20TH CENTURY ART
SCRIPT -- LOUISIANA RICE FIELDS
SFX: 1928 Car starting and driving
The painting Louisiana Rice Fields by Thomas Hart Benton came out of a trip he took in the summer of 1928. He and a friend drove their station wagon across the American south, through Georgia, to Louisiana, and visiting many old river towns along the Mississippi.
SFX: CAR HONKS
During that trip Benton made sketches of men harvesting rice in the fields, and later he turned those sketches into paintings. Benton considered the work of rice and cotton harvesting as unique to America. His paintings celebrated the dignity of skilled manual labor, and he advocated economic justice for workers. He and other painters believed that American art should show what rural life was like in the South and Midwest. Today we call those painters the American Regionalists.
Benton painted in a style called natural and representational, meaning it’s clear what he’s painting. There’s nothing abstract about his work. He wanted people to easily understand his paintings. But his style is original and you can always tell a Benton painting. The figures in his paintings appear soft and fluid...not drawn with hard edged lines. Men, animals, and machines almost look like cartoon figures. Maybe he got the idea for his style from a job he once had, working as a cartoonist for a newspaper in Joplin, Missouri.
Now here’s a verbal description of the painting Louisiana Rice Fields. It’s a horizontal painting 4 feet wide and almost 3 feet high.
SFX: BIRDS, OUTDOOR AMBIENCE
The painting shows workers in a rice field in the 1920s. There were three steps in the harvesting of rice, so the painting shows three scenes within the field...one on the left, one in the center, and one on the right.
The sky is light blue at the top of the painting, but becomes mixed with a light brown haze as you look down toward the ground. In the background, there’s a narrow horizontal strip of blue across the entire painting, suggesting a body of water like a river or a lake in the distance. The ground of the field is mostly light brown. All the colors in the painting are soft and muted.
In the scene on the left sits a black tractor, steam powered, its front end pointed right, toward the center of the composition. A man wearing a red shirt sits in the driver’s seat of the tractor. Another man in a blue shirt stands along side it. The men wear hats with broad brims to keep off the sun. The tractor is not moving, but it’s running and from a tall smokestack on the front a cloud of dark brown smoke drifts up and across the sky toward the right in a lazy S shape. The smoke drifts above the scene that’s in the center of the composition and helps to move your attention from the left to the center.
THRESHER FADES IN
The scene in the center shows a wagon pulled by two brown mules. The wagon is standing still. At the back of the wagon is a threshing machine, reddish brown in color with a tall black funnel sticking out of the top. On top of the wagon two men with pitchforks are shoveling harvested grain from the wagon into the thresher. The chaff separated from the grain shoots out of the black funnel onto a huge and growing brown pile behind the thresher. A third man stands on the ground filling a sack with rice coming out of the thresher. All three men also wear wide-brimmed hats.
On the right side of the composition is a scene with a black truck with a flat bed on the back. The truck sits idling while three men load sacks of rice onto it. The sacks are light brown. All three men wear wide-brimmed hats.
In front of the truck sits a line of filled sacks waiting to be loaded. Benton has arranged them in a diagonal line from the front of the truck down to the front bottom edge of the painting. This line of sacks helps bring your eye to the foreground and middle of the painting. And then you notice a small row of brown lumpy shapes, possible earth, possibly a big brown dog...that are on a diagonal line leading from away from the sack up towards the left of the painting where the tractor is. And then you begin again to look at the three scenes...left, center and right. So Benton directs your eye with his composition so that you stay focused on his three scenes.
At the lower right of the painting, the artist has signed his name...
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