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American Arts

The story of America in the 20th century can be told through the art of each decade. As wars raged on and American culture experienced a 180-degree shift, artists throughout the 20th century were rapidly shifting the way they created artworks. Many of their highly expressive works responded to the harrowing current events of the day, resonating strongly with the American public and subsequently inciting mass social change. This paved the way for American artists to rise to the top of the international art world, which had previously been dominated by European artists. 

 

Early 1900's Immigration

Photography emerged as a crucial way to document life in America’s new and constantly growing immigrant communities, especially in downtown New York City. Manhattan’s Lower East Side was a melting pot for Italian, Irish, Chinese, Polish, Russian, and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, all of whom lived on top of each other in crowded tenements. In order to put food on the table in their new country, many poor immigrants had their entire family working, including young children. A photo movement by the iconic photographer Jacob Riis started to emerge in which the conditions of squalor in American factories and workplaces were exposed as inhumane, unsanitary, and unfit for young children. This photography shed light on these injustices and led to workplace reform and the formation of labor unions.


The Great Depression & WWI

The United States experienced a time period called the “Roaring Twenties,” a term referring to the flourishing economy, liberated culture, and material excess that dominated society at the time. This was a time of rapidly expanding fashion, music, and arts. It was a time for black artists and musicians in America to gain society-wide recognition for jazz, a musical genre originating in their communities. In Harlem in New York City, the black community flourished in terms of culture and music, and this period was often called the “golden age.” Notable musicians from the period included Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Duke Ellington, and Earl Hines. 
During and after the Great Depression, artworks became increasingly bleak and often revolved around farmland and landscape scenery, due to the importance of agriculture at the time. 

 

Post-War America

Civil rights art was focused on the liberation of African Americans from the ongoing ripple effects of slavery. It did so through creative expression, and was used as a way to make political statements as well as creatively express and spread different aspects of African American culture to the mainstream, white world.

In response to the Vietnam War in the US, there was heavy resistance that eventually made way to an entire shift in culture that had reverberations around the world, up until the present day. The antiwar sentiment of the time was reflected in the arts; in fact, the arts–especially music–was used as the primary catalyst for social change and cultural unity. War protest songs started to trickle into the mainstream culture in concerts, music festivals, and radio hits. Rock music was spreading anti war rhetoric to the masses, and was the most effective way to gather people for such a rapidly spreading, dire cause. A few examples of iconic protest songs from the time include Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” Pete Seeger’s “Bring ‘em Home,” Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s “Ohio,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and many, many more. 

Simultaneously, the fight for women’s rights dominated antiwar protests and countercultural sentiment. Films of the era shed to light the subjugation American women faced at the hands of patriarchal society. “The Stepford Wives,” a 1975 feminist thriller film, became a classic and chilling filmic representation of misogyny in American culture. In the film, a female photographer, Joanna Eberhart, and her husband Walter, move from New York City to a small town in Connecticut. The women there are very different from Joanna, and it takes lots of clues and strange happenings for her to realize there is something deeply wrong happening to these women. Each of them are actually robotic clones of themselves that their husbands have manufactured after murdering their original, human selves. The film is a horrific and extreme comment on men’s agendas against women to degrade and subjugate them, going so far as to kill them and replace them with robots. The movie has come to be an iconic representation of the feminist movement, and the term “Stepford Wife” has been adopted to refer to a woman embodying the eerily obedient behaviors of the robots in the film.
 

Memorial Day and Contemporary America

In the modern day US, contemporary artists are drawing inspiration from all things culture. As our society becomes more and more digitized, people have more and more access to unlimited information and cultural phenomena. Artist Angelo Accardi draws on pop culture in nearly all of his artworks, across which he features hundreds of relevant icons (singers, actors, politicians, athletes, cartoons, etc.) in a dynamic composition that makes statements on America’s global influence. 

Additionally, Eden artist SN creates mixed media artworks that juxtapose darkness and human industrialization with light or harmless-seeming topics. For example, many of his artworks feature world famous supermodels, a symbol of harmonious aesthetic and surface level beauty. He covers them in beautiful butterflies to enhance this aesthetic appeal, yet in the same artwork also chooses to have them holding assault rifles while in the barren Sahara Desert. This is his comment on the blatant intersections between violence and lightheartedness in American pop culture, and the dark impact industrialization has had on otherwise light subjects. 
 

This Memorial Day, Eden Gallery is proud to sell artworks celebrating American culture. Shop for Memorial Day on the Eden Gallery website or visit a gallery near you.

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