Art and Aesthetics on the Left
An interview with Andrew Hemingway
Publisher: Against the Current
Date Written: 01/07/2015
Year Published: 2015
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21231
Andrew Hemingway is an art historian and Professor Emeritus at University College London. His books include Artists on the Left. American Artists and the Communist Movement 1926-1956 (Yale University Press, 2002) and The Mysticism of Money: Precisionist Painting and Machine Age America (Periscope Publishing, 2013).
Socialism is in principle an internationalizing tendency. But that isn't to deny that its historical diversity has been determined partly by distinctive national or regional cultural and artistic traditions, as well by individual features of socio-economic and political development within different nation states. So while there are broad similarities between British and U.S. art on the left, particularly after the Soviet Union assumed the status of guide to the international Communist movement - the John Reed Clubs and American Artists' Congress in the United States find their counterpart in the British Artists' International Association (1933-53) - I think that particular national figures have an exemplary status for artists working in the American and British contexts. Walt Whitman and William Morris respectively would be examples.
American leftist artists were able to draw on what they perceived as a native tradition of realist painting, meaning particularly the Ashcan School, but also, more distantly, the work of Eakins. Some British artists liked to think in terms of a native tradition of satirical realism that originated with Hogarth. I don't think these are big differences - and they are in some degree mythical - but they could help to give artists a feeling of cultural rootedness that shouldn't be dismissed merely as a regressive nationalism.