First Advisor

Robert W. Shotola

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Sociology






Federal Art Project (Or.), Art -- Oregon -- History



Physical Description

3, xv, 189 leaves: ill. 28 cm.


This thesis addresses the relationship between art and society by examining the production of culture on the Oregon Federal Art Project (FAP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The author examines the social conditions and decision-making processes which shaped the art that was produced and determined who produced and who consumed the art of the FAP. Also examined are the changing social relations of art prior tCI), during, and after the WPA's Federal Art Project. The research for the thesis utilized inductive methods of research aimed at theory construction rather than theory testing, although theoretical questions guided the gathering and analysis of data. Most of the data were obtained from primary sources, including interviews with fifteen people who had varying degrees of familiarity with the Oregon FAP; letters of correspondence, memos, and other primary documents on the Oregon FAP were used extensively. Secondary sources supplemented these primary sources by providing an overview of the national FAP and providing comparative data on the New York City FAP. An important factor in the establishment of the national FAP was the political activism of artists, particularly in New York. In Oregon, where only a handful of artists were politically active, the upper class administrators of the FAP seemed to have had more autonomy in shaping the direction of the program. It is argued that in many cases the goals of the FAP, to provide employment for artists on relief and to use the skills of these people to create socially useful projects, were undermined due to the orientations and inclinations of administrators and business sponsors of the projects who emphasized the professional art aspect of the FAP rather than the relief, socially useful aspect of the project. Nevertheless, the Oregon FAP brought about a change in the social relations among the artist and the art audience; not only was art made more available to the Oregon public through the public display of art works, and through the free instruction of art at community art centers, but artists, themselves, were for the first time employed to exchange their labor, as artists, for a wage. In this sense, the FAP was seen as a kind of "cultural revolution," although an examination of the social relations of art following the 1930s reveals that the cultural revolution took the form of an entrepreneurial, petit bourgeois revolution, rather than the socialistic revolution many artists had hoped for. It is suggested that the nature of this revolution stems, in part, from the characteristics of the FAP, where artists were government employees, yet were administered by a bureaucracy staffed by an elite which traditionally had been the patrons of art. The conclusions of this thesis are stated in the form of tentative propositions that await further testing in subsequent comparative studies of the FAP.


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Portland State University. Dept. of Sociology.

Persistent Identifier