Wall to Wall America: Post Office Murals in the Great Depression

Wall to Wall America: Post Office Murals in the Great Depression

Wall to Wall America: Post Office Murals in the Great Depression

Wall to Wall America: Post Office Murals in the Great Depression

Excerpt

This book is about taste in the Depression decade. I have proceeded on the assumption that popular taste can be understood through the medium of murals painted for a mass audience, by artists charged with consulting the preferences of the people, under the auspices of a New Deal program which earnestly solicited public opinion about the wall paintings it caused to be hung in post offices all across America in the years 1934 through 1943. Occasionally, in fact, when prodded by the goad of popular taste, that agency caused offensive murals to disappear from view and highly regarded murals to sprout satellites and appendages.

Given this assumption, it becomes important to establish how the mural program in question worked, how it accommodated public opinion, and how it measured and responded to popular taste. Armed with these facts, it then becomes possible to suggest why people reacted as they did to the style and content of the murals they scrutinized, thereby expressing their sense of what American culture ought to be like. When the people discussed here do give an idea a ringing endorsement or react with pleasure to the sentiment conveyed by the style through which a pictorial idea is manifested, I have taken that expression of taste as a popular vote for the vision of America embodied in the mural —a pleasing image of an operative cultural myth that made life seem more beautiful. And I have pressed on to explore both the origins of that vision and the rationale governing its public acceptance. When the people register a strong . . .

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