The Benton provides a small bite of realism and impressionism

Museum curators provide information on some of the pieces in the gallery. A small group of students gather to listen about the artist's attention to detail and design choices. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

With 6,500 pieces of valuable arts stored throughout the building, the Benton Art Museum is home to a plethora of visual attractions. Such a dense array of art can be a daunting encounter, even for those educated in the arts. However, the Benton Art Museum is presenting “Art in Small Bites” to simplify the world of art.

This week’s lesson was “Social Realism and Impressionism.” Benton Museum docent Susan Zito presented an example of impressionism with Ernest Lawson’s 1898 “Low Tide,” and an example of social realism with Reginald Marsh’s 1930 “Irving Place Burlesque.”

Zito recounted the 19th century artistic shift from Academic Art to Impressionism.

“American Impressionism came after European Impressionism, which was a reaction to academic art that had been institutionalised in Europe, where the standards were very rigid,” Zito said in the presentation.

“Low Tide,” Zito said, was characterized as Impressionism because it portrayed an abstract vision of nature meets municipality. The painting, depicting a twilight scene of the Harlem River in front of a backdrop of an urban 1800’s New York, portrayed a common impressionist metaphor of the effects of mankind on the environment.

“You can see remnants of nature and what is to come, not that he knew it at the time,” Zito said.

The second piece of art presented, which varied greatly from Lawson’s “Low Tide,”  was “Irving Place Burleqseque” by Marsh.

The historic example of Social Realism depicted a crowd of men watching women who were erotic dancers during the Great Depression.

“Two million women lost their jobs and one of the few job opportunities was using their sexuality to entertain,” Zito said. “The men are all very engrossed but for the women, it’s a job.”

“Irving Place Burlesque,” Zito said, exemplifies Social Realism because it portrays the raw reality of the arduous era, unlike prior forms of art earlier in the 20th and 19th centuries that exemplified beauty and purity.

Jessica Araujo, sixth-semester communications major, found this idea of artistic movements developing as retaliation to prior movements to be an interesting concept.

“I thought it was really intriguing and I feel guilty that I haven't gone on one of these tours before,” Araujo said. “She obviously seems really knowledgeable.”

Joshua Dampf, second-semester anthropology major, also found value in Zito’s contrite lecture.

“I saw one perspective of the art and she opened my eyes to all pieces of the art,” Dampf said. “And to what each perspective meant to the individual and as a whole.”

Lillian Whittaker is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at