TheGilded Age was in the late nineteenth century characterized byunprecedented technological innovation and mass immigration. Duringthis period, the society of small producers was turned into the urbansociety dominated by industrial corporations and managerialrevolution, which transformed the way businesses operated. Thenagain, the era was also described through high levels of greed andduplicity due to corruption, unregulated capitalism, and wastefulconsumption (Doss, 2002). The Gilded Age also had significantinfluences on practices and modes of art in the country. Since theGilded Age, art played an important role in the society to resolvethe issues of rising racial tension, gender inequality, laborviolence, and militancy. Consequently, art and society areintertwined as art is a representation of culture and on the otherhand, culture influences various artworks.
Traditionally,art has always been a used to illustrate history while some art isused to identify and explain the nature of a certain period orsociety. Art is a product of the society, which reflects variouscultures that help the people experience the behavior and changes ofthe civilization (Muller, 2005). Each piece of art since the latenineteenth century is a historical reference to the society at aparticular time. Art has a deeper meaning that reveals the truthfulnature of the society that can make people proud of theirachievements or ashamed of the disgrace in the course of humanhistory. Thus, art affects the society by inducing critical thinking,which allows people to rethink the human and materialistic values(Muller, 2005). For example, Daniel Burnham was one of thenineteenth-century artists who recognized and acknowledged theimportance of art to the society. Burnham artistic expressions showedthe curative power of culture (Doss, 2002). He represented art as amoral and social force, which he used to civilize and elevate thepeople, beautify and educate America, and encourage the people tobehave in a civil manner. Thus, he viewed himself as a custodian ofan American culture new beginning based on discipline, classicalsymbols, and self-control rather than on the issues and concerns ofthe contemporary life or freedom of expression (Doss, 2002).
Sincethe Gilded Age, art started involving female artists although thesociety was sharply divided between supporting either the traditionalroles of women or those who challenged those traditional roles.Therefore, it gave the artists an opportunity to engage in eroticismwhere women were merely viewed as sexual objects. For example, in1979 Judy Chicago used an art piece, TheDinner Party,to represent the history of women in western civilization (Doss,2002). Chicago’s piece showed a positive celebration of femalebodies and sexuality. It raised Americans consciousness of womenhistory and reclaimed the female artists. Likewise, feminists’artists used the opportunity to change the common notion in thesociety. Contrary to the then common view that women were merelysexual objects, art helped women acquire more equality and similartreatment as the male artists. Besides, art helped women to have moreopportunities in the economic sector considering that the country wasunder constant business and technological growth and developmentssince the Gilded Age (Doss, 2002). Additionally, there have been manydifferent attempts to articulate the meaning and look of modern agewomen since the Gilded Age. Moreover, the feminist art aimed atgiving women more rights in various issues such as reproductiverights as opposed to what the society was offering them. For example,Kruger’s photo depicting YourBody Is a Battlegroundcalled attention to women’s issues and the ongoing Supreme Courtcases seeking to overturn the equal access to reproductive healthservices (Doss, 2002).
Onthe other hand, the society affects art because it is arepresentation of the life, experiences, and changes at oneparticular time. Thus, once the person understands the beliefs andexperiences of a society based on particular events, then they canunderstand and judge a piece of art (Muller, 2005). People use art topreserve the society’s perspective at any one particular time. Assuch, people look back at artists from different generations, andalthough some of their artworks may not be historically accurate,they present an accurate perception of the life in the society backwhen the art was created. The events taking place in the societyaffect art as the artists represent the experiences in the society intheir artwork (Muller, 2005). Thus, the changes in the society forcedartists to change their art representation styles. Since the latenineteenth century, the artists changed their artworks to produce newstrains of non-objective sculpture and painting as opposed to thecommon American art of representational scene, regionalists, andsocial realists’ styles. For example, Jackson Pollock made aremarkable change by abandoning the narrative and anecdotal style ofregionalism for the non-objective art of abstract expressionism(Doss, 2002). Although he retained the mural-sized scale, brightcolors, and energy of regionalism, Pollock reneged on previousgenerations’ attention to art for millions and social reformsconcentrating instead on personal expression and social alienation.Thus, during the postwar period artists felt that they needed tochange their art representation styles to convey the nation changedidentity. Pollock remarked that the modern painter would be unable toexpress the events since the nineteenth century. Thus, the artistshad to develop the free-form aesthetic, which they could use torepresent the war period such as atomic bombs and airplanes, whichwere impossible to represent using the Renaissance methods (Doss,2002). Accordingly, the artists changed their artistic expressionsand style to conform to the changes in the society (Doss, 2002).
Fromthe beginning of the nineteenth century, America witnessed highlevels of immigration. However, the whites had assumed to be asuperior race therefore, they oppressed the ethnic minorities (Doss,2002). Nevertheless, artists from the ethnic minorities used arts todepict their life and experiences in America, which were marked byracial oppression and discrimination that allowed them to challengethe situation and demand equal rights and treatments as the whites.For example, the Chicago fair used racial stereotypes such assponsoring Colored People’s Day and providing free watermelons,which strengthened an anti-black offensive that prolonged up to themid-twentieth century (Doss, 2002). The art facilitated socialmovement because it aimed to raise awareness among all Americans ofthe history and culture of the minority groups such as the blacks.For example, the black American artists rejected their invisibilityby organizing protests against the mainstream museums, whichpersistently ignored black art (Doss, 2002). Consequently, artinfluenced the way the society behaved.
Inconclusion, the start of the Gilded Age started the most remarkablegeneration in American history due to the exciting and importanttechnological and scientific inventions and improvements. The GildedAge was also significant in intellectual and cultural matters withthe founding of major museums, which was a noteworthy step forAmerican art. Art affects the society in America by encouraging thegrowth of the society while at the same time art techniques andpractices changes in responses to the changes in the society. Artreflects the changes in the society and highlights its currentidentity. Many artists are usually influenced by many sources aroundthem including their community experiences. Besides, it offered aplatform for people to increase awareness about various social issuesand support the social movements articulating those issues.Accordingly, art was about empowering the community, bringinggenerations together, and celebrating their cultural heritage. Theart helped to guide the activism of women’s liberation and civilrights the artists achieved groundbreaking movements, whichcritically reviewed the notions of race and gender roles anddifferences in the context of the American identity. People use artsto appreciate the beauty of nature, culture and express theiropinions about the social life. As such, it became an important waythrough which people understand and shape their experiences in thesociety since the nineteenth century.
Doss,E. (2002). Twentieth-CenturyAmerican Art.Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Muller,A. (2005). Conceptsof Culture: Art, Politics and Society.Calgary, Alta: University of Calgary Press.