Media reflects as much as it creates cultures. Mass media had already grabbed the reins on disseminating information broadly and rapidly changing the scope for communicating. The birth of the Penny Papers in 1830, peddled by poor and aggressive newsboys, often referred to as ‘little rascals’ or street rats, desperately worked competitively getting people to “read all about it.”
Through its tabloid style of writing, the sensational substance of content made profits off of reading highly lucrative. During the 20
century, mass media expanded further and continued to grow at epic proportions and suddenly it was possible for the lives of anyone from ordinary people to common criminals to be broadcasted locally, regionally, nationally and evenually globally, creating a phenomena for being famous (or infamous). The Ash Can School of Art, founded by Robert Henri around 1898 was a group of irreverent artists, who formerly worked as newspaper illustrators, including
. The American Realism movement in painting expressively depicted scenes about the grit, poverty, struggle and outlook of the poor and working classes. As successful newspaper illustrators, their former experience required a sharp sensitivity, keen observation skills and highly accurate rendering technique to inform their target audience of newspaper readers. American realism exposed a side of the human experience that contradicted the genteel subject of the Impressionists, whom the art hegemony was trying to protect as they denounced, scoffed at and dismissed the disturbing and vulgar content being described in the works of art produced by Ash Can artists. This rejection of course, only inspired the painters to continue. This also is an opportunity to discuss the acceptance of a style like Impressionism vs. a denial and rejection for the style of Realism with examples of visual work that students embrace or reject and why, exposing reasons that would be considered subjectively or objectively based.
Magazines, targeting the middle class were entertaining people with news and information specifically intended to engage the reader with experiences that they could relate to. The artist Norman Rockwell was employed by the “Saturday Evening Post” and was paid to think of and make art covers that perpetuated the contrived notions of what America was supposedly like. By depicting people in situations that were idyllic, in bucolic settings, the Post was affecting millions of readers through its powers of visual persuasion. The American public wanted and did believe in everything the Post covers stood for. At the end of WWII, Abstract Expressionists began to rebel against traditional art and the mainstream. Artists like Jackson Pollock countered in opposition to the Americana style of idealist notions that the Post and artists like Rockwell delivered. Jackson Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists were disgusted with the politics and hypocrisy of their parent’s generation. The art is said to be anxiety driven and a release of frustration and distress over the Cold War, fearing Soviet takeover and the atomic bomb. Art critics were not impressed. Finally, Andy Warhol used high art as a way to reflect on the idea of commercial design being so pervasive that art is everywhere because media is everywhere. The scope for mass media is huge but finding examples from cultural history helps students to put the art in context, supporting the bridge to think critically from an objective perspective, about the artist’s motivation and using their canvas to represent their experience. The suggested supplemental material included in the lesson can easily be replaced with other gripping and appropriate ones that engage any classroom of learners.
By modeling a diverse selection of material, students can think about media critically at the advantage of having access to a wide variety of material. Students will be assigned the task to compile a diverse selection of research to explore their subject more widely for the final project. Suggested material to supplement the cultural connection of Mass Media’s influence include looking at videos of working newsboys from the past and at original pages of The Sun to see the way in which the quantity of information and the quality of content was crammed into a small space creating a bombardment of information that was appealing or interesting to its readers. Then, taking a clip from the recent film “Anchor Man 2” where the main character of the movie, being a TV newsperson for a tabloid news station, comments on the awesomeness of filling the perimeter of the television screen with boundless and seemingly urgent information that sensationalizes the traditional broadcast of the newsperson so much that the newsman himself is being blocked by all the graphics of information spilling over from the perimeters. The satirical style of Anchor Man 2 is a silly but significant example that a class of teenagers can relate to sparking vibrant discussion. Having a discussion on the similarities between the two forms of news content will be organized in groups for collaborative participation. Using the formatting of newspapers and news broadcasts on television will be tied into the technique exercises that explore breaking up the picture plane into sections of content and creating balance and emphasis. The point for using the cultural perspective of information from newspapers to television can be tied with any of the modern artists in the unit. For example, Bellows who was a newspaper illustrator was not just part of the groundswell of mass communication with persuasive content that newspaper editors insisted on, but he was also influenced by the news itself, and its unavoidable insistence as it penetrated society’s outlook and opinion and shaped the notion of being newsworthy which generated attention and fueled perspective, and formed opinion that artists spoke of in their medium.
The Saturday Evening Post helped to shape the perception that Americans wanted to believe and it held the attention of a wide spread audience across the nation for over a third of a century. With Norman Rockwell being one of its most famous Illustrators, Lessons in the unit use Rockwell’s famous “Freedom from Want” painted in 1943, being an effort to honor the American spirit for gratitude and family, and discusses the story happening in his painting and how it would impact the viewers at the time it was published. The influence for Rockwell’s painting, part of the
collection was an assignment from his Editor and Boss, insisting that he create a statement that reminded Americans of their fortune to be citizens in such a terrific country based on freedom and liberties, during WWII, when anxiety was high. The idea for Americans to remember why we were fighting the enemy was to preserve the perception of the American reality and to raise money to fund the war. All the paintings in the series were symbolizing hope for all Americans, even though all of Rockwell’s figures were homogenous and seemingly economically comfortable, even in a country whose population was a combination of citizens from all around the world, living in various to extreme economic conditions, Rockwell’s depiction of nationalism was very one dimensional. He was being employed to paint subject and his Americana style pleased his Editor. It’s interesting to have students observe and list what they actually see and then work together in groups with guided questions to make inferences on what Rockwell is implying and complement with historical material of War Bond Posters and Video Clips of American life during the WWII era. The Segway to Pollock and the counter of Abstract Expressionism against Americana will be presented with aerial views of historical documentation including photographs of Nagasaki both before and after the bomb, the famous photograph of the American sailor embracing and kissing a woman in the middle of times square and a historic Public Service Announcement warning Americans “He May Be A Communist”, a pervasive concern that was drilled into the minds of the nation as the cold war took hold, creating tremendous fear and anxiety through a perceived civic duty to retain patriotism. Material about Jackson Pollock and the history of the Abstract Expressionist movement can be found on the About Education website as well as the Jackson Pollock website. Here, teachers can read and present a synopsis about both, supplementing background information to help students make connections between the art and its place in contemporary culture, opening up and creating an appreciation for what Pollock was doing with his art and how to relate his style to the context of American history.