British Socially Committed Art
from the 1930s to the Cold War
Saturday 26th January 2019
Author Christine Lindey spoke about her new book
David Morgan reports:
“Art for All” proved an inspiring talk in January
January can often be a quiet month but our first meeting of 2019 was exceptionally well attended with over 40 people joining us for an excellent talk by Christine Lindey, who is perhaps best known as a writer on art for the Morning Star.
Greta Sykes introduced Lindey as the author of five books on British artists and the politics of the left; her latest, “Art for All, British Socially Committed Art from the 1930s to the Cold War”, formed the subject of her very illuminating talk.
The aim of the book was to reclaim the many largely forgotten painters and illustrators who were politically active and many of whom were of a working class background.
Tracing the roots of these socially committed artists to the momentous decade of the 1930s, Christine explained how their work had been dismissed by the traditional art history establishment.
She felt that it was vital to emphasis the social circumstances experienced by the artists; many were not well off and so had to take up other work in order to survive.
Illustrating her talk with many examples of the art they produced, much of it held in private collections and rarely seen in public, Lindey revealed how artists were politicised by events such as the rise of fascism, the Spanish Civil War, the Great Depression and the Wall Street Crash.
Many of the artists, such as Cliff Rowe, James Boswell, Clive Branson and Percy Horton, wanted to combat the barbarism of fascism by employing their talents to produce anonymous public political art like banners and posters that were used on rallies and demonstrations.
Many were associated with Cliff Rowe who began to organise British artists after he had visited the USSR and become inspired by the social activism of Soviet artists.
Lindey examined how political artists had to confront the dilemma of producing saleable art for the market and choosing to create political works that might be less commercially popular.
From listening to Lindey’s inspiring talk and reading her excellent book, Art for All, it is clear that artists made a vital contribution to the labour movement and its politics. As the speaker ably argued, the work of these political painters has the capacity to inspire future generations.
Their work not only has a central place in British art history, it is invaluable for understanding the richness and vitality of working class life. We should be grateful to Lindey for her commitment to recovering the work of so many too often neglected artists. The talk provoked a lively discussion. If you missed it, get the book.