There seems to be a discernable common (although not universal) style to a lot of the art produced by the WPA during its history (1935-1943). I'd characterize it as more simplistic than realistic, with pastel colors and socialistic themes (usually depicting working men and women, rather than famous people or leaders).

Examples (from Connecticut, Ohio, and New York): enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

However, I've looked through Wikipedia's entire list of art "periods", and can't find one that seems to specifically designate it. Is there an accepted name for this art style? If so, what is it?

  • 2
    Did you look at American Scene Painting or Regionalism?The page on wpaArt also mentions 'The artistic community had already become inspired during the 1920s and ’30s by the revitalization of the Italian Renaissance fresco style'
    – justCal
    Apr 26, 2017 at 4:03
  • 1
    @user2448131 - I looked at both Regionalisim and Social Realism, which is the appropriate subcategory of American Scene. However, most of the exemplars of both of those are, as I mentioned in the Q, Realistic, rather than the simplistic stylized figures like you see in the examples here.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 26, 2017 at 4:59
  • 1
    classifying art is tricky but i would consider them Art Deco, and I have heard the term American Regionalism thrown out by some people. There is also some Futurism in there, especially with the machines and planes etc...
    – ed.hank
    Apr 26, 2017 at 12:11
  • 1
    The fresco work of Diego Rivera is similar to this. Apr 26, 2017 at 12:28
  • @ed.hank - I'd thought perhaps Art Deco as well. However, when I went searching for Art Deco, every painting I could find had no human figures in it whatsoever. Hmmm...just tried again and had better luck. That may be it.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 26, 2017 at 13:17

1 Answer 1


Another interesting and great question!!!

enter image description here

Social Realism.
While the Roosevelt New Deal Workers Progress Administration, WPA did not mandate realism or non-realism art. It was about employing artists during the Great depression. Many Artists had sympathies which leaned further to the left than capitalism. What the Roosevelt Administration wanted was art which showed their make work initiatives tied to American working class values. What the administration and the social realists had in common was respect for the dignity of the working man.

Social Realism
During the 1920s, American artists searched for a greater importance within society. The presence of Mexican muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco in New York City, together with the widespread teachings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, served as inspiration to the emerging artists. Later, with the lingering effects of the Great Depression of 1929, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided many struggling artists with patronage, a sense of community, and the mandate to paint realistically. Within the above historical context, a very large and diverse group of artists later called the Social Realists joined together to publish magazines, organize unions, convene artists' congresses, and publicly agitate for the importance of their revolutionary work, the role of the artist within society, and radical anti-capitalistic change for America.

The sources I've found differentiate Social Realism and Socialist Realism associated in the Soviet Union at around the same time. Different, but related evidently.

From Modern Russian Art Glossery
enter image description here

More Socialist Realism enter image description here

  • 1
    I'm at least convinced that the author of the website you linked considers it all Social Realisim. That's further than I started the day.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 22, 2017 at 19:29
  • 1
    I enjoyed the question. I always thought those murals had a distinctive communist feel. I worked for Rockwell International in the 1980's and they had similar but corp specific posters. One of my buddies was from the Soviet Union and he used to roll his eyes and say the soviets used the same kinds of art. There is a lot of Social Realism and Socialist Realism on the web. I enjoy questions where I learn interesting stuff.
    – user27618
    Dec 22, 2017 at 22:08
  • 1
    I always enjoyed that style, as long as I feel they are taking the theme seriously. For example, I note your Soviet example couldn't resist including pictures of the Great Leaders dou jour, which really spoils the whole effect.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 22, 2017 at 22:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.