Viewing page 51 of 58

Revolt in the Country

Francis Robert White

The artists' objectives in the face of economic crisis and social and cultural confusion are not to be defined in terms of population or sectional boundaries. The problems of artists in the rural midwest are similar to those confronting artists of the Metropolitan areas. In Iowa, the first organization steps have already been taken to meet adverse conditions. 
In presenting the case of Iowa, it is first necessary to discard the popularized version of the bucolic painter, milk pail in hand, and to realize that serious painters here as elsewhere are confronted with realities and responsive to them. Of course there are Iowa artists living and working on farms, but they are not generally prompted to make pseudo-romantic halos out of the circumstances. There are also artists working in the small towns and cities, but they are not necessarily corn-conscious in their approach to art. 
Iowa is not 100% Regionalist, publicity to the contrary notwithstanding. A majority of the recognized artists of this state repudiate Regionalism with its theme of opposition between city and country and are more closely aligned with the universal plastic idea. This is not to say that painters here do not make use of the contemporary scene. It is as inevitable that there should be evidence of barns, horses and farmers in Iowa art as that Fourteenth Street and Union Square should figure so prominently in the art of New York. 
The questions which most vitally concern the Iowa artist center about the need for an assured place in society with the possibility of economic security in exchange for socially valid work.
The general machinery for art encouragement in Iowa, before the depression, consisted in local associations, Women's Clubs, art departments and a few endowed galleries. The little Gallery of Cedar Rapids affiliated with the American Federation of Arts and under the direction of Edward Rowan was one of the most influential of these galleries. Fort Dodge and Davenport were also prominent. Traveling exhibits from the College Art Association, and American Federation, with a sprinkling from the Grand Central Gallery shows brought the art of urban America to Iowa. Local one-man shows and all-State exhibitions, with and without prizes, were additional features. While the cultural backwardness of the frontier has greatly lessened under this attack, the artist has remained on the fringe of society dependent for livelihood on outside sources, making his own spiritual and material investment against odds and without prospect.
The function of these Iowa art organizations since the depression has


remained much the same as before, but on restricted budgets and with the almost total eclipse of purchases for permanent collections. The Little Gallery has inaugurated some changes favoring the artist and would like to do more; but the main problems have remained unchallenged except by the government. 
It is impossible to surgery the Iowa art field of the past three years without encountering the pervasive effects of Government patronage. Its influence has been salutary as a whole, despite what lapses in the local or central administration have occurred. Participation in art as a public act even from the relief angle has had power to stimulate new social responses in the artist and to raise the level of his aesthetic comprehension. Again the people of the State have profited from the creation of some significant public art works.
While the government projects have given the first instance of a national concern with the artist as a socially productive favor, the method and guarantees of such projects particularly in their local application are bound to require the leadership of artist groups. The experience in Iowa has proven both the constructive effects of such leadership when recognized by the authorities and the disrupting consequences which result from ignoring the group expression.
The organization in Iowa which has taken the lead in consolidating the artists' approach and in defending their legitimate interests is the Cooperative Mural Painters. This organization was formed on Labor Day, 1935 on the basis of common economic and cultural objectives. In calling the sixteen original members, the highest standards of technical and professional ability were consulted. The original members were all formerly connected with the PWAP. They were painters known to such national exhibits as the Chicago International and American Annuals, the Pennsylvania Academy annuals, the Los Angeles Museum, Corcoran, the Modern and Whitney Museums and other New York exhibitions.
The Labor Day session in Cedar Rapids received a 100% response from the artists called. A democratic form of organization was conceived, pertinent questions were discussed and group action has proceeded from that date, tangibly affecting the Iowa field.
An instance of the cooperative ideal can be seen in the operation of the group mural project under the Treasury Relief Art Project in Cedar Rapids. Five men comprise the mural team, one of whom is designated as master artist, but all of whom share equally in the designing responsibility and opportunity. The general subject matter outline was developed through conference among the painters. The architectural design considerations were solved so as to give definite and complete mural units for each artist's creative solution. Cooperation set a standard by which to regulate questions of scale and color harmony. The work has progressed with great internal harmony. This signal victory in collective enterprise has received the friendly cooperation of the chief of the Treasury Relief Art Project. 
However, in meeting the larger State-wide problems, group action has been obstructed. When the Federal Art Project was first introduced it was necessary to protest the proposed appointment of a regional director on the basis 

Please note that the language and terminology used in this collection reflects the context and culture of the time of its creation, and may include culturally sensitive information. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution, but is available in its original form to facilitate research. For questions or comments regarding sensitive content, access, and use related to this collection, please contact