(July 19, 2021) We are, once again, at the start of the work week. But more than that. We just (as in society, all of us together) might be on the edge of the biggest change in work practices since the digital revolution in the 1990s. At a recent editorial meeting we thought it might be a good time to cast our eyes back to the history of the art of work and some of the people who visualized it.
Overview of Detroit Industry, North Wall, 1932-33, fresco by Diego Rivera. Detroit Institute of Arts. The Detroit Industry Murals (1932-1933) are a series of frescoes by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera, consisting of twenty-seven panels depicting industry at the Ford Motor Company and in Detroit. Together they surround the interior Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Painted between 1932 and 1933, they were considered by Rivera to be his most successful work Rivera was a controversial choice for this art project, as he was known to follow Marxist philosophy. The Depression had disrupted the faith in the US in industrial and economic progress. Some critics viewed the murals as Marxist propaganda.
The Harvesters is an oil painting on wood completed by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in 1565. It depicts the harvest time, in the months of July and August or late summer. He was a formative influence on Dutch Golden Age painting and later painting in general in his innovative choices of subject matter, as one of the first generation of artists to grow up when religious subjects had ceased to be the natural subject matter of painting. He also painted no portraits, the other mainstay of Netherlandish art.
Van Gogh had a particular attachment and sympathy for peasants and other working class people that was fueled in several ways. He was particularly fond of the peasant genre work of Jean-François Millet and others. He found the subjects noble and important in the development of modern art. Van Gogh had seen the changing landscape in the Netherlands as industrialization encroached on once pastoral settings and the livelihoods of the working poor with little opportunity to change vocation. Van Gogh had a particular interest in creating character studies of working men and women in the Netherlands and Belgium, such as farmers, weavers, and fishermen. Making up a large body of Van Gogh’s work during this period, the character studies were an important, foundational component in his artistic development, the art of work.
Joseph Wright of Derby painted five paintings on the theme of a blacksmith’s shop or a forge between the years 1771 and 1773. The Derby Museum version is of a blacksmith’s shop where three men work to manufacture an iron or steel component. The presence of visitors and the nocturnal work is explained by the farrier working.
Stonebreaking Woman is a sculpture of a woman sitting amidst a pile of stones, breaking them with a mallet. The woman is looking away from the stones as to not get them in her eyes. She is also looking at her baby who lays to the right side of her. There is a lot of use of texture in this sculpture, making it look life like. This art of work shows that as time progressed women were able to do more things that were usually considered masculine, like manual labor.
“We smite the lazy workers,” says a 1931 propaganda poster that was found in the collection of the Russian State Library in Moscow. Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
For Every Fighter a Woman Worker is a piece depicting a woman dressed in overalls holding an airplane and a missile. It is very simplistic due to it being a poster, and has muted yellows, greens, blues and reds. This was a poster to promote that for every man that was a soldier, a woman took over his job while he was gone, showing that women were being allowed to work and do “mens” jobs. Original Source: Library of Virginia
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