WHAT IS REGIONALISM?

Regionalism (in art) is a tradition that stretches back two-hundred years. This definitive art form – often referred to as an 'art for the people' – is deeply rooted in the idea that art and life are inextricably intertwined. This 'perennial' movement emerged in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, spinning out of works such as On Art And Life, by John Ruskin. Regionalism was a response to the social dislocation caused by the technology of that era; now, of course, we are contending with the so-called 'digital revolution'.

 

Regionalism (as a movement in art) is the most influential and long-lived art movement of the 'modern' era; long associated with the rise of the middle-class – the point at which 'modern democracy' and 'sovereign nation states' became possible. The modern nation state, in fact, is a reflection of this philosophy; representing (alongside the political connotations of this concept) our place on, and 'regional' relationship to the earth – an idea that has recently come to be known, in some circles, as 'Localism'.

 

Today, Regionalism is associated mainly (in typical postmodern fashion) with the most superficial notions of 'place' (as related to geographic location and identity). As American Regionalism and (some years later in Canada) London Regionalism, clearly illustrate, Regionalism deals with much broader social and environmental issues. With respect to social issues, the Regionalism of our day has not lost sight of history, and the struggles of our predecessors to forge (and maintain) a 'civil' society. In terms of the environment we inhabit, Regionalism (in art) sees the diversity of views expressed through art – the essential exercise of free expression – as a reflection of the natural environment, where those systems with the greatest bio-diversity are also the healthiest and most resilient.

 

To understand this ages-old artistic movement it is important to see all art as a response to the forces that shape our world; either working in conjunction with established systems (following popular trends) or, in the case of Regionalism, as a kind of resistance  – continually challenging and questioning. In political terms, Regionalism in art might be regarded as the 'Official Opposition' – an essential aspect of the democratic process, in a free and open society.

 

REGIONALISM (the Big Picture)

Regionalism, today, represents a complete rethinking of the current model for global integration; it is, according to one recent government paper, a 'reactive and proactive response to recent forces of political and economic restructuring.'

In light of growing opposition to (and wariness of) the ongoing push for Globalization, particularly since the 2008 financial crisis, all manner of government agencies, think tanks, social theorists, development Banks, even artists – critics and advocates alike –- have weighed in, attempting to claim, redefine and/or re-purpose this ages-old grass roots movement. While some, it would seem, seek to disarm, even subvert, this powerful decentralizing, democratic, force; others are attempting to retool Regionalism, and adapt it to the realities of our day. The New Regionalism Project, in the long-forgotten tradition of Regionalism in art, subscribes to the latter.


Selected papers:
'A Primer On New Regionalism - Canadian Regional Development: A Critical Review of Theory, Practice, and Potentials'
'The New Regionalism: Causes and Consequences - The Inter-American Development Bank and CEPII Conference'
'The New Regionalism: Characteristics of an emerging movement'
'Regionalism (international relations)' - Wikipedia
'The New Regionalism Approach - Politeia

 

Like the Romantic painters of the mid-1800s, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, and the American Regionalists, who responded to the social upheaval of the Great Depression, today's Regionalists, address the social dislocation generated by a 'digital revolution', as it has come to be known.

In the postmodern era, the public has forgotten that artists were once a force for positive change in the world. Independent artists possess a 'covert potential for resistance' , art historian and critic, Lucy Lippard, states.* Our objective here is to share a history that has been omitted from the official record, a history which demonstrates that artists may, once again, reinvent the way we live.


 


WHAT IS REGIONALISM (IN ART)?

Regionalism is the most influential and long-lived art movement of the 'modern' era, about which, today, almost no one knows a thing. Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Minimalism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism (and a great many other 20th century 'isms'), on the other hand, are familiar to everyone; though most were around for a relatively short period of time. Regionalism has endured for almost 150 years, and the artists who subscribed to the Regional philosophy have changed the world in ways we can hardly comprehend today. This fascinating history, however, of art engaged with the real world issues, has been virtually forgotten. Why should this be?

The name itself, in the era of Globalization, is the first and most important clue; Regionalism, represents the antithesis of this all pervasive ideology. It is important (and inconvenient to some) as art critic Lucy Lippard explains in her 2008 essay 'Beyond "Being" in Place', because of its 'covert potential for resistance'. For this reason, perhaps, some may feel that the less the public knows of this bothersome movement, the better.

Since the 1950s, Regionalism was been 'denigrated and dismissed', writes Lippard; more recently, it has been gradually written out of history. In the 'post-truth' era, however, after more than one-hundred years of 'Art for Art's Sake', the central values of the Romantics painters – Beauty, Nature and Truth – have never been more important.

Every few generations (as regular as clockwork) this perennial movement has re-emerged, usually in response to social and economic injustice, environmental concerns and subversion of the political system. Regionalism has a long tradition of social commentary and political activism which – with the help of the people – has generally succeeded in bring about positive change, and improved the lives of everyday people.

Today, the New Regionalism project seeks to remember, celebrate and revive an 'art for the people'.

 

 


THE HISTORY OF REGIONALISM

To understand why Regionalism was called 'an art for the people', we must first look at the achievements of this movement. Regionalism in the modern era began with the Romantic painters in the mid-1800s. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, in England, a time of huge social dislocation, the Romantic painters supported Alms houses, Working Men's clubs, continuing eduction; they are credited, in fact, with inspiring the concept of a social safety net – at a time when those who fell through the cracks, quite literally, starved at the side of the road. It was at this time that the concept civil society emerged. The way had been paved by the Enlightenment in France; the 'liberty and equality' unleashed by that particular revolution lead to a burgeoning of a of middle class which, in turn, enabled full democracy to take root.

Later members of the Hudson River School, the Romantic's counterparts in the United Stated, recognized the need to preserve the wilderness and are credited with founding the US parks system - Most notably, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Moran Point, on the Grand Canyons North Rim, is named after the Hudson River School artist Thomas Moran.

After the Great Depression, the American Regionalists were instrumental in bringing about 'The New Deal'; a development which improved the lives of the average person in the United States immeasurably. It is said the benefits of this, enjoyed by a large proportion of the population, have now be been almost entirely eroded,* which accounts for the rapid, and alarming, decrease in the size of the middle class (alarming because our liberal democratic system is dependent (1) on a majority of the population being of this constituency (ie. having a stake in the society) and (2) that they be engaged and sufficiently well informed. To understand why an informed and engaged population is important, see: 'an elite among the middle-class'

The role art has played in the political struggles of the past 150 years is obvious, but this story's hidden dimensions are astounding. We will continue to explore the untold story of art in future updates – from the long forgotten, Congress For Culture Freedom; to Abstract Expressionism as a CIA and banker funded covert 'PsyOp'; to PSB D-33/2, the Psychological Strategy Board's 'Doctrinal Program' (declassified and made public in 2007). In light of all this, the importance of independent culture becomes crystal clear.


* Essay 'Beyond "Being" In Place' by Lucy Lippard. (Re)imagining Regionalism pg 186

MORE COMING SOON

This page will be updated over the next few week as text is prepared, the other characteristics of Regionalism will also be examined.

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