Southern Art during the 1930s and 1940s
The 1930s and 1940s developed the form of art energetically into a new industrial age which portrayed the
economic and cultural fabric of the land. Also, this was the era when artist self-consciously sought to reach
broader layers to the public. Adopting the concept of “regionalism,” also known as “American Scene,” a lot
of the paintings and sculptures during the era depicted American urban and rural scenes. The American
Scene movement was approached by many artists, including Thomas Hart Benton, who traveled around
the South and captured the landscape and atmosphere in his paintings. The 1930s and 1940s of the South
was a period of intense artistic experimentation, when new forms of art were explored, and transformative
cultural institutions were found.
From 1930 through the 1940s was the “Hard Times” in America. People needed forms of entertainment,
particularly in an inexpensive way to captivate themselves from the hard days. Artists depicted the South’s
landscape, atmosphere of the communities, and portraits to express feelings and emotions of the society,
creating sympathy with citizens. Art was assisted by the government which resulted in production of
for all to enjoy. The expressions shown in the paintings and sculptures in the South during the 1930s to
1940s portrays the history of the nation. “American Scene” was a naturalist style of painting, popular during
the era. American Scene is a term for the rural “American Regionalism” and the urban and politically oriented
“Social Realism.” American Scene was one way of interacting with the current politic and the emotion
towards it, which made American Scene a famous style. This form of art made a clear interpretation about
the conflicts of American life, leading to more attention from the people. As the government invested a lot of
effort into introducing art, Southern art was highly valued.
"I have a sort of inner conviction….I have come to something that is in the image of America and the
American people of my time." Thomas Hart Benton was an artist to the “American Scene Painting
Movement,” who captured modern American life. Most of his paintings interprets with landscape and
portraits, which was inspired by the form of art, “regionalism.” Artists analyze that the main reason behind
his contribution was the thematic emphasis on images of ordinary people and common lore. Benton’s large-
scale paintings reflects on on the values of working class citizens, and drawing attention to the plight of
farmers and the negative effect of industrialization. Benton is considered an outspoken person by his sense
of expression to his thoughts with his artworks. All of his paintings stands out by its exaggerated forms of
shapes and colors that catches the attention to the idea that his is trying to explicit. In fact, Benton boldly
used his artwork against the KKK, lynching and fascism during the 1930s and 1940s. The expansion of both
the range of possible artistic subject matter and the potential of public American art is a legacy of Thomas
Southern Art had a lasting impact upon all aspects of America. The 1930s and 1940s became a
decade of documentary expression, one in which artists explored alternate representational forms. Designed
with the aim of revealing the desperate reality, Southern Art has drawn a history of America. “Some of the
best work that's happening right now is from architects who have remained in their home countries and who
have focused on a local or national identity and the idea of critical regionalism.” (Cameron Sinclair)
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Benton, Thomas Hart. Achelous and Hercules. 1947. Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Allied Stores Corporation, and museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program 1985.2 Smithsonian American Art Museum 2nd Floor, North Wing. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
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