Social Realism provided a venue for artists to create pieces that encapsulate and represent the concerns and situation of the masses. Through social realism, political and economic issues are placed on the spotlight by means of a visual medium. Primarily, the objective of artists that follow the concept of social realism is to utilize art in order to represent the ordinary lives of people and reflect how politics, economic conditions, and social situations influence them. In the work, Benton has successfully mastered social realism by creating art that represented the American culture and values during the Great Depression. Benton’s art showed the active industries during that time including mining and steel working. In addition, Benton captured ordinary activities that American people occupied their time with, such as gospel singing and similar pastimes. The works of Benton are compared to how Renaissance art represents the bourgeoisie way of life during the sixteenth century. In this particular discussion, the work of another artist, Diego Rivera, will be discussed. Although Benton’s works of art surely conveyed the American culture and values during the Great Depression, Rivera’s art was more rousing and stimulating because it captured the struggles of Hispanics in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. The “Liberation of the Peon”is a powerful and sensual piece of art that truly reflects the condition of the masses in Mexico during those times because of the clear and straightforward imagery that mirrored pain and suffering.
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Social Realism in “Liberation of the Peon”
The difference between Benton and Rivera’s art is that the former’s works are more representational in the sense that the primary purpose of his art was to represent American culture and values during the Great Depression. Rivera’s art, “Liberation of the Peon”,on the other hand, seemed to be more in line with divulging or revealing the struggles of Hispanics during the Mexican Revolution. Moreover, Rivera’s art appealed more to pathos – the emotions of the viewer. Thus, Rivera’s work evokes more feelings and internal or affective responses rather than mere personal or technical observations. In the “Liberation of the Peon”,the impact of the Mexican Revolution is more palpable. Suffering and despair, pain and sadness are perceptible. The message that the artist tried to convey could also be read just by looking at the images in the painting. One does not need to review the history of Mexico or other countries in Latin America for that matter because the issue of oppression and independence are universal. Just by looking at the paintings, one could feel and understand who the men represent and what they are struggling to fight for.
In the painting, a naked body is tied up in a post, while one man attempts to untie the rope, and two others help him up and clothe him. Another man is standing by and looking on while holding the horses. Essentially, the painting represents the peon or the farm worker. The peons are the hard laborers in Latin America, who were wronged, and treated unfairly, and oppressed by the elite. Hard laborers work in haciendas where they were lorded over by the owners of these haciendas. The image of the naked body being tied to a post represents how the freedom of the masses during that time was controlled by the elite. Due to injustice and oppression, laborers sought to rebel. The flames in the painting represent the setting - in the northern Mexico where the rebellion took place. The actions of the four peons in the painting represent the movement of the revolution. The man holding the knife and cutting the ropes that bind the man’s hands represent the laborers’ attempt to break free and fight for their freedom and rights through a revolution. The two men, who are helping the tied up, represent the camaraderie and relationship among the laborers who care and look out for each other having similarly experienced injustice. The weapons over the men’s bodies represent their involvement in the revolution. The firearms and weapons that are present in the painting also represent the action of fighting back. The peons are peasants, but they are not holding rakes or any farming implements. Instead, they have guns, ammunition, and knives as means to show that they are not merely peasants but they are also capable rebels who can fight for their rights. Although the horses in the painting could be symbols for various things, it also represents the peasants taking over considering that horses could be symbols of authority. Riding horses elevates one’s stature.
Rivera’s work is known to have changed the image of Mexico. During those times, the masses, the peasants, were against the policies and rule of the dictatorial government. The government then planned to reallocate the farmlands where peasants work and not only obtain income but other necessities as well. Moreover, the plan involved the reallocation of land so businesses could be built in these properties. The government also supported the obtainment and control of wealth among the elites and supporters of the dictatorial government. Since peasants would lose their livelihood and homes, the peasants planned to rebel even if the elites held power over them. In addition, people during those times chose to support the dictatorial government for fear of their lives and the desire to keep their wealth and properties. Rivera’s works, as well as works done by other artists, changed the image of Mexico not only by showing social realities but also by proving that perhaps during and after the Mexican Revolution, people realized and could see the errors of greed and dictatorship. The “Liberation of the Peon”represents real life as they occurred back then, which makes it an ideal representation of Mexico and its culture. Aside from changing the image of Mexico by representing reality, Rivera’s “Liberation of the Peon”also serves as a vehicle of criticism and political protest because it represents abstract concepts through visual and literal means. One can only imagine the difficulties of being a peasant during those times. Farmers that work in haciendas, for instance, are overworked and paid little. On top of that, they are not allowed to own land, despite years of breaking their backs in the lands that wealthy people own. The rich people and people in power during those times were also known to commit acts that violate human rights, such as forcing peasants to do their bidding, violating their wives and children, etc. Despite the injustice, peasants were unable to do anything about it because they lacked the capacity and the power to do so, which is similar to being shackled and imprisoned. This was represented in the painting literally through the image of the man naked and tied to the post. As I have previously mentioned, the painting effectively represents the life of the masses because the issues of freedom and rights are universal. Rivera’s work not only represents the condition in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution but also mirrors that of the experiences of the masses worldwide.
Social Realism contributes a great deal to the understanding of the human condition and, usually, art that is governed by this style represents situations or conditions that are universal despite the setting and the kind of images represented in them. Social realism represents reality in such a way that society could relate to it because the people have experienced the events that are captured in these kinds of art works. Benton, for instance, allowed his works to be an accurate representation of the life and culture of Americans during the Great Depression by capturing the common and thriving industries during that era, as well as the people’s activities or pastimes. Rivera’s “Liberation of the Peon”is another good example because the painting illustrates the situation of peasants during the Mexican Revolution. Social Realism then becomes a medium through which the real events could be represented visually for the world to see. Rivera’s work is known to have changed the image of Mexico because “Liberation of the Peon”shows the kind of reality that represents the country’s history with dictatorship and elitism – peons or peasants tied in posts, left naked, and beaten up to die, while other peasants, as agents of revolution, help and attempt to reverse their fate. Through the painting, younger generations could also understand the social situations in the past and relate it to their experiences now. Through this, the painting becomes a timely reminder for people today to fight for their freedom. For this reason, works of Social Realism are universal because although most notable arts represent events in the distant past, they are still relatable and relevant today. The imagery and symbolism in paintings could be used to represent the situations that people are experienced in the present, while others are unable to realize or accept, some can grasp and learn to recognize through art.
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