Teaching Guide: Exploring Social Realism
This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Social Realism, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.
- Using the items in this set, explain the primary concerns and themes of social realist art from the 1930s.
- Using the excerpt from the catalog, explain the relationship between social realism and the goals of the Works Progress Administration art projects. Where did these intersect? Where might they diverge?
- Interpret the social issue explored in the Walker Evans photograph. How does Walker Evans express his message through the composition of the photograph?
- Examine the items in this set that are murals (or frescos, which is a type of mural). What opportunities did murals afford social-realist artists that traditional paintings did not?
- Many social-realist photographers are also considered part of the documentary tradition. What is the relationship between documentary photography and social-realist art in their work? Use photographic sources in this set to support your answer.
Ask each student to select a piece of art in this set. In independent research projects, students should seek out additional context for their piece and use this information to develop a detailed interpretation. Each should write a brief interpretive essay that summarizes the context of the artwork and explains how the artist’s choices create meaning.
For background information, research and identify:
- the artist.
- the environment or experience that provided inspiration.
- the social issues depicted.
For interpretation, consider various aspects of the piece.
- Emphasis: Where is the viewer’s eye drawn? How is this effect created by the artist?
- Proportion: Which items are larger and smaller? Which items are in relationship to each other?
- Perspective: From which vantage point does the viewer look at the subject? How does this impact what the viewer sees?
- Color: How does color emphasize particular items or create contrast?