Fêtes and Folly: What I Believe

7:00 AM

Paul Cadmus, What I Believe, 1933

There is far too much folly in this painting. While I am no stranger to strange choices in paintings which (I hope) make one or two viewers uncomfortable, even I am thrown off by this painting. And for that reason, it would be criminal if I didn't share my views on this "modern masterpiece" (as Cadmus puts it).  However, despite harsh criticism, this painting has an underlying value that is far more important than the apparent strangeness thatsits before us.

Paul Cadmus is no stranger to works that incite ridicule from the intended audience. However, this painting incites the aforementioned ridicule in a different way to his other paintings. In most of Cadmus's paintings, he extenuates the nude male figure in very uncomfortable ways (like the ways above). Why is the man on the bottom covering his head, while some woman reads on his upper buttock? However, the most puzzling mystery in this painting is the fact that along the right border in the middle is a little baby, right next to the woman with the nipples the size of Mt. Everest? Who invited this baby to this... social gathering of nude adults. There is no way any of the happenings in this painting are PG.

While Cadmus's portrayal of the human figure is strange, it is accurate. He has spent long periods of time studying the male figure (with some of his methods being unorthodox for his time). However, in terms of proportions, all of his measurements are very accurate. It is the aforementioned accuracy that rose him to prominence during the World War II period?

I've been wanting to write about Paul Cadmus for a very long time now, however, have never had the opportunity, as none of his paintings seemed to fit any certain art style. This painting is part of a movement of America known as "Social Realism." This time period is almost exclusive to the United States with only a few other English Artists joining the movement. This period places a heavy focus on the struggles of the impoverished and needy, which was prevalent during his time (Great Depression).

This painting in particular shows a heaven-like place in the forefront of the painting with many of the characters in the painting frolicking in their nudeness. However, in the back, many others look upon these people, jealous or disappointed that their lives aren't the same way. Similarly, many impoverished, struggling to eat enough food or provide a roof for their families (or even themselves), looked upon the aristocrats and landlords (the top .1% of Americans) who took advantage of the system enough to have 20% of all money in the United States.

While initially this painting comes off as strange or joking, Cadmus created a painting which accurately depicts the wealth gap during the time it was created. The top .1% were able to enjoy their lives, and ignored the pain and depression that overcame the rest of 99.9% of Great Depression America.

*** Editor's Note: Students developed the topic of Fêtes and Folly to chronicle elegant celebrations, bad dates, late nights, or other things related to that time in Spring where barbaric yawps can be heard from backyards, beaches, or the more familiar rooftop. Enjoy their revelry, cheeky overstatement, and occasional tales of ribaldry over the next couple of weeks.

You Might Also Like