New Masses and 1930s Social Action 

“Art has turned militant. It forms unions, carries banners, sits down uninvited, and gets underfoot. Social Justice is its battle cry.”

– Mabel Dwight, American artist and lithographer

Printmaking became for many artists, particularly those attuned to social justice issues, an ideal form of public activism in 1930s America. Throughout this turbulent decade, the leftist-oriented publication New Masses offered artists a unique public forum in which they engaged freely with a variety of social concerns. New Masses was unique among leftist publications in its emphasis on the visual arts. From its earliest days, the magazine’s editors highlighted the strong connection between art and the broader goal of the publication: “It must strike its roots strongly into American reality … It must maintain the highest standard of art and literature of which its editors are capable. At least half the pages will consist of pictures.” Although New Masses never lived up to its stated goal of pages equally divided between text and image, it regularly published stand-alone prints, illustrations for its articles, and reproductions of works of art the editors considered to be of interest to the publication’s readership. Through a mere dozen examples, this exhibition calls attention to the range of visual material published in New Masses from 1931 to 1943, with a special focus on the periodical’s treatment of economic, racial and gender inequality.

The online catalogue and didactic panels were prepared by Grace Iverson and Margaret Wejksnora. The exhibition was researched and curated by Loyola University Chicago undergraduate students in FNAR 306, Spring 2016, under the direction of Assoc. Professor of Art History Paula Wisotzki: Margaret Ruddy, Elaina Sanders, Steven Santiago,  Madeline Stradal, Emma Thoelke, Karolis Usonis, Margaret Wejksnora, Arianna Beller, Colin Buist, Marie Ann Hofer, Grace Iverson, Hannah James, Kathryn Kelly, and Charles Kilgore.

Special thanks are owed to David Givens, Jennifer Stegen and Gino Angelini of the Cudahy Library for their commitment to learning through old media and new.