The Art of America Homeschool Unit Study: Art of the Great DepressionEva Varga
Regionalism (early 1930s)
Artists in the 1930s began to return to revive realism and focused on the realities of life. Edward Hopper focused on the poverty and loneliness of American cities. Others depicted the quiet, hard-working lifestyles of rural and small-town America. Thus, a regionalist art movement developed.
Edward Hopper (1882-1967) defined 20th-century realism with his austere, eerie scenes that conveyed the alienation and isolation of modern life. The illusion of light pervades his paintings, which depict late 19th-century architecture, coastal views, and scenes of the city.
Grant Wood (1891-1942) was an American painter best known for his paintings depicting the rural American Midwest, particularly American Gothic, an iconic painting of the 20th century.
Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) was an American painter and muralist at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement.
Have students find five scenes in this painting that show regional musicians. These represent the roots of American country music. Can students identify what type of music each of these represents?
Surrealism (late 1930s)
Other artists during this time period moved in the direction of surrealism, originating in Europe in the late 1910s and early ’20s as a literary movement. Drawing its subject matter from the imagination and subconscious mind surrealist artists began to experiment with this new mode of expression, which sought to release the unbridled imagination of the subconscious. As such, it became an international intellectual and political movement.
The organized Surrealist movement in Europe dissolved with the onset of World War II. Leading European artists Breton, Dalí, Ernst, Masson, and others, who first joined the Surrealists in 1937, left Europe for New York.
The movement found renewal in the United States at Peggy Guggenheim’s (1898–1979) Art of This Century gallery and the Julien Levy Gallery. The first American visual artists who worked with Surrealist techniques and imagery include:
Man Ray (1890–1976) whose art spanned painting, sculpture, film, prints and poetry. In his long career he also worked in styles influenced by Cubism, Futurism, and Dada. Seguidilla is a wonderful example of his work.
Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) was an artist and sculptor, whose signature work include dream-like, glass-fronted assemblages and collages. He was also an avant-garde experimental filmmaker.
Ask students to create a shadow-box style collage in the style of Cornell. Encourage them to use a theme to tie the objects together. Learn more about the Joseph Cornell Box.
Alternatively, students can use the concepts of symbolic representation to present themselves by creating a box that communicates their personal identity. Students should decorate their box and display a self-portrait on the outside, inviting the viewer to find out more.
The Art of America Homeschool Unit Studies
This post is part of a 10-post series, providing an overview of the history of American art from Pre-Colonial times to today, including multiple art forms:
- wood carvings
- editorial cartoons
Moving chronologically through All American History curriculum, each post summarizes the art trends and movements popular during the period and features one or two artists from that time period. Plus I will provide a related art lesson or project that you can enjoy with your students.
- First Nations People
- Colonial Art
- The Hudson River School
- The Civil War & Reconstruction
- The Gilded Age & American Impressionism
- The Early Twentieth Century – Cubism
- The Early Twentieth Century – Precisionism
- The Art of the Great Depression (this post)
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