Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Artists of the Twenties

If you’ve never heard of John Held, Jr. let me introduce you. Held more than any other defined the “Roaring Twenties.” As an artist and illustrator, Held poked fun of the era, but only in jest. He captured the boldness of the Jazz Age and the beginning of an industrialized society.

He characterized people doing the Charleston and the Shimmy in dance marathons. He elevated the “flapper” to new heights and sent women on a quest for fun and adventure. His illustrations were featured in the New Yorker, and in McClure’s magazine. Google “Held” and discover all of his wonderful illustrations. Copyrights won’t allow me to cut and paste them into my blog.

The Art Deco period (1920-1935), although that title wasn’t coined until the 60s, emphasizes abstraction and distortion that uses simplification, geometric shapes and intense colors. This period was influenced by cubism, constructivism, and Italian futurism. Similar to the “Art Nouveau” period which came before it, Art Deco borrows from Far and Middle East design, Greek and Roman themes, and mirrors both Egyptian and Mayan influences.

Paul Manship was a well-known sculptor during this time period. Other artists who emerged from the 20s upsurge were names like Tiffany, Klimt, Georgia O’Keefe, and Edward Hopper. Of course, the twenties would not be complete without Grant Wood and his rendition of “American Gothic” and “Fall Planting.”

Having lived and raised my children in Kansas City for almost 18 years, my favorite artist of this period is Thomas Hart Benton. With similar style to Grand Wood, Benton’s undulating hills, and curvaceous figures make him distinctive in “People of Chilmark” 1920, and “Composite: the Parks, the circus, the Klan, the press” 1933.

I pay tribute to the artists, photographers and writers of the twenties. Without them, the history of this exciting and turbulent time would be forgotten. Artists record emotions, culture, and people’s reactions to what’s going on around them. They are great historians in their own right. Without them, the world would be flat, uninteresting, and colorless.