Who coined term "Regionalism" in art?
December 6, 2009 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Who coined the term "Regionalism" in art, and when and why did they do so? This is the movement with Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry, and Thomas Hart Benton. Is there a historically significant story about how the movement came to be? I recall that it was not a term that any of the artists coined themselves, but I am not recalling specifically who did. A gallery? A critic? A magazine? A newspaper?
posted by tnygard to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
art critic Peyton Boswell Jr. was the major proponent of this style and helped rally these artists. I'm not sure if he coined that term but you might look to his writings in the late 30s.

additionally, the term was "Originally applied to the novels of everyday life in the South by such writers as John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren, the term was later used to describe an artistic trend exemplified by realistic depictions of identifiably American subjects, which celebrated the positive aspects of life in the USA." (from Oxford Art Online)
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 10:43 AM on December 6, 2009

if you have access to a library or Jstor, here's a really great article about regionalism, its motives, and how widespread the term was used in and out of the visual arts at the time. apparently the term was used extensively around the time of the Great Depression:

Regionalism in the Great Depression
Michael C. Steiner
Geographical Review, Vol. 73, No. 4 (Oct., 1983), pp. 430-446
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 10:51 AM on December 6, 2009

I'm typing this beneath a litho of Wood's Stone City, Iowa (my great-grandparents are buried in a cemetery just beyond the horizon, among other ties to the area). It was the site of Wood's first art colony.
The bridge has been replaced by concrete slab, and the quarry is a bit more deeply excavated, but this view remains almost perfectly intact today.

The originator may be art dealer Maynard Walker, who worked in New York City but in 1933 organized the Kansas City Art Institute show that introduced the three artists you mention as a thematic group. He is quoted as saying "Here is a real American art, an indigenous art expression, which really springs from American soil and seeks to interpret American life." I couldn't find a better clarification of his coining the term.

I also saw an attribution to this December 1934 round-up of the same trio in Time (with a Benton self-portrait on the cover), but the article only quotes Wood as calling his work "regional art".

By 1935 it appears that all three (and others) had embraced the term for its commercial value as what we would today call a brand.

To this day the term is often misunderstood as intending particular styles for particular parts of the country. I don't think that was as such what e.g. Wood or Walker meant by it.

The term -- which originated in 19th century politics -- was apparently already in use for literature so it would have been somewhat familiar.
posted by dhartung at 8:19 PM on December 6, 2009

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