With its focus on the heartland and rural life in America, the art movement known as Regionalism became popular during the 1930s as a response to increasing technological advances. Artists who embodied the Regionalism aesthetic tried to create works that celebrated geographical Middle America without over-sentimentalizing it. In fact, Regionalism artists embraced realism in terms of imagery and technique. Many art historians, however, view the movement as an important bridge between Abstract Art and pure Realism.
It would also be quite fair to say that the Great Depression influenced artists working in the Regionalism genre. The tough times also influenced artists who dubbed themselves Social Realists and strove to create art that reflected the world as they knew it. Regionalism artists borrowed from this social element yet their works were decidedly rural in nature. In addition, Regionalism artists tended to paint scenes that were conservative unlike many other artists who captured urban life with far more leftist philosophies and more social criticism.
Some of the artists working in this movement preferred to term their work ‘scenes of America.’ Many of the art works associated with Regionalism might be called humble and without pretense. One of the most famous works of Regionalism is American Gothic by Grant Wood. In fact, this painting is also one of the most celebrated works of the twentieth century with its farm couple standing before a farm house. Some of the other artists associated with Realism include John Steuart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, Molly Luce, Hale Woodruff, John Rogers Cox, and Dale Nichols.
Today many museums, particularly American museums and galleries, collect and display works of Regionalism. Some celebrated art works of the Regionalism movement include Tornado over Kansas and Baptism in Kansas by John Steuart Curry, The Ballad of the Jealous Love of Lone Green Valley by Thomas Hart Benton, Spring in the Country by Grant Wood, and Cook’s Barn #1 by Grant Cone. While many of the pastoral scenes featured people of the heartland, landscapes and animals also played vital roles within Regionalism and its works.
The social controversy surrounding Regionalism is also important to note. During the 1930s it was part of the debate involving Modern Art and which direction it would take. In this way, the movement was opposed by artists working in the Abstract Expressionist movement. By the 1940s, however, the debate about Regionalism grew as works became associated with the President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Association leading some critics to dub its works as propaganda and even Fascist or Communist in nature. Many art critics oppose these labels, however, and feel the movement was mistakenly maligned toward its later years.