Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Ann Rice O'Hanlon & The Memorial Hall Mural

Social Realism or "American Scene?"

New Deal-funded artists embraced murals as an artistic medium for democratizing art, for reaching audiences that would normally go to galleries and museum exhibitions.  They also used murals as a means to portray a particularly American vision of the United States, painting commonplace, often historical, things they saw in their localities, their personal lives, and the problems and hope of the people around them.    

The "American scene" aesthetic thus "reflected the optimism of the New Deal administration" (Morgan, p. 43), the idea of building "public consensus around liberal new Deal values" (Morgan, p. 45).

Social realism also uses historical and commonplace themes in art to add a component of social content and criticism, especially from the perspective of the poor and working classes.  Artists working in this style created art in public spaces that exposed social, racial, and economic inequities with the goal of inspiring viewers to work for reform.  Social realists believed public art had the potential to transform "America's political consciousness with regard to matters of class struggle and related campaigns for social justice" (Morgan, p. 43).  Artists working in this style also took their inspiration from the Mexican muralist movement, believing that "the public medium of the mural comprised a viable vehicle for the articulation of revolutionary political messages" (Morgan, p. 45). 

Contreras, Belisario R. Tradition and Innovation in New Deal Art. Lewisburg ; London: Bucknell University Press ; Associated University Presses, 1983. (N8838 .C6 1983)

Morgan, Stacy I. Rethinking Social Realism : African American Art and Literature, 1930-1953. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004. (NX504 .M67 2004)

Rung, Margaret. "Essay: Three Ways to Study New Deal Art in Chicago." Roosevelt University Center for New Deal Studies. 2016. Accessed February 02, 2016. Institutes/NewDeal/HistoryFair/NewDealArt.aspx.