Project Ben Shahn’s Science and the Humanities for students to look at; and work as a class to interpret the mural. Begin by giving them time to look closely and ask them what is going on in the work of art. As students begin talking, paraphrase their answers and help them connect and build on each others’ ideas to interpret the mural together. What was Shahn warning against? The theme of his mural has been explored by writers, artists, and thinkers throughout time and continues to persist as an important question of current generations. What is the relationship between technology and nature? What is the relationship between progress, imagination, and knowledge? Have students explore these ideas as a class as they relate to literature as well. Thoreau, Melville, Sinclair, Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald all explored the tension between progress and a sort of pastoral ideal. America was seen by most as a mythical place, a new world, where people could be remade. As American society developed (and continues to develop) the horrors of progress have caused tension and conflict about how we should live and our relationship to nature. What does Shahn and others want us to consider?
Literature students will develop a comparative analysis between Shahn’s painting and one of the aforementioned authors. How do their ideas relate and how do they differ? How do they compare to 21st century views of progress? Provide a list of books for students to consider reading.
Additionally, students can compare and contrast Shahn’s Science and Humanities mural to the mural he created in the Roosevelt Public Schools in 1936-1937. Art students can create a painting or sculpture that explores a tension in ideas about the fate and progress of humankind