"Obviously, the relevant word is "moral." I am reminded of the Ashcan movement, diametrically opposed to the concept of being uplifted. Still and yet, there is such a beauty in painting the human spirit in all its forms, and uplifting it is. I'm not saying what I'm thinking very well because it is all atumble in my head this a.m. I find all art uplifting. As to morally...morality...hmmm...?"
Since I am a BIG fan of the Ash Can School (have been since my 7th grade art teacher, Mr. Jackson, introduced me to them) I couldn't pass up the opportunity to discuss this subject a little further.
Here's my concern, people equate "morality" ,a word which has taken quite a beating in recent years, with the concepts of prim and proper and hypocritical self-righteousness or sentimentality and sugary sweet romanticism.
It is neither. While art that confronts us with the stark and harsh realities of life: poverty, war, injustice, cruelity, greed, is often not a "pretty" picture it is actually more likely to have a "morally uplifiting" effect on us.
For me a painting that portrays poverty is guaranteed to sting my conscience and stir up compassion and forge a deeper understanding of what other's suffer, it will also cause me to have an expanded sense of thansgiving and gratitude for what I have been blessed with. So if a painting with harsh subject matter causes me to have a greater compassion for my fellow humans, to be more mindful that others suffer, and creates a more profound sense of gratitude in my heart I'd say that I was very much "morally uplifted". In fact the experience of confronting these difficult realities in a painting may even inspire me to take action. How many of us have recently been compelled to donate money to wildlife rescue efforts after seeing distrubing images of water birds from the gulf cover in deadly oil?
Art that is "good for us" can often be a bitter medicine, (though visually powerful and compelling as an art work) but one that does our inner person a great deal of good with "moral uplift".
Here's a little background on the Ash Can School from a site called Michigan Bungelow
A group of artists who gathered around influential artist and teacher Robert Henri (pronounced Hen-rye) during the early 20th century, including: George Luks, William Glackens, John Sloan, Everett Shinn, George Wesley Bellows, Arthur B. Dawes, Maurice Prendergast, Ernest Lawson, Guy Pen du Bois. They launched American Realism, and as is often the case with new art movements, the artists were unappreciated and misunderstood by many, even called "apostles of ugliness"1 by some critics, who were more comfortable with the prevailing American Impressionism.
They were known for portraying the grittier side of New York life, and yet, as shown in the DIA exhibition, they depicted many aspects of life, including people at play from all walks of life.
The Ashcan term was first used in 1916, by a critic who was referring to an illustration by George Bellows in the Philadelphia Record on April 25, 1915, entitled Disappointments of the Ash Can, where down-on-their-luck men are looking for tidbits in a trash can.
George Wesley Bellows, Cliff Dwellers, 1913, oil on canvas, 40 1/8 x 42 inches (101.9 x 106.7 cm), Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Listen to a podcast from the Metropolitian Museum of Art featuring Joyce Mendelsohn and Annie Polland—two historians of New York’s Lower East Side—discuss Cliff Dwellers, George Bellows's 1913 depiction of the neighborhood, from the exhibition “American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765–1915.”Read more about the Ash Can School and some more here and here