Saturday, June 4, 2011

Depression Art: Getting people through

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On Tuesday October th, 1, Wall Street was devastated by a 1% decline in the Dow Jones, an episode that became known in the financial world as “Black Tuesday.” It is generally understood that “Black Tuesday” was the main start of the Great Depression. By the end of October 1, the stock market had dropped forty percent. This crash sent our nation into a depression for years later. This strongly influenced the lives of thousands of thousands of Americans. Many people were forced out of their homes or off their land. Farmers lost their farms. People were starving and out of work. Many people turned to art to try to get through the tough times.


To create jobs, the government created an organization called the Works Progress Administration. Activity in the arts was one aspect of the WPA. It was established in April 15 and directed by Harry Hopkins, its purpose was to provide socially useful work for the unemployed. WPA programs included the construction of public buildings such as schools, hospitals and courthouses; highways; recreational facilities such as athletic fields and parks and playgrounds; and conservation facilities such as fish hatcheries and bird sanctuaries. They also provided work for artists, writers, musicians, and actors. The program also helped people newly starting on the artistic path and nurtured their talent. Ralph Ellison and Jackson Pollock were among the many who were able to develop their talents during this critical stage of the nation. Pollock was best known for his expressionist painting technique of dripping and smearing paint, sand and glass, onto a canvas laid on the floor. Ellison was best know for his novel, The Invisible Man, a story about a black man’s journey from innocence to experience as he searches, first in the South and then in the North, for his place in the world. This book was one of the first to describe modern racial problems in the United States from a black American point of view. It received the National Book Award for fiction in 15.


Aside from the government helping society through the depression, the artist in society helped each other. Musicians tried to help people see that they would get through their troubles and all will be well. One such musical piece that shows this is Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries. With lyrics by Lew Brown and music by Ray Henderson. This song was written in 1. It tells people that just because they don’t have any money doesn’t necessarily mean that life has to be bad.


“People are queer, theyre always crowing, scrambling and rushing about;


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Why dont they stop someday, address themselves this way?


Why are we here? Where are we going? Its time that we found out.


Were not here to stay; were on a short holiday.


Life is just a bowl of cherries.


Dont take it serious; its too mysterious.


You work, you save, you worry so,


But you cant take your dough when you go, go, go.


So keep repeating its the berries,


The strongest oak must fall,


The sweet things in life, to you were just loaned


So how can you lose what youve never owned?


Life is just a bowl of cherries,


So live and laugh at it all…”


-“Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”


Another song calls out to the government for help for the people. He says that after all the people have done for the country they feel that they are being forsaken. It seems that the writer feels that the depression is the government’s fault and they are suffering for it.


They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,


When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.


They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,


Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?


Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.


Once I built a railroad; now its done. Brother, can you spare a dime?


Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;


Once I built a tower, now its done. Brother, can you spare a dime?


Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,


Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,


Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,


And I was the kid with the drum!


Say, dont you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.


Why dont you remember, Im your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?


Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,


Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,


Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,


And I was the kid with the drum!


Say, dont you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.


Say, dont you remember, Im your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?


-“Brother, can you Spare a Dime”


The verse where he speaks of the war and he asks, “why don’t you remember?” hints that he is asking the Government why they have forgotten about the people, and what are they going to do to fix the problems.


People turn to art when things are bad in life. Whether it’s listening to music that makes you happy or painting of drawing to relax. Society and the events that occur in it have always had a very large influence on art. In fact, most art is a reflection on current events, a protest, or trying to send some other sort of message to the people. Art is one of the highest forms of communication. It is a way to transmit ideas to the public. During the period of the great depression the people were confused and looking for someplace to turn and some sort of hope that they would make it through it. The painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers gave those people something to hold on to during this period of troubled times.





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