As we work through the COVID-19 pandemic day by day, we can look to history and see that the planet survived, even thrived, after a world secluded themselves for the sake of safety. In 1918, the “Spanish” flu virus targeted about one-third of the Earth’s population. The world emerged to a flourishing arts scene that presented new ways of thinking and expression.
Art in the 1920s can be seen as a joyful emergence from the constraints of both illness and of World War I. Bold movements grew and societal norms changed, and even shocked. Writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound put together salons to challenge traditional ways of thinking and create thoughtful and sometimes defiant work. Also, on the literary front, James Joyce emerged as a major writer and Virginia Woolf brought a distinctly feminist voice to the growing roster of authors. Artists did not shy away from subjects like technology, progress, and sexuality. It was The Great Gatsby author Fitzgerald who effectively coined the term ‘The Jazz Age’ as a reflection of 1920’s society – the good and the bad.
The Harlem Renaissance was also born out of this time. Celebration of African American culture and art bloomed. An incredible number of literary, theatrical, musical, intellectual, and visual art works aimed to reclaim a culture that had been defined by white stereotypes. Some of the most prominent artists to emerge from this movement are Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Josephine Baker, and Marcus Garvey.
A great number of art movements developed in the 1920s, each in their own way making a statement on society and culture. Dadaism, Surrealism, and Expressionism emerged and all had points-of-view that were reflections to the post-pandemic and post-war world. They did everything from challenge societal norms, embrace the grotesque, confront traditional values, and externalize the internal. One of the most distinctive art movements of the 1920s was Art Deco, which focused on the modern—streamlined, geometric shapes and new materials. You could see its influence on everything from architecture, to design, to fashion.
Like the 1920s, this emerging age is going to impact the very fabric of our society. New points-of-view and artistic perspectives will undoubtedly burst from this time of self-isolation and the shared global aftermath. Our duty is to survive these dark days, and to do so with a goal of keeping our minds sharp, our mental health strengthened, and our creative brains always observing.
P.S.: We’ve compiled a reading list of literary works from the 1920s as well as art books to browse for inspiration.
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