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Up Close and Personal with “Art in a Day’s Work”

Museum guests use provided magnifying lenses to look closely at works in the exhibition "Art in a Day's Work."

Museum guests use provided magnifying lenses to look closely at works in the exhibition “Art in a Day’s Work.”

On February 6, Crystal Bridges opened a new temporary exhibition from our collection: Art in a Day’s Work, featuring more than 40 artworks, primarily prints, created during the Great Depression and the early 1940s. (You can browse a selection of these prints here.)  As small, easily transported works of art created in large numbers, prints were an ideal way for artists to reach a wide audience. Artists can influence the way we look at a subject by manipulating narrative details and formal elements, such as line, shape and composition (the way elements are organized on the page). In addition, the intimate scale of the prints invites a closer look. To help our guests better appreciate the details in these works, we have provided magnifying lenses in the gallery space that you may use to better view the works up close!

The Depression affected the life of every American in the 1930s, as one out of every four people was unable to find work. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to alleviate the financial and psychological devastation of the Great Depression by providing work for 3 million Americans through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), founded in 1935. In addition to employing white-collar professionals and manual laborers, the WPA offered work to musicians, actors, writers, and artists under a subdivision of the WPA called the Federal Art Project (FAP).

The FAP paid artists a salary of $24 a week to produce art about contemporary life. It is no coincidence that they found sympathy with laborers during their time with the WPA, as they too had to clock in and work regular hours in their studio.. With the financial and artistic freedom the FAP gave them, artists were able to improve their skills, develop new techniques and styles, and explore the social issues that concerned them.

The WPA dissolved in 1943 as the focus of the country shifted to World War II. By then, labor became a patriotic pursuit. Every American was called to do their part for the war effort. Women in particular answered the call to enter the workforce and fill traditionally male jobs. Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter embodies both the entrance of women into the work force and the new patriotic emphasis on labor.

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