Thomas Hart Benton’s work “America Today” has been a bit controversial. While sometimes praised for being a snapshot of a moment in history, it also portrays several harmful stereotypes. It takes a lot of influence from Benton’s other artsy interest, filmmaking. The piece appears almost theatrical, with its exaggerated poses and scenes. The work has been moved several times from its original location, and is now up in the Metropolitan Museum alongside many other paintings. When I looked up the other paintings that were featured, it was very odd to me. Pieces like Abraham Bloemaert’s “Moses Striking the Rock” and Jackson Pollock’s “Pasiphae” don’t look like they belong in the same exhibit to me. Another interesting note I saw was the comment about the abstract expressionist movement – though Benton mentored Jackson Pollock, a pioneer in the movement, Benton himself was often left out and deemed too “cosmopolitan.” I think this is an interesting example of how art movements develop, like how Benton is not an abstract expressionist but his student became a key figure for it.
After reading this article I went on a search for a classmate’s article that struck any resemblance at all. Izumi’s connection between the CIA article and the Cold War Propaganda article seemed to fit. In her reflection on the CIA article, she focused on how abstract expressionism (Benton à Pollock, a connection??) really only became popular because the CIA forced it. The article on Benton mentions his critics often, which made me think of how so much art only becomes popular and revolutionary because of the hordes of negative attention it receives. A theme in both is how art can become popular without necessarily being known for being good. Izumi also wrote “People's habits of following trends and accepting popularized ideas presented on media can even be seen today.” This is a tiny connection, but Benton’s work contains stereotypes, and this is truly how they work. Many people who see “America Today” do not notice or point out the stereotypic images, simply because they are so popular and common that they are kind of accepted.
Izumi’s comments on the propaganda article are an interesting contrast to Benton’s work. She wrote about how the article analyzed Russian Cold War art to find deeper insights into what the USSR was like. “Brother, Can You Spare a Wall?” mentions that “America Today” is a very clear image portraying direct examples of life in America in the early 1930s. I thought it was interesting how social realism portrays information about the time, but behind the actual image, which is an idealized society; meanwhile, “America Today” portrays directly what America was like across the country.
Thomas Hart Benton article | Izumi Miyazaki connection
Kristin Hines - Student artist at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School