The aspirations of the American working class are battered, but not beaten
Art Business

The aspirations of the American working class are battered, but not beaten

Maybe there never will be any rest for them. Even in an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., titled “The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers,” laborers of every kind — slaves and free people, clockmakers and Subway sandwich workers, sharecroppers and machinists — are frozen in artworks depicting their lives, landscapes and interior worlds. These are not portraits of workers at leisure or with tasks completed; these are portraits of workers at work, with all of the intensity and stress of the labor that powers American industry exposed. But the tension in the exhibit doesn’t issue strictly from the workers’ taxed muscles and worn hands. Americans are ambivalent when it comes to the role of labor and the working classes in society. “The Sweat of Their Face” emphasizes that this has been the case since the country’s founding. The very point of hard work in the United States is often stipulated as escaping the working class, or providing a path to posterity. But one’s own departure doesn’t eliminate the gulf between the extreme classes — nor does it in every case put one entirely at ease with the predisposition of the upper classes toward […]

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