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CHF 2008: Thinking Big

Erika Doss: Picturing New Deal American Art

Visual Art and National Identity, 1933-1945

Recorded on November 8, 2008.

The impact of the Great Depression was felt far and wide in the 1930s, and so were New Deal efforts to restore American productivity and national spirit. In her lecture "Picturing New Deal America: Visual Art and National Identity," art historian Erika Doss surveys art "work" produced in the United States under various New Deal federal work relief programs from 1933 to 1945. Under the New Deal, the federal government employed artists such as Berenice Abbott, Thomas Hart Benton, Stuart Davis, Jacob Lawrence, Jackson Pollock, and Grant Wood to create significant, lasting public artworks in schools, hospitals, and libraries as a part of a larger effort to provide much-needed economic stimulus to citizens on various state and local levels. Through the lens of our country's visual culture, Doss examines the ways that New Deal artists captured the tensions between class, race, gender, and labor, and the changing understandings of public participation, and the dynamics of national identity during a most challenging era.

This annual lecture recognizes a generous multiyear grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art. The Terra Foundation is dedicated to fostering the exploration, understanding, and enjoyment of the visual arts in the United States for national and international audiences.

 Terra

Teachers' Guide

The Chicago Humanities Festival has prepared a teachers' guide for this program. Download the Erika Doss Study Guide now!

Speakers and Performers

Erika Doss

Erika Doss's primary teaching and research interests lie in the areas of modern and contemporary American art history and material/visual cultures. She is the author of numerous publications including Benton, Pollock, and the Politics of Modernism: From Regionalism to Abstract Expressionism (1991), Spirit Poles and Flying Pigs: Public Art and Cultural Democracy in American Communities (1995), Elvis Culture: Fans, Faith, and Image (1999), Looking at Life Magazine (editor, 2001), and Twentieth-Century American Art (2002).

CHF Suggests      Related links and resources for further study

Leaders And Thinkers

Jonathan Crary
Professor of Modern Art and Theory
Margaretta Lovell
Professor of American Art and Architecture
Alexander Nemerov
Professor of the History of Art and American Studies

Related Events

1934: A New Deal for Artists
Through Jan 3, 2010 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
2009 New York International Vintage Poster Fair
October 16 - October 18, 2009, New York City

Good Reads

The Works Progress Administration
Articles and resources gathered by The New York Times
Memorial Mania
Fear, Anxiety, and Public Culture
The WPA History of the Negro in Pittsburgh
A preview from Google Books

Online Resources

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal
The Library of Congress learning page
New Deal/WPA Art Project
Comprehensive online gallery of WPA artwork in all fifty states
Teacher's Guide
Download the teacher's guide for this lecture.