- Regionalism (art)
Regionalism is a realist modern American
art movementthat was popular during the 1930s. The artistic focus was from artists who shunned the city life and rapidly developing technological advances to create scenes of rural life. Regionalist style was at its height from 1930 to 1935, and is best-known through the so-called "Regionalist Triumvirate" of Grant Woodin Iowa, Thomas Hart Benton in Missouri, and John Steuart Curryin Kansas. During the Great Depressionof the 1930s, Regionalist art was widely appreciated for its reassuring images of the American heartland.
A debate about Modernism
World War IIthe concept of Modernismwas not clearly-defined in the context of American art. Central issues that were being debated at the time were "who are the Modernists?" and "what is Modernism?." As Wanda Corn argued in her book "The Great American Thing," there was also a general concern with defining what is "American" in American art. Partly due to the Great Depression, Regionalism became one of the dominant art movements in America in the 1930s the other being Social Realism. At the time, the United States was still a heavily agricultural nation with a much smaller portion (than today) of its population living in industrial cities such as New York Cityor Chicago.
The debate over Modernism was really a conflict over who would define American art. Conservative critics who promoted Regionalism, such as Thomas Craven, often did so while complaining that Regionalism was too Modernist. It received conservative support because they saw it as a way to defeat the influence of abstraction arriving from Europe. The earlier debate between abstraction versus realism that began with the 1913
Armory Showin New York continued in the 1930s between Regionalism, Social Realism, and Abstract art. By the 1940s this debate had evolved into two “camps” that were divided geographically and politically: the Regionalists and the Social Realists whose works were realistic and who primarily lived in rural areas and whose work addressed social, economic and political issues and were promoted by conservative, anti-Modernist critics such as Thomas Craven; and the Abstract artists who primarily lived in New York City and were promoted by pro Modernistcritics, writers and artists such as Alfred Stieglitz. Regionalism’s loss of status in the art world is mainly a result of the ultimate triumph of Abstract expressionism, when Modernist critics gained power in the 1940s. Regionalism’s fate (the negative perception it has today) was guaranteed partially because of the negative atmosphere promoted in the 1930s by the anti Modernist critics, and partially because the end of World War II ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity and the Cold Warbrought a change in the political perception of Americans.
Bridging the gap
However, Regionalism bridged the gap between a completely
Abstract artand Academic realism in much the same way that Impressionismand the Post-Impressionists like Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguinamong others had done in Francea generation earlier. The Regionalists prepared the way for Abstract Expressionists to emerge in America. Jackson Pollock’s power as an artist was reinforced and he was encouraged and he benefited from the influence of Thomas Hart Benton in the art classes that Pollock took under Benton; while a student at the Art Students League of New York. Regionalism had a catalytic effect on later American art in a similar way that Post-Impressionismin Europedid via Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubismand other movements.
In Grant Wood's pamphlet "Revolt Against the City," published in
Iowa City, 1935, he asserts that American artists and buyers of art were no longer looking to Parisian culture for subject matter and style. Wood wrote that Regional artists interpret physiography, industry, and psychology of their hometown, and that the competition of these preceding elements creates American culture. He wrote that the lure of the city was gone, and hopes that art of the widely diffused "whole people" would prevail. He cites Thomas Jefferson's characterization of cities as "ulcers on the body politic."
Regionalism had a strong influence on popular culture. Regionalist-type imagery appeared in magazine advertisements, and influenced American children's book illustrators such as
Holling Clancy Holling.
American scene painting
Laura Marie Greenwood
John Steuart Curry
Visual arts of the United States
* [http://www.siouxcityartcenter.com/exhibitions/essay.asp?key=132 "Regionalism," exhibition, Sioux City Art Center]
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