'The Power of Print' exhibit highlights how printmaking was used to invoke social change

FLINT, Michigan — Images are powerful. They can elicit joy, anger, sadness, and nearly every emotion imaginable. The Flint Institute of Arts’s newest exhibit The Power of Print showcases Social Realist artists who used printmaking as a tool for change. On display now through August 21, the exhibit displays thought-provoking images that, despite being 80-90 years old, remain extremely relevant today.

Collections Manager Heather Jackson is typically in charge of storing and hanging artwork and maintaining the conditions of the museum’s pieces. For this exhibit, however, she stepped into a guest curator role.

“The Power of Print features 26 works from our permanent collection, and loans from University of Michigan Museum of Art and a local Detroit collector, Paramour Fine Arts,” Jackson says. 

“Social realism is an American art movement from roughly the 1930s through the mid-1940s. They are interested and concerned with social, economic, and political issues of the time period.”

Philip Evergood, American, 1901 - 1973. City Lights, 1940. Lithograph on paper, 12 15/16 × 15 9/16 inches.
Artists including Adolf Dehn, Blanche Grambs, Harry Gottlieb, Harry Sternberg, and William Gropper, attempted to bring about social change through their work. Despite their prints being made in the early 20th century, many of the topics, including working conditions, fascism, racism, and women’s roles remain extremely relevant and talked-about topics today.

Their relevance and social commentary are something that Jackson says is very interesting, and what drove her to curate this exhibit. 

“They are concerned with social issues that are still relevant today, almost 100 years later. People are still concerned with workers’ rights, racism is still an issue in this country, and the role of women is very much an issue in this country. It was interesting to delve into those subjects, do a little research, and see how it was during that time, and how there is, unfortunately, still an issue today.”

Jackson hopes that museum-goers can witness how art can shift perspectives on important topics throughout the world. 
Jacob Burck, American, born Poland, 1907 - 1982. The Lord Provides, 1934. Lithograph on paper, 15 3/4 × 11 3/8 inches.
“I realize that a lot of these subjects that these artists address are social commentary, and for some people, that might be kind of a heavy subject or maybe not the most enlightening,” she says. “For me, it’s kind of motivating to see these people using art as a tool for change. That was their goal, they wanted to use art to create change. I like the idea that art can be used as a tool to hopefully cause some sort of change for the good.”

Jackson compares these powerful print images from yesteryear to this generation’s Black lives matter and the ongoing civil rights movement. 

“You can see that, with all the murals after George Floyd was killed, you see people putting these big images everywhere in hopes of uniting the country behind a bigger cause. I think it was very much in that same vein that these artists created these pieces,” she says.

While the works don’t show violence, Jackson says there are some prints that might be more suitable for a mature audience, given the exhibit’s heavy nature.

The Flint Institute of Arts is open from 10 a.m to 5 p.m Monday through Saturday, and from 1 p.m to 5 p.m on Sunday. Admission is free for FIA members and Genesee County residents, $10 for adults, free for children 12 and under, $8 for students with ID, and for senior citizens.

Admission is free for everyone on Saturday, courtesy of Huntington.

For more information on 'The Power of Print,' visit: flintarts.org

Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.