The New Deal's Influence on American Culture
In Democratic Art, Sharon Musher explores these questions and uses them as a springboard for an examination of the role art can and should play in contemporary society. Drawing on close readings of government-funded architecture, murals, plays, writing, and photographs, Democratic Art examines the New Deal’s diverse cultural initiatives and outlines five perspectives on art that were prominent at the time: art as grandeur, enrichment, weapon, experience, and subversion. Musher argues that those engaged in New Deal art were part of an explicitly cultural agenda that sought not just to create art but to democratize and Americanize it as well. By tracing a range of aesthetic visions that flourished during the 1930s, this highly original book outlines the successes, shortcomings, and lessons of the golden age of government funding for the arts.
Introduction: Art as a Function of Government
1. May the Artist Live?
2. Art as Grandeur
3. Art as Enrichment
4. Art as a Weapon
5. Art as Experience
6. Art as Subversion
Conclusion: A New Deal for the Arts?
“Musher divides her discussion of government-sponsored art programs of the 1930s in the United States into five distinct modes of communication: grandeur, enrichment, weapon, experience, and subversion. This approach avoids the simplistic, politicized reading of the public art programs of the period that characterizes so much discussion of this material and will significantly impact future scholarship. There are two interesting outcomes of this format: style assumes a significant role in understanding how the varied messages of the projects within Musher’s categories were communicated, and context becomes much richer and more precisely situated within the social and political order for which the art was created. Musher does all this without invidious comparisons to ‘advanced American art,’ and thus gives the works she discusses their proper—and honorable—place within American history, as well as art history. Recommended.”
“Warning of the political implications of using art as a weapon, and lamenting the purely economic justifications used by recent supporters of federal art funding, Musher argues that advocates should take a lesson from the 1930s art-as-experience activists who argued that, beyond creating jobs and stimulating the economy, the arts ‘make us more thoughtful, satisfied, and engaged citizens.'”