Woody Guthrie


Woody Guthrie Essay, Research Paper

For my project, I chose to go look at the exhibit, The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie, at the J. Wayne Stark University Center Galleries. It told about his life story, and presented many of his famous works of art.

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born in the small town of Okemah, Oklahoma on the fourteenth of July in 1912. His grandparents moved to Oklahoma trying to seize the opportunity to seize land from the Indian Territory. In his lifetime, Woody experienced and saw much hardship, which he reflected through his artwork, music, and poetry. For example, at the age of only fourteen, Woody was living on his own. Using the hymns and spirituals he learned, Woody added what he learned in the folk tradition from people he met on the road. He also lived during the period of the Great Depression, which presented starving families and much injustice. Woody and many Americans wondered how all of these horrible things could go on in the country proclaimed to be the land of freedom. Many families were starving as plenty of food sat behind the fences in the fields left to rot. All of this, Woody expressed through his work, as he was not merely just an artist, but an avid activist as well. His life prematurely ended when he was hospitalized being diagnosed with Huntington s disease, which also was the cause of death to his mother. However, the impact that he laid upon American soil was so significant as to this day he is still acknowledged in every fight, and battle for fairness, and equality.

The exhibit showed many of his paintings, poetry, and music he produced in his lifetime. His artworks were direct past events he personally experienced, from the Black Blizzard to Starvation Disease. His artwork was not beautiful, fancy, or done with much detail. However, Woody s ability to directly show the events so blatantly is what makes his works so powerful. For example, the exhibit showed a few of his paintings that criticized unfair labor practices, and culminated in an appeal to join the CIO.

One painting that really struck me was the painting Starvation Disease. He drew this in response to the many families starving from the lack of food during the Great Depression as many individuals were out of work. The painting is very simple, as it shows a girl, done only in an outline, with smeared paint in the background. The painting shows no artistic ability what so ever, but it is so powerful and dramatic. The lack of facial expression, and wholeness of the painting makes it so dramatic. He only used four colors; red, yellow, purple, and black, yet we can still see and imagine a poor girl suffering from starvation. This painting is comparable in some ways to the painting of the man in Lascaux, which was done during the Paleolithic period. Both are done in a silhouette form, as in both paintings, only an outline of the figure is done. It is also similar in the fact that both images are very simple, as there is little detail in both paintings. However, they are also different is some ways also. The painting by Woody Guthrie is done in paint with a few colors, while the drawing in Lascaux is done in charcoal. Also, in the painting by Guthrie there is only one image present, while in the cave drawing, a man is shown with a rhinoceros. However, both are very important in the world of art today.

The exhibit was very educational as it helped me to broaden my knowledge by introducing another American hero into what I already knew. As on individual once said that Woody Guthrie was a visionary who believed in an America full of opportunity for all.

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