In this posting I am going to consider the role of Isabel Bishop one of the few Women artists who emerged during the Social realist tradition. I will be considering the contribution Helen Yglesias who has written a very useful introduction to Bishop’s work.
Yglesias starts her commentary with the following statement.
” Her work related as has often been said to be a specific and distinctly tradition. Its idiom had been pioneered at the turn of the century by Robert Henri, Everett Shinn , George Luks , John Sloan and others”. .
” In some mysterious manner which I do not (Yglesias) really understand her paintings carry forward the great tradition of North European 17th Century figure painting”. .
Yglesias comments on her friendship with Reginald Marsh another Social realist painter.
” Reginald Marsh was a close friend of Isabel Bishops ‘ Her art cuts to the truth it is at once original and traditional as is that of Thomas Eakins”. .
Comparing her to Eakins was a great compliment .Eakins was a great Realist who followed the path of Gustave Courbet the Founder of realism in the 18th Century in France and who was a great Revolutionary.
” During the First World war the memory of the armoury show that had blasted American art into the era of modernism had dimmed but by the end of the war the excitement of this Revolutionary art happening was rekindled”. .
As you can see from these Images Bishop used Egg Tempera a device used by Renaissance Painters before the discovery of oil Painting.
” Bishop’s eagerness to soak up the atmosphere of Intellectualism that she felt about her in the great city (New York) had sparked an independent seriousness in her naturally inquisitive intelligent mind”. .
” By the time Isabel Bishop had settled into her studio on Union square the area was no longer a fashionable section of a rapidly changing New York City”. .
Yglesias shows how Union square became the focal point of unrest Working class demonstrations and where the proletariat lived and worked.
” By the early thirties when Bishop just took the square itself as a subject its historic role as a Public meeting ground and centre of political activity was still manifest”. .
” The May Day parades that annually displayed New York’s radical aspirations always ended at Union Square. she did not march in these events but she was intimate with many of the artists who did (She at least identified with the politics carried out at these events)”..
Yglesias continues with the influences that Bishop followed and of course it was the Early realists associated with the Robert Henri school.
” Although the school of Robert Henri Luks ,Shinn and the school of Miller and Marsh influenced her choice of subjects Bishop often attributed her use of shop Girls and (Bums) to the simple fact that they were there (CF Courbet)”. .
” She refers to the male union square habituees as (Bums) a term now considered perjorative but which during the 1930’s more a simple description of the rootless working and unemployed”. .
Ygelesias refers again to Bishop’s terminology in describing working class people as Bums is now considered offensive and exhibits prejudice and Bias.
” In that sense in picturing her (bums) in Union square Bishop had fallen upon a Universal American subject not because of a schematic attachment of social significance but through a more personal vision of the importance of the particularity of what I was looking at”. .
” It is interesting to compare Bishop’s conception of the subway with other painters having the same subject. Reginald Marsh 1930 Tempera painting subway station was certainly a strong influence .Paul Cadmus ( an artist who I will consider later) created his grotesque scene of a Hellish place. George Tooker created a subject as the supreme metaphor of Imprisonment and oppression of the Human soul”. .
Yglesias now comes to discuss the so called rift between Social realism and the Abstract Expressionists. Yglesias doesn’t really understand the political conflicts taking place in the American Congress of Artists. Many abstract Expressionists having understood the role of Modernism had taken art to its next stage. The Greatest exponent of this art was undoubtedly Mark Rothko.
Yglesias who describes Stalinism as Socialist gives her own confusing explanation of Socialist realism which in essence was Stalinist art and it never had anything to do with Socialism. If you look at some of my early articles you will see I have taken a critical stance towards Stalinism.
” Bishop has been designated a (social) realist. By the 1950’s the Breath taking and violently damaging schism between the Realists and the Abstract expressionists was a fact of life”..
” Certainly the war was political as well as ascetic . a democratic Socialist upsurge of Spirit that had been dominant in the 30’s and 40’s collapsed in the 1950’s. the Holocaust of Hiroshima and atrocities perpetrated by Socialist Societies (Stalinism) on their on people (Moscow Trials Murders, executions by the Stalinist secret police force the GPU hunting for Trotskyists mostly)”.
It is not true as Yglesias comments in the next statement that abstract art would dominate. If you study the Art History of the 20th and 21st Centuries you will see that Cadmus , French and Fischl were all figurative artists and they emerged after Pop art Neo Dadaism , the Fluxus movement and Performance , Video and visual art.
” In time with the universal acceptance of abstract art realists became almost non-persons not even mentioned in the journals and art Columns”. .
Trotsky who fought against Socialist Realism and Stalinism never gave into this reactionary Political Ideology. The Author of Literature and Revolution had this to say on the nature of Stalinism.
” The Totalitarian regime of the USSR working through these so called cultural organisations has spread over the entire world a deep twilight hostile to every sort of Spiritual value”. .
In a Manifesto towards Free Revolutionary art Trotsky Andre Breton and Diego Riveria had this to say about the role of Communism .
” The Communist Revolution is not afraid of art. It realises that the role of artists in a decadent capitalist society is determined by the conflict between the Individual and various social forms which are hostile to him.”.
” If however we reject all solidarity with the bureaucracy now in control of the Soviet Union it is precisely because in our eyes it represents not Communism but its most treacherous and dangerous Enemy”. .
I have spent some time in explaining the role of art under Socialism . Yglesias confused petty bourgeois attitude does not make clear distinctive role of Communism . Trotsky was very clear on what art represented and you cannot have a controlled bureaucratic art form Socialist Realism whose role is to glorify the Bureaucracy ie JV Stalin.
” The official art of the soviet Union resembles Totalitarian justice that is to say based on lies and deceit Their goal of justice is of an art to exalt the Leader to fabricate a heroic myth”..
This concludes my posting on Isabel Bishop Yglesias has written a useful account of Bishop but it is when she enters the realm of politics that she comes unstuck.
- ISABEL BISHOP HELEN YGLESIAS. PG. 7
- DITTO. PG.13
- DITTO.PG 18-19
- DITTO.PG 19
- ART AND REVOLUTION TOWARDS A FREE REVOLUTIONARY ART LEON TROTSKY .PG.125