America after the Fall: Paintings from the 1930s

America after the Fall: Paintings from the 1930s


The 1930s is the most
important decade of the 20th century. I say that in terms of both politics and
aesthetics. Tthe Great Depression changed everything for Americans; they lost their
self-confidence; they were no longer the bright and shining city on the hill;
there a great fall from grace, and people were
scared. There was much social protest. You have
the rise of communist ideas and the rise of fascist ideas. Democracy wasn’t
working and we have to do something else, we have to change things, and artists showed those things. The Regionalists— Thomas Hart Benton,
John Steuart Curry, Grant Wood —all painted Midwestern scenes to revive the
past and make that the American future. Well, that was impossible. The 1920 census showed that we were no longer nation of small farmers. We were
in industrialized nation. More people lived in cities then lived in rural areas. Movies were a huge deal in the 1930s because they were cheap and you could spend a quarter and go in and
watch movies 24 hours a day. And Edward Hopper often did. “New York Movie” is a
picture that I think captures the mood and quality of realism versus what’s unreal
of the Depression 30s beautifully. From social realism to regionalism to
abstraction, all these things are going on the same
time. And so we want our audience to see what was happening in the 1930s so they could understand the richness of
thought in this decade. (Ginger Rogers singing) “As you listen to the band, don’t you get a
bubble. As you listen to them play don’t you get a glow. As you step out on the
floor you forget your trouble….”

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