Social Realism is commonly known as American realism art which reflects on social, economic and political issues. It is an international art movement which was found in 1900, by Ashcan school painters. However, tracing back to the history, Realism originated in France, 19th century before the Ashcan artists renewed it to adapt the current social situation.
In the early of 20th century, a group of artists led by Robert Henri were active in New York. They were known as the Ashcan school. These artists captured urban scenes in this city during the economic crisis, majorly in America. Ashcan school was mentioned for the first time in the book Art in America in modern times. The scenes that these Ashcan artists usually used were at the boxing ring, bars, alley… to portray vivid images of urban life. Artists of the Ashcan school: Robert Henri (1865-1921); Ben Shahn (1898-1969); Everett Shin (1876-1953); George Benjamin Luks (1866-1933); William Glackens (1870-1938); John Sloan (1871-1951); Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1858–1924); Arthur Bowen Davies (1863–1928); Edward Hopper (1882-1967); George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925);Jerome Myers (1867-1940). Social Realism inspired Soviet Socialist Realism to display the similar social issues in visual art, but more political rather than urban scenes.
During the same period of time, there were many great actors, singers and poets who contributed to the art in 1930s. Indeed, this decade is mostly known as the Depression era of the American economy, but to the film makers, it was “The golden stage of Hollywood”. Famous actors in 1930s, including Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy, etc. contributed to the history of American film. 1930s was also a great decade of music with the most famous singers during that time: Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Ethel Waters and so on. Entertainment and art distracted people away from the reality, helping them to overcome the hard time.
Social Realism was supported by the Federal Art Project, which was a public art program. This program hired thousands of Social Realist artists, including printers and poster-makers. There were photographers, sculptors and film makers who witnessed the poverty, labor and unemployment in their country, then transferred those into films, posters and public art projects. They used the paintings and sculptures to decorate big buildings and public locations.
Most of the paintings in this movement refer to social situation during the Depression era. The Great Depression in middle of 20th century is an economic crisis in the Western industrialization. In United States, the Great Depression began after the stock market crash in 1929. The Wall Street in New York was sent to an intense crisis that gave major impacts on banking system and business. Unemployment, migration, stock market crash and bankrupt were the top news that being broadcasted around the world. Apparently, the economic situation improvised the population and caused serious social issues. It influenced many artists to change their art style from abstract art to realism. Until 1939, World War II regained the American economy back to its Pre-Depression level, since the government sent more than 12 million American to the battle field. Social Realism then rose again in European countries that were involved in the war (Russian, Germany…). The paintings reflect on political situation rather than urban scenes like the American Social Realism.
I got inspired by how the artists featured urban scenes and social issues in their paintings. Social realist artists captured moments around them to reveal another aspect of life that people might not know. By applying the similar idea and style into my deer parade, I could demonstrate my point of view to everyone through visual art. Living in Vietnam is very interesting, because we always have problems that relate to poverty, labor, education and politics. As a student, following this movement would help me to express my opinions, perspective and values toward a modern society.
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