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Goldman
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deal with social protest by stopping the "Mexican invasion on the border," a reference to the Mexican muralists. What he wanted for the Treasury Department were representational competence, the ability to render detail literally, and wholesome American themes. Government art, he told artists, should make people's lives happier and not be solemn and intellectual.5 Eighty-five hundred artists received the Section's free Bulletin and knew its thinking on mural art. Using art as a weapon of social criticism was considered negative. The need was for murals to deal constructively with chaos and conflict.6 Artists who offended the aesthetic and political sensibilities of the Section risked exclusion from patronage. Local committees who usually judge Section competitions for mural designs and raised part of the funds for each project also took the opportunity to advance their special interests and ideologies.7 Working under these conditions, not many muralists raised the realities of Depression years or the surge of labor and left wing activity. Historical subject matter was interpreted in a fairly traditional or innocuous manner. Those artists who were more militant encountered the threats of prior censorship, or destruction after the fact - not only during the New Deal, but for many years thereafter.8
In addition to these general prohibitions, overt and covert, which affected subject matter, there was also the question of racism. One incident comes down to us from the New Deal period representing, without doubt, widespread attitudes. In the early 1940s, a prepackaged show was sent around the country by the Farm Security Administration's photography division. When it reached West Texas, a regional director of the agency criticized what he considered a breach of the "Southern code of ethics": "... the photographs of Negroes to be used in Region 12 are quite objectionable ... knowing the people in this region as I do, I doubt the wisdom of using a panel showing a Negro farmer beside a panel showing a white farm woman ... Even a Spanish-American farmer's picture would not be popular in
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