japonisme: the end of time (the calendars)

02 March 2010

the end of time (the calendars)

imagine the republican response to part of
obama's recovery plans included not only the arts,
but also an eagle with the body of a palette.

but this we had. it ended coincidentally, with this work. clearly an example of a travelled japonisme, we still see the simplified shapes, but the outlines have disappeared.

At its height in 1936, the Federal Arts Project employed 5,300 visual artists and related professionals [and included] several major endeavors: a murals project executed more than 2,500 murals in hospitals, schools and other public places; an easel painting division produced nearly 108,000 paintings; a sculpture division produced some 18,000 pieces; a graphic arts workshop; a photography project served mainly to document the Works Progress Administration; a scenic design division provided models of historic stage sets and architectural models for planning and educational use; a poster division; and a stained glass division centered in New York.

The Federal Art Project also compiled a 22,000-plate Index of American Design, dispatching artists to record a wide variety of American designs in furnishings and artifacts from the colonial period on. The Arts Service Division provided illustrations and the like to the WPA's writers, musicians and theaters. The Exhibitions Division organized public showings of all WPA artists and students.

Hundreds of teachers were employed by the Art Teaching Division in settlement houses and community centers; in the New York City area alone, an estimated 50,000 children and adults participated in classes each week. The FAP also set up and staffed 100 arts centers in 22 states; these included galleries, classrooms and community workshops and served an estimated eight million people. These local centers also received some $825,000 in local support; some survive to this day.

Many artists who have since become famous were part of FAP. Philip Guston, Moses Soyer, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Jacob Laurence, Ivan Albright, Marsden Hartley, Philip Evergood, Mark Tobey -- these were just a few of the painters for whom the FAP provided a living and the chance to find "a new orientation and a new hope and purpose based on a new sense of social responsibility."

Interviews and photographs of former slaves were compiled by the WPA between 1936 and 1938. Factors led to radical writers finding both a voice and an audience in 1930s America, creating, among other things, the "Living Newspapers" associated with the Federal Theatre Project. Federal arts programs provided work for unemployed musicians, dancers, actors, painters, photographers, sculptors, and various other artists and educators as part of the New Deal.

the wpa's projects explored race, gender, class, and the axis of politics and art. projects brought murals to post offices, it created the indian arts and crafts board in 1935 to preserve and promote native american culture, and theater projects dealt with issues of black and white experience from new perspectives.

[eventually] The New Deal cultural programs were marred by censorship. When WPA chief Harry Hopkins announced the formation of the Federal Theatre at the National Theater Conference in 1935, he referred to a theme that would figure importantly in the development and demise of the FTP and other components of Federal One:

I am asked whether a theater subsidized by the government can be kept free of censorship, and I say, yes, it is going to be kept free from censorship. What we want is a free, adult, uncensored theater.

Despite Hopkins' pledge, the first act of censorship took place six months later. The first Living Newspaper, Ethiopia, portrayed Haile Selassie and Mussolini in the wake of the Italian invasion. When the New York FTP unit tried to get a recording of President Roosevelt's speech on Ethiopia to use in the production, the White House became alarmed at the content of the piece and banned the impersonation of any foreign ruler on the Federal Theatre stage.

State and local WPA officials were the most frequent transgressors of Harry Hopkins' stated intention. When the New York City WPA director was looking to purge his program of radical artists, he spotted trouble in a four-panel mural at Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Airport: he had three panels torn down and burned after he saw a figure who looked like Lenin and a plane with a red star that looked Soviet. The artist was fired, though he brought in his source photos to prove that the Lenin look-a-like was really an early parachutist and the plane a U.S. model.

Illinois's WPA administrator shut down Paul Green's Hymn to the Rising Sun, the second production of the Chicago Negro Company, while the opening night crowd was milling around in the lobby. He sputtered that the play, was "of such a moral character that I can't even discuss it with a member of the press." The play dealt with the use of chain-gang labor in the South; its moral character didn't prevent it from opening later in New York, to rave reviews.

The chilling effect of continuing [investigative] hearings, headlines about "red artists," and the rumblings of World War II brought a reorganization of Federal One in June 1939, signalling its final decline. Finally, the War put an end to all federally-subsidized artwork save that related directly to the war effort. The WPA was formally ended by
a presidential proclamation in 1942. 1

(see also Online WPA Exhibits, New Deal Arts,
and, of course,
The Calendar.

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Blogger zoe said...

a fascinating piece of history. although depressing in its outcome, which seems to be the norm...

03 March, 2010 06:13  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

hey zoe -- thanks. can you believe those riches? can you believe that we could barely even imagine them today? can you believe how little some things change?

03 March, 2010 06:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great transition from japonisme to the art&politics issue. Even if there is no Youkali (Weill, Fernay,1935), the F.A.P. initial intention was at least more attractive than certain political visions and uses of art in other countries at the same period. I enjoyed the reading a lot. D

03 March, 2010 07:18  
Blogger Dandy said...

I love your blog. I read regularly, though I don't comment. Thank you!!

03 March, 2010 08:44  
Anonymous evan said...

Federally subsidized...back in the day artists had patrons...but yeah...how the arts have fallen...there was a time when art & culture had importance, now, really it's more of a luxury item, enjoyed by folks who can both afford to buy the art, & those of us who can afford to make it & are willing to penny pinch.

I like the art as well...I see hints of directions various artists went in, both before & after- May reminds me of Kokoschka's early prints, July has me thinking Hockney.

I ought to apologize for my earlier post...never post without drinking enough coffee & hitting spell check...

...& I'm a little worried. I think my art might be, um...a little democratic...

03 March, 2010 14:02  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

great point D -- thanks for making it.

03 March, 2010 17:07  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

thank you, dandy -- how kind of you to let me know.

03 March, 2010 17:08  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

yeah, evan -- they seem to fall right at that transitional moment.

i love imagining the riches.

03 March, 2010 17:11  

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