Confronting Modernity: Art and Society in Louisiana

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Confronting Modernity: Art and Society in Louisiana examines how the conflicts and benefits of modernity's nationalizing influences were reflected and resisted by the state's artists in the first half of the twentieth century. In Louisiana, such change not only produced the turbulent politics of the Huey Long era but also provoked debate over new ideas on art and social roles for artists. By using two of Louisiana's most prominent cultural figures of the era as lenses, Megraw reveals the state's complex relationship with modernity. Artist Ellsworth Woodward and writer Lyle Saxon battled to retain artistic control over what they considered the exceptional character of Louisiana. Woodward defended localized assumptions through art in the world-renowned pottery program he established in 1892 and directed for more than forty years at Sophie Newcomb College. Saxon, on the other hand, fought against modernity's encroachment from within, serving as director of the Federal Writers Project in Louisiana. He used his position to promote literature and culture that preserved local place and historic structure from the transformations wrought by industrialism, consumerism, and the mass media. Confronting Modernity vividly explores how Louisiana's struggles with America's rush to modernize mirrored battles for autonomy happening between artists and governments across the country. Richard Megraw is associate professor of American studies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. His work has been published in Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies.