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November 17, 1957 - Image 11

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Sunday, November 17, 1957

THE MICHIGAN DAILY MACA7INF

_. i

Page Eeve
_Ben Shu111Chn1
A Look at the Works and Writings of America's Foremost
Contemporary Graphic Artist
By R. C. GREGORY He has been commissioned by a broaden him as an individual;
wide assortment of groups and it can conceivably provide new
HE SHAPE OF CONTENT , by organizations: By the U. S. Of- directions for art. All this, if
Ben Shahn. Cambridge, Har- fice of War Information, by the one accepts the thesis that art
vard University P'res, 131 pp. CIO's Political Action Committee, is intellectual as well as an emo-
Illustrated by the author. 1957. by RCA to work with Diego Riv- tional process, and that it thus
$4. era on the Rockefeller Center profits by an expanded range of
murals later stupidly destroyed knowledge and experience.
BEN SHAHN'S first great series in one of the most Hitlerlike acts Ideally, yes, for art scholar-
of paintings, based on the Sac- in recent time, by Henry Wallace's ship itself should provide con-
co-Vanzetti case of thirty years Progressive Party of 1948, by Con- tinuity and perspective for the
ago, brought him great public rc- tainer Corporation of America, by artit, should enrich his g
sponse. He says, "not only did the Harper's Magazine, Charm, Sei- cry, should in every way com-
customary art public receive the entific American, and Time, Inc., plement the creative process by
work kindly, but there was an en- to name but a few. the scholarly one.
tirely new kind of public, a great Shahn's contribution has done Ideally, yes, the artist ought
Influx of people who do not ordi- much to raise the general level to function well within the uni-
narily visit galleries-journalists of American graphic art, for he versity community for it seems
and Italian immigrants and many has carried to his commissioned desirable tht the one-sidedness
other sorts of sympathizers." This work the same uncompromising of the educational pattern be
sentence Shahn spoke in one or integrity and high standards evi- ounteracted, and In thas sense
his Charles Eliot Norton -lectures denced in his "Sunday painting," art has a mission to perform as
at Harvard University last year, something few artists have done, well as an advantage to gain.
It is significant that Shahn Yes, too, because within the uni-
should have been a Norton lec- 5HAHN accepted his Norton lec- versity art may become famil-
turer at all, for the series is dedi- tureship with misgivings: "I liar to, and accepted by, those
cated to poetry. But Harvard au- have come to Harvard with some young people who will probably
thorities interpreted the stipula- serious doubts as to whether I constitute the taste-makers of
tions anew and invited a painter ought to be here at all. tomorrow...\
for the first time. It is remark- 'I am a painter; I am not a
able that Shahn was chosen when lecturer about art nor a scholar of BUT THESE provisional answers
one recalls that the late presi- art. It is my chosen role to paint must be balanced against what
dent of Harvard, A. Lawrence pictures, not to talk about them." sometimes happens in this asso-
Lowell, was a victim of Shahn's These opening words of his first ciation:
brush, the most satirical in the lecture, "Artists in Colleges," pro- I have one friend who has
country, in one of the Sacco-Van- vide thesis for that lecture, and, been artist-in-residence at a
zetti panels, indeed, announce a fundamental great Western university for
President Lowell was chairman attitude of mind apparent in all. some years. He is well paid.
of a three-man committee that . For it can be said that Shahn When I first knew him he was a
the then governor of Massachu- begins by doubting everything ex- bright light in American art,
setts appointed to investigate the cept himself so that he can learn one of the good names. Full of
verdict of guilty rendered on Sac- to be tolerant of many ideas and vigor, imagination, and daring-
co and Vanzetti and upheld by profoundly dedicated to some: and good thinking too-he was s
the Massachusetts supreme court, "Perhaps the most pertnent of then producing one impressive
ari extraordinary move consid- the questions (about lecturing at canvas after another, and he
ered legally, an appeasemergt Harvard) has been as to just what was beginning to be sought af-
thrown to an outraged public by I can accomplish by such a verbal ter by collectors and museums.
any standard. The committee is- Odyssey as this series of discus- Today he is painting small dec-ti
sued a sustaining report on the sions promises to be. ... From the orative vignettes, I cannot un-
ease, Sacco and Vanzetti were point of view of both the audi- derstand Why.
executed; and Ben Shahn painted ence and the University I can "Biography of a Painting," the -
an unforgettable series on the only suggest that the venture will second lecture, is perhaps the most
patent injustices of the entire af- probably prove' about as worthy interesting of all. Shahn recounts
fair. as the ideas will be good." his understanding of the growth
of a symbol, an image, in his mind
A SIDE FROM the honor that AND SHAHN'S ideas take in the and its outward projection on can-
the exercise of high-quality whole position of the artist, not vas, so far as such a thing can be
discernment awards Harvard for from what that position should be understood and explained. At the
choosing Shahn, the incident tells but rather from what one man has same time he is talking about an-
a great deal about Shahn as a found it to be during the last three other order of things, namely the
man. Whatever heis as a man, he decades. Considering the problems position of the artist assaulted on
also is as an artist. Shahn is usu- the artist faces in associating him- all sides by exponents of politi-
ally committed on political issues, self with a university, he says: cal opinions ranging from far
on art, on life, and frequently to So the answers to the ques- right to distant left. The lecture
an independent, unpopular point tion-is it possible for an ar- takes departure from the canvas
of view, but it is his absolute in- tist to function fully within the "Allegory" in which a symbol that
tegrity in all matters with which university?-must be a series had preoccupied S h a h n f o r
he was, is, or will be concerned of provisional ones. months was finally worked out:
that marks him as an unusual Ideally, yes, for as an Intel- The central image of the
man. lectual center, the university painting was one which I had
Ben Shahn is the outstanding can provide background and been developing across a span of
graphic artist in America today. stimulation to the artist; it can See pages 14, 15

i

Ben Shahn drew the revealing portrait of J . Robert Oppen-
heimer' (top) in 1954 when the 'invetigation of the Princeton
scientist's political affairs had reached their most intense point.
"A Good Man Is Hard To Find" (above) was made for Henry
Wallace's Progressive Party in 1948. A superb satire, from Dewey's
toothpaste smile to Truman's poised hand, it was Shahn's way of
saying the two parties were more alike than different. The poster
was in a Shahn exhibit at the Architecture building earlier this
mpnth.
The drawing of the angelic organist, titled "Bach," (left) was
drawn by Shahn for the record sleeves of Albert Sc'hweitzer's re-
cordings of J. S. Bach's organ music.

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