Monday, September 12, 2011

Ben Shahn (September 12, 1898)

Ben Shahn was a Socialist Realist painter. He was born in Lithuania and grew up in New York; he learned the craft of lithography through an apprenticeship, and later through formal academic study. He worked on public art during the Depression, and was active in political and social campaigns throughout his life. Some of the causes that Shahn supported: justice for Sacco and Vanzetti, freedom for trade union leader Tom Mooney, opposition to antisemitism, support of America's participation in World War II through the Office of War Information and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), anti-poverty efforts, and much later, anti-atomic testing activism.

Of this work, titled “Boy” and dated 1944 (owned by the University of Michigan Museum of Art) the label says Shahn “created images such as Boy that conveyed the brutality of the war and the Holocaust, often depicting children and other innocent victims. … Shahn, who often combined historical images with his personal childhood memories, sought to universalize Jewish suffering. He said that his work did not attempt to create an image of a specific event, but rather conveyed ‘the emotional tone that surrounds disaster; what you might call the inner disaster.’”

Update: another painting by Ben Shahn, "Bookshop: Hebrew Books, Holy Day Books" from the Detroit Institute of Arts:

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