Bored in the Suburbs; buy me a dream

With the rise of “alternate facts” in politics, conspiracy theories, and pseudo science, many people are asking, how have we strayed from the path of scientific fact and reason? An objective examination of economic forces that have shaped our contemporary world will show a pattern of influence that would inevitably lead to a society drowning in information but which is still suffering from a thirst that is often slaked by social media sources that sell “the truth”.

The post war era was a time of unparalleled economic growth, prosperity, and consumerism. With many of the markets reaching saturation points, manufacturers and advertising companies had to find new ways to get Americans to spend money to maintain economic growth. Individuals such as Alfred P. Sloan, Bernard London, Brooks Stevens, and Edward Bernays pioneered the concepts of planned and perceived obsolescence and the advertising and public relation strategies that infected American culture with a feeling of inadequacy that could only be satiated by the purchasing of new products. Advertising has trained us to be unhappy. This constant feeling that we are not complete and we need to find that which completes us, has made a anxiety riddled society that is always searching and vulnerable to individuals with ideas that promise answers and explanations to the feeling that “something is not right”.

The technological age has allowed instantaneous communication and access to information. This has enabled more people to be aware of the forces that influence our daily lives and how much they are the foundation upon which our contemporary society is built. The result of these revelations have empowered some, created healthy skeptics of others, and made some feel powerless and distrustful of mainstream information sources.

Combine a society that has been trained to be constantly dissatisfied and that only the acquisition of the “the new” can complete it with technology that provides unparalleled ease of access to alternate sources of information, and you get a society that questions and believes everything.

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Inspiration for Murika the Beautiful Series

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Conclusion to Murika the Beautiful Series

The Suburbs have changed the physical and cultural landscape of our country. It is a symbol of success, prosperity, and hope. It is a symbol of intolerance and denial. It is America. We live in a time of tremendous opportunity for our society if we break the shackles of nostalgia and ignorance. We did not create the past and are not responsible for it but we must be honest with ourselves about it. Will we be able to accept our new realities and come together as a society?

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African American artists made their own contributions to the culture of America. The daily struggle of minorities influenced the work of Charles White, who created “images of dignity” and believed that “art must be an integral part of the struggle. It can’t simply mirror what’s taking place. It must adapt itself to human needs. It must ally itself with the forces of liberation. The fact is, artists have always been propagandists. I have no use for artists who try to divorce themselves from the struggle.”
At the end of the 20th century, painters started to reference historical influences in their depictions of the American spirit. Artists such as James Kerry Marshall, Walton Ford, and Alex Katz looked to American cultural history for inspiration. McGuigan wrote, “A maverick from the beginning, Katz came of age when Abstract Expressionism still reigned, yet he turned to painting landscapes and the human figure. Over time, his paintings got bigger”. “Appropriating the monumental scale, stark composition, and dramatic light of the Abstract Expressionists, he would beat the heroic generation at their own game,” the critic Carter Ratcliff wrote in a 2005 monograph on Katz. Alex Katz also used “flat, bright figures that had an everyday quality that linked them to commercial art and popular culture.” His compositions involving landscapes and people often
positioned figures in parklike environments close to or touching the border, giving the impression that the viewer is passing through the scene.
Kerry James Marshall’s work “is drawn from African American culture and rooted in the geography of his upbringing”. Charles White’s belief that artists should create works reflective of their culture’s struggle influenced Kerry James Marshall. His work is a blend of abstraction, realism, and collage addressing African American culture in American history. African American figures were depicted so darkly that they were almost completely blacked out. He elegantly addressed cultural stereotypes by removing any chance of the viewer seeing these figures as unique individuals. His work “Better Homes Better Gardens” juxtaposes suburban and urban cultures in the same composition, forcing the viewer to consider their connections.
Walton Ford’s work was inspired by early naturalist illustrators like American John James Audubon. Most of Ford’s works are large scale water color paintings. He created images that were meant to fill in the blank spots in history. His work lets us know that the idea of men like John James Audubon is better than the reality and that they were
only living within their own time. History is filled with characters that would not stand up to the tests of our contemporary culture. An honest judgement of them must be accompanied by an understanding of the times in which they lived. Walton Ford uses the depiction of animals in unnatural situations or behaving badly to illustrate our own shortcomings.

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The shifting and hostile landscape of contemporary America has many longing for simpler and better times. The one constant in the past fifty years has been the suburban landscape. For most Americans, it has always been there. Half of all Americans live and work in the suburbs. Every American has been exposed to it.
Popular culture has widely spread the image. It is a symbol of both America’s promise and America’s shortcomings. If we are going to move forward together as a nation then we must be honest about all aspects of our past and how it has shaped our present.
Images are important to me as a painter because of their power to examine and transform beliefs. An image can invoke the same feelings in a person as if they were in the presence of the real thing. This is why religions throughout time have used idols and icons in their ceremonies.
Painting is a medium that matches the transformative influence images and the environment have on us. The use of paint to capture the spirit of the time has a long history in the United States. The early 20th century saw Precisionist artists like Charles Demuth and Ralston Crawford who “consistently reduced their compositions to simple shapes and underlying geometrical structures, with clear outlines, minimal detail, and smooth handling of surfaces” (Murphy, 2007) to capture urban and industrial landscapes. At that time America was just starting to emerge on the world stage. As the First World War raged on, the Allied forces turned to the United States for resources. The industrial outputs and agricultural abundance of the Midwest flowed through American port cities to the world.These artists provided the foundation for American painters of the 20th century and established how painters mirrored the cultural changes of the nation.
These cultural and aesthetic changes in America were reflected in the work of American painters. Abstract Expressionism came to prominence during this post war era. Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock represent American painters of this time who “made monumentally scaled works that stood as reflections of their individual psyches” and “valued spontaneity and improvisation … They accorded the highest importance to process”. Jackson Pollock particularly demonstrated the change in the aesthetic of American art when compared to the work of his teacher Thomas Hart Benton. “Even when depicting images based on visual realities, the Abstract Expressionists favored a highly abstracted mode.


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Studies show that diverse societies like the United States are more creative. Despite this scientific evidence, many people have a negative view of the increased diversity in America and believe that some people are dangerous and should be banned. The fear of being marginalized has empowered white supremacist groups and contributed to a dramatic increase in hate crimes fueling tensions within the country.
The tension generated by an increasingly diverse country is compounded by a growing trend toward anti-intellectualism. There are several consequences of this anti-intellectualism. Civil discourse and open dialogue based on reasoned arguments have become the exception and not the norm. People are becoming increasingly mistrustful of established science. There is an increasing number of people who believe in pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. Our society is beginning to view education as an unnecessary luxury or simply a way to increase one’s earning potential. (Strauss, 2014) The educational system that helped establish America as a world leader has come under attack by those who promote alternate education policies. News sources are often viewed as being unreliable or as reporting biased opinions.
Technology has inadvertently fueled the flames of ignorance through the way that Americans receive and consume information. The new technologies have enabled the delivery of specialized messages designed for a narrow subset of the population, further isolating Americans from any points of view that differs from those they hold as true. Instead of bringing people together, social media has been used to spread misinformation and spark conflict. Thanks to technology, we can frame the world however we want.

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The promises of supply-side economics did not materialize for everyone. Americans living below the poverty line in the 1980s did not see any improvements in their standard of living compared to previous decades. There were fewer manufacturing jobs in 1989 than there were in 1979. Some economic scholars believe that Reagan’s economic policies killed a middle class that was already suffering from increased competition from foreign markets (Culbertson, 1986). Automation permanently eliminated some jobs. Technological advancements meant that more manufacturing work could be done by fewer Americans.
The national deficit increased by 142% during the Reagan administration. The deficit increase was due to increased military spending surpassing any cuts to government investments in domestic programs. Some economic analysts credit the economic improvements of the time to monetary policies of the Central Bank rather than Reagan’s fiscal policies. The Conservatives’ economic policies contributed to the growing economic inequality in America of the early 1980s. This trend continued as the top one percent of Americans accumulated more wealth at an exponentially increasing rate. A major tenet of the American Dream – the hope that the efforts of each generation would improve the lives of the next – began to erode.
America’s supremacy ended at the close of the 20th century as other countries emerged as political and economic forces. America was no longer the sole super power. The rise of other nations created new challenges, opportunities, and realities for the United States in the Post-American World. This gave rise to new definitions of the American Dream and what it means to be an American. Younger Americans no longer expect or want the lives of their parents and grandparents. The days of working for one company your whole life and then retiring are gone. Lifestyles that were once considered abnormal, immoral, or illegal are now being
accepted as mainstream. The majority of Americans accept and support the rights of same sex couples to marry. America, always a melting pot, is becoming more diverse. It is no longer a predominantly white country. The birth rate of minority groups is outpacing that of non-Hispanic whites. In the near future the demographics of America will be more evenly divided with no ethnic group dominating the population of America.

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Residents of urban areas faced their own challenges with the practice of redlining. The term “redlining” was coined in the 1960’s by sociologist John McKnight. Redlining refers to the practice of red lines being drawn on maps to indicate where loans would be unavailable. Redlined areas were predominately black and inner city communities. “White flight” and a lack of investments led to the deterioration of urban infrastructure (Gregory D. Squires, 1979). These factors established a geographically and economically segregated society that walled off the American dream and had detrimental social and economic consequences that lasted generations.
The unjust class system established and fortified by social and economic policies was compounded by the rise of Conservatism in America. Before the 1960’s, Conservatism was not considered a serious movement that could provide any practical contributions to American society. As the American Century ended, Conservatism grew. Conservative leaders believed they were mandated to save America from Communism and itself by building a strong military and shrinking government through reduced taxation and spending on social and domestic programs. Conservatism rose to dominate the culture and politics of America at the end of the 20th century. This rise culminated in the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, which had even greater impacts on the
political, social, and economic culture of America. Ronald Reagan is viewed by many to be the greatest American President. He created a culture promoting Conservative Christian values and economic principles that viewed government intervention as un-American. Supply-sided economic policies promoted reduced government spending, a reduction in the capital gains tax, and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy to promote revitalization of the economy through investments. Reagan cemented the idea of America being a militaristic and Christian nation.

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This period had lasting effects on America. The post-war era brought cultural changes to the United States. People sought a reprieve from the noise, congestion, and pollution of the urban environment. Those who wanted to raise a family but still be near cultural institutions sought areas on the outskirts of cities to build their homes and realize their American dreams. The increased birth rate created a lack of housing in the country. The assembly line model of home and community construction perfected by the building firm Levitt & Sons became the model ofsuburban development in the United States. The Levittown model gave us the iconic image of  winding streets lined with cookie cutter homes centered on a carpet of green grass (Jenkins, 1994). The prosperous lifestyle of suburban living was marketed to the American people as the new norm by popular culture which spurred the purchase of home goods (Hayden, 2003). The increased consumption of products to fill all the new homes in the suburbs created a consumer culture with its own unique lifestyle and aesthetic. American consumer culture then inspired the development of Pop Art.