Wednesday, May 6, 2009


I've spent every afternoon this week at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and thoroughly enjoyed all fourteen hours so far. Monday Husband and I went to an exhibition called, 1934 A New Deal For Artists and we both came away thoroughly impressed. I feel like it has created the filter through which a lot of the subsequent galleries, articles etc. that I have been absorbing this week are experienced.

The exhibit was comprised of artists who were part of FDR's Public Works of Art Program designed to give work to down and out artists of the depression, but also to, "furnish work for unemployed artists for the "decoration, beautification and genderal embellishment of public buildings, to choose quality artworks that depicted the American scene, and to increase the public's interest in art by placing art in public buildings." In a more global way, it really gave me a sense for America in the 1930s and 40s; what they cared about, what they thought about etc. The picture depicted a sense of hope and a sense of joy, though it was simple joy, not the fleeting joy that ravishing in extravagance brings. It seemed pure.

The project was headed up by Edward Bruce, under the United States Treasury Department and paid for the Civil Works Administration. About the program he said, "The PWAP has been a recognition of the value of culture and the arts in American life. It is a significant example of the President's desire to give the people of the country 'a more abundant life.'"

The phrase "a more abundant life" really stuck with me. It suddenly gave art so much value again. Not a monetary value, but a deep, stick to your ribs, nearly palpable value that simply can't be attained any other way. It was like art in America could have died, and these artists were determined not to let that happen. They worked voraciously. Over 3,000 artists nationwide produced 15,663 works of art in just six months. One of the artists, Harry Gottlieb reporting his experience to Edward Bruce said, "Every artist... is so keyed up to the importance of the situation, amounting practically to a revolution for him, that he is without exception putting every ounce of energy and creative ability into his work as never before."

I felt so revitalized and inspired as an artist by the exhibit. I loved that even in a time of economic unsurity (sound familiar?) art wasn't put on the back burner, but seen as a vital means of enriching lives and giving Americans a sense of what they were living for.

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