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Shahn, Ben

Born: 1898, Kovno, Lithuania Died: 1969, New York

American - 1906 - Emigrated with his family, from Lithuania to Brooklyn, New York.

Apprentice to a commercial lithographer - defined his artistic style & career. He spent 4 years grinding lithographic stones and making letters "until I should know to perfection every curve, every serif, every thick element of a letter and every thin one" while learning the trade of commercial printmaking.

Photographer - shared a studio nwith social documentarian Walker Evans. He wrote "What the photographer can do that the painter can't is to arrest that split second of action in a guy stepping into a bus, or eating at a lunch counter." He considered his photographs to be the raw material for his paintings. "Photographs give those details of forms that you think you'll

remember but don't -- details that I like to put in my paintings."

Worked for WPA (Works Progress Administration) while establishing his career as a painter.

Produced color lithographs, serigraphs and photo-offset posters for the Office of War Information during World War II. He also experimented with hand coloring his prints, applying gold leaf and printed text in English and in Hebrew.

Writer, lecturer and teacher

Biographical Notes
Ben Shahn's art offers a commentary about the impact of events in his lifetime. His emotional reaction to the subjects and events he experienced were masterfully produced. He developed a consistently recognizable style in his art that transmits the impact of his feelings to the viewer.

From the beginning of his career, Shahn championed the plight of downtrodden people and victims of the frenzy of 20th century America. His subjects ranged from war-torn angst to social decay and the isolation of lonely people. He used his art to draw attention to the need for empathy and humanity in a world that was becoming impersonal.

Shahn's late work was less politically confrontational about social issues. His work became more spiritual and personal. Shahn expressed his deep commitment to his beliefs and to his art in this statement:

"Society cannot grow upon negatives. If man has lost his Jehovah, his Buddha, his Holy Family, he must have new, perhaps more scientifically tenable beliefs, to which he may attach his affections. Perhaps Humanism and Individualism are the logical heirs to our earlier, more mystical beliefs. . . But in any case, if we are to have values, a spiritual life, a culture, these things must find their imagery and their interpretation through the arts."