Investigating US History

The Big Strike:
Labor Unrest in the Great Depression

Document Analysis D. The Artistic Record

“Art, then, is not the same as action; it is not identical with
science; it is distinct from party program.   It has its own
special function, the grasp and transmission of experience.
The catch lies in the word ‘experience.'”

– Joseph Freeman

“Experience is at once always already an interpretation and
in need of interpretation.”

-- Joan Scott

Option 1: Select one or more paintings from The Artistic Record that you find particularly interesting and add to your understanding of the strike.   Post on the discussion board five paragraphs analyzing the art work.  

Questions you may wish to consider:

  • What's going on in the paintings?   Consider their formal
    qualities of subject, composition, color, tone, and style.  
  • What do the paintings make you think about?   Consider them as social documents or visual arguments.   What is the artist suggesting perhaps?   Do the images confirm or contradict your previous understanding of labor, class relations, and life in 1930s America?

Respond to the analyses of at least two of your classmates, focusing on those statements with which you particularly agree or disagree.

Option 2: One way to analyze a painting is to “do a think” on it, which is Robert Frost's term for writing a poem.   Poetry addressed specifically to paintings is known as ekphrasis.   This art of describing, questioning, or interpreting works of art celebrates the power of the silent image even as it tries to break that silence, speaking for them, making them speak.   Try your hand at ekphrasis.   Write a poem about one of the murals or paintings in this module.   Read and discuss it in class or post it on your group's discussion board. Respond to your classmates' poem.  

D1. View the federally funded “socialist” murals created in San Francisco's Coit Tower in 1934.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pele deLappe, Cap , 1935.

D2. View the longshoreman portraits of Pele deLappe, 1935.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D3. Read Gretchen Giles' article, “Love's Labor Won: Petaluma artist Pele deLappe's passionate journey,” North Bay Bohemian (Sept. 12-18, 2002). Search Pele deLappe.

 

D4. Listen to Pele deLappe describe her encounter at age 15 with Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

 

D5. Read about the furor that erupted over Anton Refregier's depiction of the Big Strike in his 1941 mural in San Francisco's Rincon Annex Post Office. Click here and then click on the icon of his mural.

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Anton Refregier, mural study, “1934 Waterfront Strike” (1941)

“Until 1936 and the government sponsorship of art, mural painting consisted of palm trees, nude girls, gold fish, etcetera. It was with the government projects that we had a chance to look at people's lives, connect up with the great tradition of Giotto, Orozco, Rivera, Piero della Francesca...”

 

 

 

D6. Click here to read an oral history interview with Refregier. Search Refregier.

 

 

James Grosso, Quitting Time (ca. 1955)

D7. View the paintings of longshoreman James Grosso.