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Friday, 26 July 2013

Where are today's social realist artists?

Social Realism is "the work of painters, printmakers, photographers and film makers who draw attention to the everyday conditions of the working classes and the poor, and who are critical of the social structures that maintain these conditions."

Good examples of social realism can currently be seen at the Watts Gallery - Frank Holl: Emerging from the Shadows - and the Royal Academy of Arts - Mexico: A Revolution in Art 1910 -1940:

"In 19th-century England the Industrial Revolution aroused a concern in many artists for the urban poor. Throughout the 1870s the work of such British artists as Luke Fildes, Hubert von Herkomer, Frank Holl (e.g. Seat in a Railway Station—Third Class, wood engraving, 1872) and William Small (e.g. Queue in Paris, wood engraving, 1871) were widely reproduced in The Graphic, influencing van Gogh’s early paintings."

The muralists who were active in Mexico after the Revolution of 1910 "emphasized a revolutionary spirit and a pride in the traditions of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. Diego Rivera’s History of Mexico from the Conquest to the Future (1929–30, 1935; Mexico City, Pal. N.), José Clemente Orozco’s Catharsis (1933; Mexico City, Pal. B.A.) and David Alfaro Siqueiros’s The Strike (fresco, 1957; Mexico City, Mus. N. Hist.) are characteristic of the movement."

Where are our equivalents today of these artists and groups? The claim is often made that contemporary art is radical but the radicalism of much modern and contemporary art has been an inwardly focussed radicalism concerned with the form of art as opposed to the radicalism of social realism which addresses cultural, economic and political structures that create and maintain poverty.

One contemporary artist concerned with the latter is John Keane: "His work has focused on many of the most pressing political questions of our age, and he came to national prominence in 1991 when he was appointed as official British war artist during the Gulf War. His work has always been deeply concerned with conflict - military, political and social - in Britain and around the world and his subjects have included Northern Ireland, Central America, and the Middle East, sometimes working with organisations such as Greenpeace and Christian Aid. More recent subject matter has addressed difficult topics relating to religiously inspired terrorism such as Guantanamo Bay, the Moscow theatre siege, and home-grown acts of violence against civilians."


The Jam - Wasteland.

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