Friday, November 12, 2010

Fine Arts Friday: A Benefit of Working

Scrubwoman, by John French Sloan, 1910-1911

(Click on the paintings to get a better view.)

Here is a painting of scrub women working at the Astor Library in New York City, a place I used to spend a lot of time in as a reader. I like this painting, because it does not depict these ladies as victims of poverty-mandated drudgery, but instead draws our attention to their cheerfulness: they seem to be enjoying a friendly joke, although the shading of the painting indicates that they live in a different world than the silent scholars in the next room.

An atmosphere in which jokes are welcome is a crucial factor in selecting where I work. Once when I was a waitress at a New York City diner, if I made the slightest hint of a joke, the owner would snort, "Don't get fresh, Linda." It was dreary to work there, and I didn't last long. At another restaurant I worked in, all the waitresses, the cooks, the bartender, and the hands-on manager joked all day, and half the time I was in stitches. It was fun to work there. Even today, when I am buried under mountains of work on my job (the reason for the dribble of posts these last months), although the work is difficult and can be tedious, the atmosphere is convivial--which makes the job easier. If a spoil-sport like Ebenezer Scrooge ran the place, it would be intolerable. Women on the job jabber about their children, food, clothes, shopping, doing things for one another, their hobbies and crafts. Men report to each other on food, sports, trips, and sometimes (I overhear) what they are doing to keep their wives happy.

These conversations and jokes among fellow workers relieve tension, put a downward pressure on anxiety levels, and build team spirit to get a job done. It is a benefit of working.

John French Sloan (1871-1951) was a major figure of the Ashcan School of realist artists who resisted the pull of abstractionist art in the early decades of the 20th century. Born, raised, and trained in Philadelphia, he produced most of his art in New York City, where, he wrote in his diary, "I am in the habit of watching every bit of human life I can see about my windows, but I do it so that I am not observed at it ... No insult to the people you are watching to do so unseen."

I think he had a particular knack for portraying women in conversation, as these paintings show:

Sunday Women Drying Their Hair, 1912

Three A.M., 1909

Spring Planting in Greenwich Village, 1913

Although he looks a little taciturn himself...

Self Portrait, 1890

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