Victoria Ahn 

Language Arts

Ms. Lee


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

Hart Benton.

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)

Works Cited

America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s. The Sackler Wing. The Royal Academy of Arts, 1 Sept. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

"American Scene Painting." American Scene Painting - American Regoionalism and Social Realism. Artarchaive, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

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.

"Culture and Arts during the Depression." Culture and Arts. University of Washington, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Erickson, Mark St. John. "Famous Avant-garde Artist Georgia O'Keeffe Shakes up 1930s Williamsburg." Dailypress, 06 May 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Phagan, Patricia. "Art in Georgia from 1895 to 1960." New Georgia Encyclopedia. University of Georgia Press, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

"Social Realism Movement, Artists and Major Works." The Art Story. Modern Incite, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

"Thomas Hart Benton Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works." The Art Story. Modern Incite, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

"What Impact Did the Conditions of the 1930s Have on the Arts? What Were the Significant Art Movements and Contributions of This Decade?", 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

Thomas Hart Benton
America after the Fall- Paintings from the 1930s

America after the Fall- Paintings from the 1930s