From July 1 until Sept. 18, the Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph, Mich., held an art gallery featuring a spectacular selection of paintings and works on paper which were provided on loan from the Flint Institute of Arts. The collection, titled “Views of the Inland: From Chicago to Detroit,” depicted figures, landscapes and industry that represent various movements in art regionally and nationally.
In total there were 28 works of art spanning from 1910-1960. The works were arranged chronologically, so I worked my way around the gallery one by one for an initial “meet and greet.” My favorite approach to observing art is to start speed-dating style, where I learn the name and origin of the piece, then move on to observing what details and qualities are expressed. I noticed that the majority of the paintings were done during the 1920s and 1930s and learned that this is due to the movement called Regionionalism that swept through art work during the Great Depression. This movement, also called American Scene Painting, was a painting style that many artists flocked to in an attempt to avoid all the European art at the time.
What struck me about most of the paintings was that while they each had their own energy, they still were rather mundane in a sense. The people, land, waterways were all something that I have seen in this area before, the colors and seasons expressed were all ones that I have grown up seeing living in Southwest Michigan the entirety of my youth. It was remarkable to see how the fog and gloom of a fall to winter transition was so perfectly shown in the deeply industrial scenes of a factory that's probably long-demolished in a town that looks just like one of the typical Midwest towns.
In the gallery guide there was a quote expressed by an artist named H.W Janson, an observer of the American Scene movement. Janson stated that, “The final judgment on the artistic validity of Regionalism, must be left to the the future.” The quote seemed a bit harsh to me, considering many of these artists are now contributing to show a snapshot of life that has come and gone.
By the time I finished observing the different artists works, and had let the quote settle in my brain whether I found what I had seen to be “valid” or not, it occurred to me that at the time it was made by the people, for the people, with no idea that the painting of a napping factory worker in a room with peeling yellow wallpaper would be observed by a post-nap college student, in a gallery, in the exact region in which they were expressing creativity.