of the street. Send no mystics - they give us Americans the willies.... Send us a man fit to stand up to skyscrapers. A man of art who can match the purposeful deeds of Henry Ford. Send us a joker in overalls. Send no saint. Send an artist. Send a scientist. Send a Bolshevik. Send a man. --Mike Gold, "America Needs a Critic." New Masses, 1 (October 1926), 9. Itzok Isaac Granich, aka Mike Gold

21 Women's Writing  several women did contribute to radical literary culture  common themes: › radicalizing experience of motherhood › bonds between women › women's central role in creating working- class solidarity › revolutionary importance of traditional women's work › not all oppression reducible to class - also oppression between women and men Meridel LeSueur

22 “Annunciation” The pears are all gone from the tree but I imagine them hanging there, ripe curves within the many scimitar leaves, and within them many pears of the coming season. I feel like a pear. I hang secret within the curling leaves, just as the pear would be hanging on its tree. It seems possible to me that perhaps all people at some time feel this, round and full. You can tell by looking at most people that the world remains a stone to them and a closed door. I'm afraid it will become like that to me again. Perhaps after this child is born, then everything will harden and become small and mean again as it was before. Perhaps I would even have a hard time remembering this time at all and it wouldn't seem wonderful. That is why I would like to write it down. How can it be explained? Suddenly many movements are going on within me, many things are happening, there is an almost unbearable sense of sprouting, of bursting encasements, of moving kernels, expanding flesh. Perhaps it is such an activity that makes a field come alive with millions of sprouting shoots of corn or wheat. Perhaps it is something like that that makes a new world. (90-91)

23 “Tonight Is Part of the Struggle” The voice was coming into them. You are producers, wealth is produced by hand and brain. I am a producer, she thought with her hand on the protruding belly of the baby, but not from hand and brain. She thought she was going to cry and Jock would kick her in the shins and yell at her when they got home. She heard only some of the words, the ones that her body's experience repeated to her, the class struggle, militant workers, the broad masses... They no longer thought of going. Something seemed to have broken behind Jock's eyes, some hard thing and he looked frightened and open... (138)

24 “Salute to Spring” [H]e said I appoint Mary, Jim’s wife, because there ought to be a woman on this here committee to sit on it, and everyone was smiling at her and she felt her own energy in her, the whole world, as if it was all in her, the energy, belief, wisdom. She got up... I rise to say, I want to speak, she said -- I think the women should be here because it is important the women be here. We know these things and we suffer because of them every day. What I mean is that we know it, and every year when we are still alive in spring, still for another year we are surprised. We are still alive for another year, we say to ourselves, and count our children, and every year we are just a little different with what had happened... There was big applause, She sat down, surprised and happy. Ole Hanson got up and said that was a good speech and there ought to be more women there and he hoped they would be all together in unity, and go out of here with our arms around each other, and I hope half of us is women. (171)

25 “Salute to Spring” Jim said--why did you do that? She started. She knew he had been sitting in the corner of the kitchen watching the thaw on the land, wishing for seed. Why did he sit in the corner like an old woman speaking out at her from the cold darkness? (159)

26 “Tonight Is Part of the Struggle“ He saw her getting thinner, he saw her breasts, the peak of her dress wet from the watery milk. It made his guts ache. He threw down the paper, he spit on the floor. She screamed. "Don't you dare spit on the floor when I broke my back cleaning it this morning." The baby started in her arms almost as if still in her. She laid it down as if she had been burned. She laid it down with the relief order. "A fine Mrs. I have," Jock said, "can't get back in time." (132-133)

27 “Salute to Spring” She was out of the car before it stopped, and she saw the baby in the crib as still as death. She snatched it up and tried to warm it, blowing on the hands, into the mouth. Jim came in and took the child. Its weight was light as a chicken, the eyes drawn back. You know when an animal is dying you can feel it. He gave her back to Mary and took the children out of the room. The baby seemed so light as if she were disappearing. The breath stopped, and a terrible wrench came from Mary as if she gave the child birth again, and she walked to the door and to the window as if she would call someone. The other children were hungry in the kitchen. It was dark and cold. She laid the body down and smoothed out the limbs, closing the half dreaming eyes. The tiny arms were not made for crossing. She went into the kitchen, got supper, and they ate it. (174-75)

28 "I Was Marching“ I see that there is a bright clot of women drawn close to a bullet riddled truck. I am one of them, yet I don't feel myself at all. It is curious, I feel most alive and yet for the first time in my life I do not feel myself as separate, I realize then that all my previous feelings have been based on feeling myself as separate and distinct from others and now I sense sharply faces, bodies, closeness, and my own fear is not my own alone, nor my hope. (187)

29 Final topic: LeSeuer’s perspective on gender, class, and sexuality in “The Girl.”  Who is the more sympathetic character in this story, the school teacher or the hitch-hiker?  What are the characters’ respective class positions and class-inflected cultural values?

30 Looking forward to Meet John Doe…

31 Sources Cited  Remembering the Family Farm -- 150 Years of American Prints (, accessed 2/20/11)  “A New Deal for the Arts,” NARA website (, accessed 2/20/11)  “John Held, Jr. Gallery” (, accessed 2/20/11)  “Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance” (, accessed 2/20/11)  ”Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti” (, accessed 2/21/11)  leadbelly – House of the Rising Sun (, accessed 2/20/11)  Woody Guthrie – This Land is Your Land (, accessed 2/20/11)  Fletcher Martin’s “Mine Rescue,” (, accessed 2/20/11)  “New Masses,” (, accessed 2/21/11)  Michael Gold, author biography (, accessed 2/21/11)  Meridel LeSueur, author biography (, accessed 2/20/11)  Meridel LeSueur, Salute to Spring (New York: International Publishers, 1940)  Frank Capra, Meet John Doe (Warner Brothers, 1940.)

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