A press release on Temple’s Web site details the insights of Miles Orvell, a professor of English and American Studies here. Orvell asserts that the Great Depression was a period of great creative expression, during which some of the country’s greatest works of fiction and art were produced.
It may be that poor economic conditions really do spur creative output. In that case, we may be due for the next great American novel, given the recently announced recession.
Still, it is important to remember the influence of federal programs and financing on Depression-era art and literature. As the release notes, influential writers like Arthur Miller and Orson Welles were part of the federal programs of the 1930s. This fact should not be lost on today’s leaders, whether they are in politics or academia.
Maintaining strong arts programs may not seem like a vital initiative in the midst of a recession in which hundreds of thousands of jobs are lost each month. However, just as federally-funded artists captured many of the iconic images of the 1930s, we also need to ensure there are artists and writers who will capture the spirit of these times.
In an Inquirer article, J. Edward Cambron, vice president of marketing for the Philadelphia Orchestra, said “I read that during the Depression, people gravitated toward those things that brought them close to the important stuff in life,” and that arts were a part of that.
As the same article highlights, Philadelphians are still turning out for art shows and plays in the area. Clearly, there is still an appetite for art in a recession.
Literature and art will produce the images that will come to define our era. The images that came out of the Depression not only helped provide later generations with enduring impressions of the difficulties faced but helped build support for the massive public-works programs needed to climb out of those difficulties.
The government and Temple should keep these opportunities in mind. Getting the country behind a concerted effort to pull itself out of this recession, not to mention producing the next generation’s greatest writers and artists, is certainly worth attention, even in a rough economy. There may even be another great American novel waiting to be written.