Creation, Liberation, & Supporting of Artists in Depression Times

The God of creation is also the God of history and of liberation/salvation as is clear from the prophets.  Indeed, the prophets who preach justice and peace were themselves creators and artists.  Consider this song from Isaiah:

“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24) The Many sing in memory of Ahmaud Arbery “and to all who work for justice for him, for all people and for this planet.”

Send justice like dew, you heavens,
Let the clouds rain it down.
Let the earth open up
So salvation will spring up,
Let deliverance too bud forth
Which I, Yahweh, shall create.  (Is 45:8)

Recently Heather Cox Richardson shared a powerful story of the role art played in the darkest times of the deep depression in America.*  Inspired by the art movement in Mexico in the 1920’s, advisors to FDR proposed that the government could hire artists to “paint murals depicting the social ideals of the new administration and contemporary life on the walls of public buildings.” 

By “encouraging the fine arts as a function of the Federal Government,” the government could “alleviate the distress” of American artists. The first speaker invited to address the cabinet meeting was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who very much endorsed the idea.

Part of “The Library” (1934) by Bernard Zakheim, in Coit Tower, San Francisco. Includes references to Marx’s Das Kapital, the artists Beniamino Bufano and Diego Rivera, the Austrian Civil War in 1934. Wikimedia Commons.

The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was born December 8, 1933 and when it ended four months later, 3,749 artists had produced more than 15,000 paintings, sculptures and public murals and were paid by the government to do so. 

The first project was Coit Tower in San Francisco with its 3500 square feet of blank concrete walls.  Inspired by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, 26 artists with their 19 assistants transformed the blank walls into frescoes and murals celebrating California life.  It depicted striking workers, farmers, cowboys, travelers, news stenographers, chauffeurs, and car accidents. 

Other artists were paid to do parallel projects all over the country depicting both rural and urban American life.

The project was so successful that from it was born other programs to fund artists—including writers.  The Works Progress Administration (WPA) operated from 1935 to 1942. 

A society that supports the artist is a healing society.

* Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American,, December 9, 2023.

See Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 178-200.

And Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, pp. 199-227.

Also see Fox, The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time.

Banner Image: Public Works of Art Project mural on Coit Tower: “Industries of California.” Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

How do you find art and artists healers of society?  How do you find the artist in you doing the same?

Recommended Reading

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin

The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time

Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”
“Fox approaches the level of poetry in describing the reciprocity that must be present between one’s inner and outer work…[A]n important road map to social change.” ~~ National Catholic Reporter

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5 thoughts on “Creation, Liberation, & Supporting of Artists in Depression Times”

  1. Avatar

    The creation and expression of the arts in various forms, be it music, painting, writing, photography, sculpting, as well as ceremony and ritual; has been a large part of my life since the beginning of my journey. This artistic engagement has helped me to process my life experiences as they unfolded; as well as helped me to heal, grow and evolve from what emerged through these creative processes.

    Exploring the arts in its diverse forms has also awakened me to my intimately unique and personal relationship with Spirit, helping me tap into what it is to be and live in this spiritual reality, as I converge with the essence and presence of this within the all and the everything of creation, which includes myself. Creativity and imagination, is the sacred intuitive language that Spirit uses to speak to us all, all we have to do is surrender in trust to the process!

    If interested, please refer to yesterday’s comment, which I posted later in the evening; as I spoke about this further in response to the query of the day, which also relates to today’s reflective question.

  2. Avatar

    Artists are in tune with God’s Spirit of LOVE, LIFE, TRUTH, Justice, Healing, Creativity, Beauty, Joy, Compassion… and inspire us with their works of art.
    The artist within us is intimately related to Our True Heart Self/Eternal Soul/Spark of the Divine in our daily lives of service with one another with our unique gifts as part of Our Source~Co-Creator’s LOVING DIVERSE ONENESS in the Sacred Process of the ETERNAL PRESENT MOMENT….

  3. Avatar

    The murals of the Depression were an inspired way to combine job creation and art, and also celebrated the value of ordinary, low-income workers, the very people who had been trampled on by the ultra-rich. Painting themselves into the nation’s cityscapes, the artists made ordinary laborers visible and showcased their contribution to society. They asserted the dignity of the devalued “working class” men and women, doing jobs that were essential but which were sneered at by the middle and upper classes. They also asserted the value of collective pride and power — the ability of the powerless individual and small company to join together into unions and cooperatives in order to fight for their rights and better wages.
    How much of the anger of current riots is due to the fury of workers feeling exploited and unappreciated, while being left further and further behind with no hope of escape from poverty? We need to make a massive, combined effort — not just in art but in world consciousness — to valuing all the workers of the world, bring them into proud visibility and lift them into fair wages and human rights.
    The rich are flashy and demand our attention while they show off their wealth, but that is unworthy of honor.
    When our eyes slide right past the retail clerk, construction worker, farmer, and factory worker, dismissing them from notice and respect, the social fabric of the world is shredded. And we shame ourselves with our snobbery.

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