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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Factory Art

An unknown artist's depiction of factory working conditions
during the early years of British industrialization.
Yesterday, I dealt with Farm Art (the item below). Such art dates back hundreds of years. That is not the case with factory art. Such early images, most commonly found in painting, date back only to about 1790 in England. (In the U.S. industrialization came mostly after the War of 1812.) There were many artistic movements during the period of British history, each of which was a reaction to the times, as well as to the movement which preceded it. By the time the Industrial Revolution really took hold, some artists were at odds with the ideals which it espoused, ideals such as discipline, temperance, structure, and views of the Enlightenment. Such feelings translated into the Romantic movement, which encouraged individualism, freedom, and emotion. Romanticism was by far the most important artistic outgrowth of the Industrial Revolution. Even today, its broad effects and artistic achievements are still seen, and nowhere more than in our painted depictions of modern-day industrialization.
Now mostly relegated to museums, this was the opening
shot of the Industrial Revolution--the steam engine.
The Industrial Revolution changed the British social structure dramatically. Before this revolution most people lived in small villages, working either in agriculture or as skilled craftsmen. They lived and worked as a family, doing everything by hand. Three quarters of Britain's population lived in the countryside, where farming was the predominant occupation. However, industrialization changed all that. Machines capable of huge outputs made small hand weavers and others uneconomical. This forced upon them the need to work at the new factories, and required them to move to growing cities to be close to their new jobs. In doing so, they found themselves making less money and working longer hours. Factory owners took advantage of this new work force, with working conditions barely one step above slavery.

In Germany, the Industrial Revolution had but one name.
That name was KRUPP!
There was no social safety net, no industrial regulations, and few in the upper classes who even cared to know about worker abuse, which often effecting women and children most harshly. There were no photos to document their plight. Only artists had it within their power to depict the abhorrent and dangerous working conditions the lower classes faced daily. Yet even they were inadequate in their role as a social safety valve. Large scale worker violence erupted. For a time, law enforcement and the military tried to contain it, but eventually, in no small part due to artists an other socially conscious individuals, laws were passed (below) which today, seem to us grossly inadequate, but in effect, sowed the seeds of the 20th-century labor movement and the regulations in force today preventing the "near slavery" of the Industrial Revolution.

Though heavily regulated, child labor (except on farms) was not totally abolished in the United States until 1949.
For artists, factory art had long been far less about ugly buildings and faceless machines than those using them. Worker abuse, pollution, dehumanization, and (in recent years) computerization and robotics arouse the interests and ire of artist now as well as then. The French painting icon, Claude Monet saw the steam engine in terms of greater freedom to escape to the countryside to paint, though he also seems to have been fascinated with the means to do so as seen in his La Gare Saint-Lazare (below), from 1877, and his A Tranchée des Batignolles (The Trench of the Batignolles). Despite the rampant social ills it fostered, the Industrial Revolution brought many positive changes (at a cost) to each country it touched.

Monet's French version of the Industrial Revolution.
England enjoyed a sort of head start on the rest of the world when it came to both factories and factory art. England had two vital resources which were invaluable for industrial development, coal and iron ore. Moreover, they had the engineering know-how to combine the two and the shipping capacity to export them around the world (below). British artist William Bell Scott captures all these valuable assets in a single painting.

Iron and Coal, 1855-60, William Bell Scott
England also served as a social testing ground for the alleviation of many of the negative consequences accompanying such a social upheaval. One of these upheavals was the advent (spurred by two world wars) of women and their place in a factory environment. The moment women began inhabiting factory floors, everything from their political relevance to their trousers and the way they wore their hair began to change. Artists such as Stanhope Forbes and Sir John Lavery (below) recorded these changes, and may even have had apart in triggering them.

The factories of the Industrial Revolution, in England, the U.S., and all around the world, changed the role of women forever.
Today, Americans and industrialized nations around the world are left with two disturbing images of factories. One is a symbol of the overwhelming industrial strength and power they provide, while very often doing great harm to the air we breath, the land we inhabit, the clean water we demand, even our health and psychological wellbeing (below). The second is that of a desolated battleground where another revolution is taking place, where factory men and women are becoming interchangeable with integrated circuitry and robotic artificial intelligence (bottom). Like the Industrial revolution, which made it possible, the data revolution (or whatever you want to name it) carries with it both the dysfunction of those unable or unwilling to adjust to a new social and economic order, as well as unimaginable benefits to human existence.

Ohio Pollution, watercolor, artist unknown.
Old Factory, Tukap88


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