American Art Before and After World War Two

American Art Before and After World War Two

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The work of art is to communicate, to connect the viewer to a story or a message being told by the artist. Art is also used to portray the time that it was done, for example, the Great Depression period. Art is flexible and dynamic, meaning that it changes its expression depending on the issues affecting humanity at the time it is made. America is one country that has a rich history and myriads of events that mark its history. Artists have, therefore, played a great role in expressing historical events for future generations to use. The Great Depression and World War II are some of the greatest landmarks for art movement in the American history (Spivak, 2011). Before the Great Depression happened, many Americans lived a carefree life as life was simple and most of them believed they had financial security. Luxury and levity dictated the American culture with many social events being the focus of most people. The Art Dec is one of the Art movements that existed before the great depression. It was famous for applying fashion, visual art and design in all life’s aspects that the Americans had. It was not long before the Great Depression caught up with the Americans leading to the crash of stocks leaving the society hollow and depressed as their savings depleted. In a bid to express the plights of Americans and the events of life during the Great Depression and after the World War, artist movements rose, and many artists started expressing the plights and lifestyle of Americans through different forms of art.

In this paper, I intend to discuss one abstract expressionist and two Great Depression artists citing examples of some of their artworks and what it meant to the art movement of the time. The article will discuss the purpose of these artworks and the style that was used to make them about the Great Depression. The difference in styles used by Abstract expressionists during Post World War II and the artwork of the 1930’s will be outlined.

Great Depression Artists

Art is a style of expressing issues and sending a message. As Americans entered the memorable great depression, art had started taking a new shape. It stopped just expressing designs and lavish life that the Americans had; it was now time to reflect family issues, the plights of the depression, and political concerns. The 1930’s became a new era for unique art that was meant to outline what the Americans were going through (New Deal Art: “Apple Vendor.” 2016).

One of the most remarkable artists of the 1930’s was Barbara Stevenson whose work was created during the harsh times of the great depression. In 1934, she created a resounding artwork called Apple Vendor which was a painting meant for the Public Works of Art Project. In a bid to understand the seriousness of the Great Depression and how it was affecting the American citizens, the government had come up with an art project that it funded (Adler, 2009). Artists were being given financial and moral support to enable them to record the feel of the country by expressing what was happening through art.

The Apple Vendor is a masterpiece which depicts a heroic figure of a man that tends to dominate the entire painting. The 1934 oil painting shows the massive, monumental and heroic figure sitting at a street corner selling two piles of fruits, presumably Apples, one yellow and the other red. The pricing of the fruits shows a five-dollar a piece outlining the level of devastation that even the great people in the society were going through, the real look on the ground (Spivak, 2011).

Apparently, it is believed that Barbara was expressed the same worries in her painting as President Franklin Roosevelt who talked about Apple selling in his speech. In a bid to make a point about the economy of the country, in one of his speeches he had talked about apple-selling. The artwork outlines how the great and mighty America had its economy brought to its knees (Adler, 2009). Instead of the great war veterans coming back home to enjoy their retirement, they met a devastated economy that forced them to become street vendors to make a living in the country they sacrificed their life for.

The other renowned artist of the Great Depression was William Cumming whose painting career was intertwined with politics. Cumming was born in 1917 in Montana and grew to become one of the greatest artists of the Great Depression era. One of his marvelous paintings was The image of Consequence is unprecedented artwork (Spivak, 2011). It demonstrates how much the artist was exposed to the plights of the Great Depression.

The artworks of Cumming express images that a regular American can relate with and resonate with any propaganda taint. He used different painting styles to express the way of life for the Americans during the Great Depression. One of his images called the Evening Conversation shows a lady holding her hips and a glowing face. On the table, there is a bottle of wine and two glasses, depicting that she had company. In this painting, Cumming expresses the level at which society members had to stoop to make a living. Presumably, the lady in the painting is a prostitute.

Another one of his images is a 1940 untitled painting that shows three men who are seated on rocks, a sort of a mine. The men are seen to be conversing, and they are tired, worn-out and devastated. The artwork shows the economic devastation that came with the Great Depression forcing people to do what they could to make a living. In all his artwork, Cumming expressed the consequences that the Great Depression brought to America (Spivak, 2011).

Post World War Two Abstract Expressionism Artist

The aspect of Abstract Expressionism was an art movement that had diversified inspirations that led to its formation. The war and its aftermath were the main inspirations for the formation of the movement. It was developed in the 1940’s in New York whereby artists used canvases filled with fields of color to make their art as well as abstract forms (Butler, 2014).

One of the reputable American Abstract expressionist painters was Paul Jackson Pollock. He was also known for his notoriety in drinking, an aspect that led to his death at age 44. Between 1938 and 1942, Pollock had worked in the government-sponsored project called WPA General Art (Khan Academy, 2017). He is known for his unique drip painting technique as well as the use of synthetic resins and alkyd enamels. Pollock’s maturity and greatness in art was his ability to come up with the drip technique which enabled the description of pictorial space in abstract expressionism.

One of his masterpiece artwork was the 1947 Full Fathom Five painting which he used the drip technique to make. Drip technique involves the process of pouring color or paint to a canvas instead of carefully applying it. This was a pure expression of free-form abstraction which depicted a new ear and turns in art expression (Anirudh, 2015). Abstract expressionists resulted in new ways of doing things after seeing the devastation that the Second World War had brought to American citizens. In his paintings, Pollock was expressing his inner suffering and emotions (Khan Academy, 2017).

In conclusion, Painting has played a great role in transferring historical events from one generation to another. It was used to tell the look and plights of America and during the Great Depression as well as the new outlook on things after the Second World War. Great Artists such as Barbara, Cummings, and Pollock have made great contributions in helping express political, social and economic aspects facing Americans in a manner that is admirable.


Adler, J. (2009). 1934: The Art of the New Deal. Retrieved from

Anirudh. (2015). 10 Most Famous Paintings By Jackson Pollock. Retrieved from

Butler, R. (2014). What was Abstract Expressionism? Abstract Expressionism after Aboriginal Art. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, 14(1), 76-91. doi:10.1080/14434318.2014.936529

Khan Academy. (2017). Retrieved from

New Deal Art: “Apple Vendor.” (2016, August 14). Retrieved from

Spivak, J. (2011). Buzz: The life and art of Busby Berkeley. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

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