Recessions, Depressions and Art

I don’t think that one can make it through any given day in this year of 2009 without at least hearing the words “recession,” “depression,” or “economic crisis.” These words are all on the news, they are in our conversations, and they embed themselves as fears deep within our hearts. We hear these words and perhaps are dragged down with the doom and gloom that they connotate. In the current “economic crisis,” I believe that it could be possible that an artist may begin to doubt their relevance in the culture or economy of the times. While healthcare and technology projected as the growing industry, let us not forget the relevance of art in these times. I am reminded of how it was through the circumstances tailing The Great Depression which aided the validation of the abstract artist and brought New York City to rival Paris as a hub of art culture.r-letter1

The emergence of the New York School came from the endorsement of abstract art by the United States government, by way of the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, affectionately called “The Project” by the artists, which was in charge of creating jobs and enhancing American culture during the Depression. When an artist for the WPA received a government check for painting murals around New York City, he was not just getting enough for his bread and milk, but it “brought to the artist for the first time in America the realization that he was not a solitary worker…[that] he was no longer…talking to himself.” This quote by Edward Bruce reflected how art became a public service, and how it endowed artists with a sense of purpose for their art. Their expression of angst, subjective existential crisis, or of political reaction mirrored the attitudes of their public counterparts.

Were it not for the pioneers in Greenwich Village who dared to depart from cubism and classical depiction painting, the art world may still be looking to Paris as its center. Motherwell, Pollock, Hofman, deKooning, Rosenberg, Rothko and all those associated with the abstract expressionist art scene in New York City revolutionized the meaning of paint application, expression, subjective reality, color and surface texture of paintings, now not only considered pictures, but “events.” Stretching the mind of the American viewers and stretching even further the European mind to take seriously the frantic paint-drips, blobs, splatters, strokes and attitudes embodied in the work of these artists. As Hans Hofmann said, “A work of art can never be the imitation of life but only, and on the contrary, the generation of life.”

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