My favorite painter is Thomas Hart Benton. He’s not the greatest technical painter, nor is he the most innovative. But I loved his murals and easel paintings of the American Scene, and I never get tired of looking at his art. Benton’s most famous paintings were in the 1930s and 1940s, and they are informed by a love of America. When I was in college, I loved his work, and was heavily influenced by his design sense. He was a New Deal liberal, yet was constantly attacked by leftists for his political views not being radical enough and by conservatives for being too liberal. I think the only artist who was making murals as good as Benton was Rivera, and this was during a time when the mural was becoming very popular in the artworld.
Benton’s goal with his art was to portray the whole of America, warts and all. As such, he was attacked by both leftist radicals and conservative Republicans for putting in his art both the good and bad of America. His art is full of blue collar workers and black sharecroppers, politicians and entertainers, sports figures and janitors. Benton was not the most technically proficient artist, but his best work had a roughness that conveyed some of the energy and brashness of America. His work is vital in ways that many other works of more proficient artists lack.