Social Realism Art Movement

Social Realism Art Movement

Between the two World Wars, a movement arose in response to the social and political unrest and difficulties of the time. Artists turned to realism as a means of creating more visible and recognizable art to a wider audience, depicting their subjects as courageous symbols of resilience and bravery in the face of adversity.

They hoped to draw attention to the deteriorating conditions of the poor and working classes through their work, as well as to confront the governing and societal structures they found liable.


What Is Social Realism and What Does It Mean?

The process of using art, visual arts to showcase social injustices is known as social realism. Social realism examines a society's poverty, inequity, and corrupt practices critically.

The Social Realism Art Movement's History

Although the Social Realism art movement gained popularity in America during the 1930s, its roots can be traced back decades.The Ashcan School was founded in New York City in the late nineteenth century by a group of American artists. Working-class New York was captured by artists such as John Sloan and George Luks.

The Ashcan School continued to influence the Social Realism movement well into the early twentieth century. Programs run by the government and work that has been commissioned: In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented the New Deal in the midst of the Great Depression.

The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) authorized work from Social Realist artists like Philip Evergood and John Steuart Curry as part of the New Deal. It lasted for a year, from 1933 to 1934. Roosevelt formed the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935, which employed tens of thousands of artists until 1943.

A critique of American society and politics: Artists associated with the Social Realist movement utilized their work as an aspect of social outcry throughout the 1930s. Left-wing artists in America and Mexican muralists like José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros concentrated on seditious subject material to disparage injustice and corruption.

After WWII, there was an increase in Abstract Expressionism which had supplanted Social Realism as the dominant art movement by the late 1940s. 


What exactly is the point of social realism art?

The term "social realism" refers to work by artists, printmakers, photographers, writers, and filmmakers that aims to highlight the authentic socio-political circumstances of the working class to disparage the political institutions that underpin these conditions.

When did the art movement of Social Realism begin?


Who was the founder of Social Realism?

American Social Realism, embodied in the work of Ben Shahn (1898-1969).  It grew out of the Ashcan urban art movement, which was led by Robert Henri (1865-1929). 

What distinguishes social realism art from other forms of art?

The main characteristics of Social Realism are a commitment to reality, the avoidance of romantic embellishments, and the creation of candid portraits that reveal human flaws.


Characteristics of Social Realism

The Social Realists imagined themselves as workers and laborers, just like those who worked in the fields and factories. The artists presumed they were critical members of society, instead of elites living on the profits of the working class and represented the unity of the working class.

While Social Realism encompassed a wide range of styles and subjects, the artists were joined in their critical assessment of the current establishment and socioeconomic power structure. Despite their stylistic differences, the artists were all realists who were sensitive to human circumstances. 

Although most people think of modernism in phrases of stylistic innovation, Social Realists believed that their work was modern because of its political criticism. 

Social Realism vs. Socialist Realism: What's the Difference?

Social realism differs from Socialist Realism in terms of visual art. The Socialist Realism was (and still is) a type of political propaganda popularized in Communist and other authoritarian governments that glamorizes workers and commoners toiling for "socialist" work goals.

Social Realism, on the other hand, emphasizes the injustices of the social, economic, and political systems, as well as their impact on society's less fortunate members. After the Moscow show trials (1936-8) and the agreeing of the Hitler-Stalin Non-Aggression Pact in 1939, numerous Social Realist artists became disenchanted with Communism.


Social Realist Artists

Ben Shahn

Ben Shahn came to America from Lithuania with his family when he was eight years old. Shahn proceeded to make iconic political works of art after serving an apprenticeship with Diego Rivera. Many of his works can still be seen at the New York Museum of Modern Art. 

William Gropper

William Gropper, a painter, and cartoonist who created humorous illustrations for communist and socialist publications such as New Masses and The Liberator. Gropper was a versatile artist who worked in a variety of mediums throughout his career, such as murals and printmaking. Gropper used innovative visual rhetoric.

Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi's initial sculptural works deeply committed to societal issues, which coincide with the artistic Left, are often overlooked. Rather than emphasizing the subject and its facial characteristics as other Social Realists did, Noguchi used a more modernist style.

While Noguchi's sculpture was well recognized, some critics were harsh, disclosing their own racism by trying to claim the artist was not a native-born Japanese person and, in one example, referring to the bold sculpture as "a little Japanese mistake."

Aaron Douglas

Aaron Douglas's works of art and illustrations managed to capture motifs of racial injustice during the 1920s and 1930s, making him a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance movement.

Raphael Soyer

Raphael Soyer investigated works of art after immigrating to the united states from Russia with his family in 1912, attempting to capture emotional and social American scenes.

What is Photorealism in Social Realism?

Photorealism is a type of art that includes other works of art and graphic media, in which an artist analyses the image and then tries to recreate it as accurately as possible in another medium.

Social Realism in Context

Social Realism was an artistic investigation of the social issues that flourished mainly in the 1920s and 1930s. A period marked by global economic depression, increased racial conflict, the rise of dictatorial regimes in the world. 

The "masses," which included the people from the lower classes, labor unionists, and the politically disempowered, were depicted in figurative and realistic ways by Social Realists. 


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