Organization founded in 1936 in the USA in response to the call of the Popular Front and the American Communist Party for formations of literary and artistic groups against the spread of Fascism. In May 1935 a group of New York artists met to draw up the 'Call for an American Artists' Congress'; among the initiators were George Ault (1891-1948), Peter Blume, Stuart Davis, Adolph Denn, William Gropper (b 1897), Jerome Klein, Louis Lozowick (1892-1973), Moses Soyer, Niles Spencer and Harry Sternberg. Davis became one of the most vociferous promoters of the Congress and was not only the national executive secretary but also the editor of the organization's magazine, Art Front, until 1939.
AMERICAN ARTIST'S CONGRESS:On Stage, Left to Right:Stuart Davis, Julia Codeside of Peru, Lewis Mumford - Chairman, Margaret Bourke-White, Rockwell Kent, Jose Clemente Orozco of Mexico, Paul Manship, Peter Blume, and Aaron Douglas. In the Background: Members of the Presiding Committee Sing Their Praise of the Congress. In the Foreground: The Audience in Diferent Moods, Mostly Creative.
Source: American Magazine of Art, Vol. 29 #4 April 1936 Aesthetic Freedom and the Artist' Congress
Illustration by Peppino Mangravite
1st American Artists' Congress
New York: privately published, 1936
Black wraps. 104 pp.
Includes essays by Lewis Mimford, Stuart Davis, Rockwell Kent, joe Jones, Aaron Douglas, Margaret Bourke-White, Paul Manship, George Biddle, Heywood Broun, Francis J. Gorman and Peter Blume (Public Session). First Closed session includes comments by Meyer Shapiro, Lynd Ward, Max Weber, Gilbert Wilson, John Groth, Harry Sternberg, Ralph M. Pearson. Second Closed Session includes Saul Schary, Arnold Blanch, Arnold Friedman, Harry Gottlieb, Louis Lozowick, Margaret Duroc, "A German Artist In Exile", and Hugo Gellert. Third Closed Session includes Alexander R. Stavenitz, Boris Gorelick, Katherine Schmidt, Robert White, Waylande Gregory and Henry Billings. Fourth Closed session inlcludes Jose Clemente Orozco and David A. Siqueiros. Includes a list of artists who signed the Call to Action. Quite rare and very important. This publication represents the printed form of the First Congress of American Artists against War and Facism which was held in New York on Feb. 14-16, 1936.
In this grave hour, mindful of our responsibility to the art of our time and conscious of the dangers that increasingly threaten both our heritage of freedom and our growing democratic culture, we issue this Call to a Congress of American Artists.
Five years ago we met in the First American Artists' Congress. 2 We proclaimed there our passionate opposition to Fascism, both at home and abroad. We saw in Fascism not only the destruction of culture in those countries in which it had come to power, but ominous promise of war invloving the whole world. . .
. . . We urged upon all artists the necessity of concerted action for peace in the world, and of common action for those conditions in America in which artists can live and work. We saw the promise of democratic culture in the renaissance of popular art: the awakened interest in new techinical forms and the growth of wider and more vital audiences for painting, sculpture and graphic arts. We called for the extension of government support for art, for freedom from censorhip of the artists' concept or suppression of the finished work. At a time when the world stood aghast at the Fascist burning of books abroad, we opposed the destruction of art here in America as well. We pointed out parallels between repressive actions at home and the rise of Fascist forces abroad noting similar assults on living standards and civil liberties, on labor organizations and political minorities.
. . . Today, the Fascist threat has come full circle. In a traditionally free and liberty loving Americans, Fascism comes in the name of Anti-Fascism. All the enemies of progress suddenly become defenders of democracy. Our liberties are destroyed to defend liberty and the policies to which our people are committed by their government, in the name of peace, border ever closer on overt war.
Artists are always among the first to feel the impact of crisis. Our lives and our work are at stake as never before. With the steady decline of the private market and a simultaneous choking off of the government's art program, the economic problem of the artist cecomes increasingly acute. Artists find ever fewer opportunities for the exercise of their profession and the promise of yesterday is negated in the spreading cultural blackout of today.
We believe that the defense of America begins not with steps towards war and dictatorship but with the defense of our basic liberties, standards of living and cultural oportunities. Because we know that our work as free artists is indissolubly linked with continuing peace and the dominance in American life of democratic principles, we call fellow artists to this Congress to consider the following questions:
What can artists do to oppose the high-pressure drive towards war 3 and the increasing use of Fascist solutions for the problems facing the American people [?]
What can be done to expand and make permanent the government art program, stimulate the private market and provide more opportunities for artists to work at their profession [?]
How can we aid the development of a genuine cultural interchange between the peoples of the Americas [?]
How can we preserve the widespread community interest of the past decade and further develop the new audiences that have played so important a role in the renaissance of American culture [?]
"The congress continued to function through 1941 and the beginning of 1942, but primarily in conjunction with other organizations. On December 17, 1941, soon after the United States entered the war, the congress participated in a mass meeing called the Artists' Societies for National Defense, which established, on January 19, 1942, the Artists' Council for Victory, an umbrella organization for twenty-three artists' societies. . . In a letter to congress members, dated April 11, 1942, the executive board recommended merging forces with the United American Artists to form the Artists' League of America."
Artists Against War and Fascism
Papers of the First American Artists' Congress
edited by Matthew Baigell & Julia Williams
Rutgers University Press, NJ, 1986
American Today; New York: Equinox Cooperative Press, 1936. First Printing. Quarto. 14pp. Plus one hundred black & white plates. Original cream color cloth over boards with black stamped lettering on spine and front panel. Contains many examples of American printmakers including Helen West Heller, Lynd Ward, Wanda Ga'g, Philip Evergood, Paul Cadmus, Miguel Covarrubias, Rockwell Kent, and many others. Each of the prints was chosen for the exhibition by American Artists' Congress
"Artists at last discovered that, like other workers, they could only protect their basic interests through powerful organizations. The great mass of artists left out of the project found it possible to win demands from the administration only by joint and militant demonstrations" - Stuart Davis Why an Artists' Congress? in Artists Against War and Fascism: Papers of the First American Artists' Congress, Matthew Baigell and Julia Williams, editors, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1986), 66
2nd AMERICAN ARTISTS CONGRESS
Novemberr 28, 29, 30 1975
ISSUE: SURVIVAL OF THE VISUAL ARTIST IN THE 70'S - OUR CHALLENGES - OUR CONTRIBUTIONS - OUR 'PROPER ROLES' IN SOCIETY - OUR EFFORTS TO FUNCTION AND SUCCEED.
Today artists are experiencing problems comparable to those of the 30s - the decade of the First American
Artists Congress. Issues unresolved then are unresolved now - augmented by contemporary complexities and chaos. To air, discuss and help deal with these issues the BOSTON VISUAL ARTISTS UNION, the largest individual artists organization in America, is hosting the 2nd American Artistss Congress. 2nd American Artists Congress, 1975
Panel on Topical Issues:
Participating Groups, with:
Boston Visual Artists Union (host)
Jamaica Arts Mobilization (Queens)
Kanas City Visual Artists Union
Massachusetts Foundation for the Art
National Art Workers Coalition
New Art Examiner Foundation
New Organization for the Visual Arts (Cleveland)
Union of Maine Visual Artists, Inc.
Boston Visual Artists Union Gallery
Three Center Plaza, Boston, Mass.
Mangravite was born on the island of Lipari off Sicily in a small penal colony for political prisoners and immigrated to New York City in 1923 and moved to Washington DC in 1924. "He began the study of art from a prisoner artist. After moving to New York in 1914 he studied at Cooper Union and then entered the Arts Students League under the instruction of Robert Henri. Most of his canvases were completed in one day after weeks and weeks of preparation. There is an extreme lyrical movement to all his works. Though the depression years as well as World War II were subjects of many of his works, his overlying theme however was that, 'the creative spirit of man cannot be destroyed'." [SVAM Exhibit]
He was a member of the Board of Directors of Artists Equity Association in New York City in the late 1940s and early 50s. He taught at a number schools (inculding D.H.) in the 1950s and was head of the art department at Sara Lawrence.