Public funding for the arts should be cut during a recession, right?

Grant Wood - American Gothic - Google Art Project
Well, er, no. “America after the fall – Painting in the 1930s” is an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts which breathtakingly displays how public funding for the arts during a depression (let alone a recession) can work wonders. As part of President Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, the Federal Arts Project employed artists to create visual art works, which eventually included over a hundred thousand paintings as well as many sculptures and other works. Artists who benefited included Jackson Pollock. There were other New Deal art projects such as the Public Works of Art project, the Section of Painting and Sculpture and the Treasury Relief Art Project.

All these programmes helped to produce an extraordinary decade for American Art, which is reflected brilliantly in the Royal Academy exhibition, on until June 4th in Piccadilly, London.

What comes over is that the decade established a distinctive American Art world, which was finally free of reference to art elsewhere. There is an extraordinary variety of styles producing a most colourful and impactful exhibition, reflecting the profound changes going on in the USA at the time.

It is a very powerful testament to the power of arts spending in a recession.

The photo above is of “American Gothic” by Grant Wood, which heads up the display. Below is another painting from the Academy show, “Aspiration” by Aaron Douglas, which graphically portrays the escape of Black Americans from slavery and their aspiration to move to professional employment in the cities of America.

Aspiration, Aaron Douglas, 1936, DeYoung Museum of Fine Arts

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