"The Fleet's In." Paul Cadmus, '34
A few weeks ago I wrote about the mural project of the WPA under President Roosevelt. In researching for the article, I could find no compilation of all the murals or even much about the various other WPA art programs during the 1930's. Curious. Of course, many of the murals have been destroyed as old post offices and government buildings came down and new ones replaced them. But why is there no documentation of all these works of art? I would suggest that politics played a role, as we see today in ongoing the ongoing anti-National Public Radio debate.
Politicians, the morality police or aspiring mind controllers have through history, used art to illustrate the decadence of the artist mind, Bohemians all to be sure, and the immoral influence of their work. Diego Rivera's mural work in the US was extremely controversial during the thirties, as were many of the works of many American artists in the WPA projects. Some WPA mural plans were censored by governmental officials who directed the subject content be changed. Prospective murals subjects, as well interpretation, were indeed reviewed before the artist could actually paint!
Pictured here is one such such mural depicting sailors wolf whistling at some pretty girls who in turn were enjoying the attention. Artist Paul Cadmus's "The Fleet's In" is an oil on canvas, painted in 1934. The painting was selected for inclusion in show of PWAP art the Corcoran Gallery of Art, prompting a viewer to write an irate and indigent letter to The Evening Star (WDC). "It reflected unfairly on the men of the navy," said the Secretary of the Navy in response and "The Fleet's In" was removed from the exhibition. The painting was "stored" in various places, certainly not in public, until 1981 when the Navy had it restored. (Find an interesting chronology of this episode at http://www.history.navy.mil/ac/cadmus/cadmus.htm.
In fact, President Roosevelt's detractors used the immorality of the arts created in the WPA project as anti-Roosevelt campaign fodder. Didn't work though.Topics: art | Art in cultures | painting | Social Commentary
3 Responses to Politics of Anti-Arts
I live in Ventura, California. There is still a WPA mural in the downtown post office. I thought I had read somewhere that someone was researching and listing the remaining murals. I think whenever politics are involved in funding art, the artist definitely runs the risk of being "advised" by the sponsor as to content.
Enjoyed your post. Glad to see someone else interested in art historical subjects. The time period of the WPA is an interesting one socially and politically since it includes not only part of the Depression era but also part of WWII. Many states do have websites that chronicle murals within their borders, but I expect you know that. This book is also available: WPA Artwork in Non-Federal Repositories, Edition II
by the GSA. The book is free from: Fine Arts Program, General Services Administration (GSA-PC), 1800 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20405.
As you also know, history is often re-written to shine a more favorable light. Look at the American expansion west and the fate of the Indians. The Texas Board of Education is periodically sanitizing textbooks to reflect "family values." Ironic that we've so often criticized other countries for human rights violations and infringement of personal liberties including free speech.
Thanks for the info on the Cadmus piece.
Thanks for your comments, Barbara and Donald --
So right, Barbara, about "sponsors making clear the slant of competition or contracted works."
Thanks too, Donald, for the info on the GSA book. My state, Iowa, has had for some time a good reference on the murals here and I just learned of a new work on Iowa murals from 1886-2006: "Murals of Iowa," author Gregg R. Narber. As to our record on human rights, it is horrendous. But as you say, history written of expansionism, civil rights, Japanese and German internments and far more give motives a glow of righteousness quite undeserved.
* indicates a required field