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Art Front

June 23, 2009

Marc Moscato just sent me a link to a great post he put up on his blog Whittlin’ Away. It’s on Art Front, a 1930s radical art publication from the US. Check it out (and go to Marc’s blog to see more images and read other good stuff!):

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In my research for the Art for the Millions bike ride, I came across an amazing little-remembered publication, Art Front (1934-1937). This magazine provided a fantastic resource and community sounding board for issues surrounding art and politics during the Works Progress Administration (WPA) period. Based in New York City, the magazine was the official organ of the Artists’ Union and served as a main organizing tool. Contributors included Fernand Leger, Harold Rosenberg, Louis Bunin, and Stuart Davis, among numerous others.
Art Front’s mission was “as wide as art itself.” Stated its editor, H.S. Baron, “Many art magazines are being published in America today. Without one exception, however, these periodicals support outworn economic concepts as a basis for the support of art which victimize and destroy art. The urgent need for a publication which speaks for the artist, battles for his economic security and guides him in his artistic efforts is self-evident.”
Within the pages of Art Front are things you would expect from a union paper — arguments for higher wages and more jobs in the arts. But also found are a marvelous assortment of manifestos for the creation of public art centers, tracts on revolutionary art vs. art for the bourgeoisie, reviews of (then) contemporary artists and reports on censorship and red-baiting (many WPA artists came under attack for political activity and leftist organizing).
One interview with Thomas Benton struck me as particularly insightful. How would we answer these questions today?
1. Is provincial isolation compatible with modern civilization?
2. Is your art free of foreign influence?
3. What American art influences are manifest in your work?
4. Was any art form created without meaning or purpose?
5. What is the social function of a mural?
6. Can art be created without direct personal contact with the subject?
7. What is your political viewpoint?
8. Is the manifestation of social understanding in art detrimental to it?
9. Is there any revolutionary tradition for the American artist?
10. Do you believe that the future of American Art lies in the Midwest?
Fascinating read if you can track it down (I inter-library loaned a microfilm copy).

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