The concern of many artists with man as a social being, discussed in an earlier chapter, has persisted strongly in recent years, but the emphasis has changed. The violent emotions of the 1920's and 1930's have abated a little, and in their place a more philosophical attitude toward man's foibles and a more compassionate understanding of his motives and weaknesses seem to have arisen. Perhaps this is simply a mark of the growing maturity of the pioneers in the movement, who are still its leading figures, but it may also be a reflection of our more prosperous times, compared with the Depression years, and of perceptible advances toward social and racial justice.
Whatever the causes, it is difficult to find today pictures which equal the savage indignation of Ben Shahn's Sacco and Vanzetti series or of certain early canvases by Jack Levine. Nor are there many echoes now of the despair in Isaac Soyer's Employment Agency or the bitterness in Philip Evergood's Lily and the Sparrows. Instead, the dominant attitude has shifted to one of sympathy and a warm humanity, often tinged with humor. Thus when Levine paints Gangster Funeral, it can scarcely be interpreted as an indictment of criminals or the conditions which produce them, but rather as an ironical and affectionate picture of a twentieth- century folk hero and his admirers, including mistress, wife, politician, and cop. Shahn's Conversations strikes a less sardonic note, but one of equal humor and affection, while the paintings reproduced by Robert Gwathmey, Joe Lasker, Jacob Lawrence, and Anton Refregier are all quiet tributes to the courage and dignity of their humble subjects. Various kinds of suffering and oppression may be implied in these canvases, but the villains themselves are absent, and one cannot escape the feeling that the true theme is our common humanity.
Another current approach to social comment, which was rarely found in the earlier paintings on specific issues, is through symbolism. Symbolism has its dangers; it can be imprecise and thereby lose its incisiveness. But this has been overcome in various ways. Evergood discovered a remarkably effective