By Darla McCammon
World War I lasted 4 and a half years between July 1914 and November 1918, then in the years of the late 1920’s the Great Depression hit our country–hard.
Shortly after this disaster, the government began what would be known as the New Deal programs. These events, in turn, created an additional reaction in the art world which caused a group of painters to enlarge on a trend known as Social Realism. As this movement developed, an assortment of artists became known as the “Ashcan School.” Robert Henri was one of those artists who encouraged other artists to paint the realities of New York’s boroughs and back streets.
He wanted “art to be akin to journalism. He also wanted “paint to be as real as the mud and horse manure and snow that froze on Broadway in the winter.” The term Ashcan school came from a publication using a facetious analogy when they wrote: “there are too many pictures of ashcans and girls hitching up their skirts on Horatio Street.” The term Ashcan School Stuck with laughter in the group and became proudly hailed as a title by these rebel artists.
We are going to learn about the various artists who participated in and perpetuated this style of art that reflected society during those years. (photo provided-ashcan artists in John Sloan’s Studio)
The federal government, during this period, encouraged workers to become employed in various endeavors paid for by the government. This became a huge boon to artists who were paid to create murals, art on government buildings, and otherwise use their talent to create art in government-owned, public places.Some of this art still survives today.
An undercurrent of political unrest began churning through this same art community as artists began to openly create work that drew attention to such subjects as unemployment, poverty, corruption, and greed. Many of the artists became enamored of propaganda being spewed (and painted) by such as Mexican mural artist Diego Rivera and other dissidents of the time.
Many of these artists were unimpressed by the Impressionist movement and their art showed a rejection of that Parisian technique and replaced it with a focus on subject matter. Many of them came from a background of illustrating for print magazines and newspapers before photography usurped those jobs. George Luks, an artist we will cover, was quoted as saying “I can paint with a shoestring dipped in pitch and lard.”
Stay with us as we journey through the lives of many interesting artists who became known as the “Ashcan School.”