The Migrant Mother and the Autumn Rhythm

TheMigrant Mother and the Autumn Rhythm

TheMigrant Mother is a picture taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936 ofFlorence Owens, a Californian pea picker who, during the time thephoto was taken, was going through very hard economic times. DorotheaLange was herself a victim of Polio and a broken family at the age often, and had experienced desperation and discouragement incontemporary life in equal measures with the present experiences ofFlorence Owens at some point in life. Born in 1985, Lange startedphotography in 1914 in New York and studied in Columbia University tostart her own studio specializing in portraits in 1919. The GreatDepression greatly affected her work, and she moved widely to findopportunities, working with the New Deal initiative in variousprojects. When she met the 32 year old Owens, she was crouching in anopen tent surrounded by her children, and presented no objection tothe photography, nor did she ask for any benefits arising from theconsequent fame of her portrait called “The Migrant Mother”.Florence continued with her informal work, negotiating wages forother workers, and died in 1983, aged 80.

TheAutumn Rhythm was among the most successful paintings done by JacksonPollock in 1950. Pollock started off doing painting on ordinarymaterial, and soon shifted into a style that was then famouslyreferred as drip painting, a method not commonly used in the yearsbefore his era. Pollock was an expressionist artist, and believedstrongly that an artist painted what he was. The first worksfeaturing drip painting by Pollock appeared in 1947, and increasedtremendously ever since. Pollock was doing drip paints almostexclusively by the end of his career and life. Born in 1912 inWyoming, Jackson Pollock was a student in Los Angeles Manual ArtsSchool, and the Art Students League in California. In his life,Pollock was a victim of alcoholism and possibly Bipolar Disorderaccording to recent historians. He died in 1956 in a car accident.


Formand Object

Theform of the Migrant Mother is that of a picture. The Picture is amonochromatic presentation in a four inches by 5 inches photo paper.The color is grey-black and white only. The subject of the photographis principally a human female of age 32, and two others of a youngerage crouching each on either side of the main subject. The mainsubject is facing towards the camera with her eye focus distant andaway from the camera. The others are focused away from the camera,deliberately hiding their faces from the camera. While the mainsubject is evidently crouching facing the camera, the other subjectsmaybe crouching or kneeling on either side. The Autumn Rhythm on theother hand is not a photo, but a painting. The painting is done on amuch larger 525.8cm by 266.7 cm (207 inch by 105 inch) ordinarycanvas. The original color of the canvas could range between dirtywhite and sepia in color and is roughly rectangular. The object ofthe painting is a complex interweave of multiple strokes of paintdone using enamel paint and cheap canvas as opposed to artist’spaints and canvasses which are the common tools used by artistsfamed in the same magnitude as Pollock.

Theemergent picture is one not resembling anything commonly seen in theenvironment, whether living or not, but a complicated formation ofcrossing lines of different shapes, sizes, texture and curve. Theartist uses the black, white, gray and earth colors for creating theimpressions. The artist appears to have used objects of varyingdimensions to apply paint of the canvas. The lines appear to rangefrom drips, splatters, wavy or sharply curved strokes, and well asdotting marks. Overall, however, there appears to be a dominant themeof harmoniously curving broad lines intertwining to create a muchdeeper artist experience in the work. Concentrations of broad patchesof black color appear to dominate several scattered instances, givingthe piece its distinctive flowery appearance as seen from a distance.

ConceptualFramework Comparison

Thetwo pieces of work focus on two different areas of human life. TheMigrant Mother tends to focus on the more readily visible aspect ofhuman life- that of physical struggle for basic existence, while theAutumn Rhythm also seems to focus on another aspect of humanstruggle- that of abstraction and struggle for self expression. Afundamental difference is that the first work, The Migrant Mother,uses the art to reveal the struggle of the object ( Florence Owens)while the second work, Autumn Rhythm, itself depicts the struggle ofthe artist, and by extension humanity, to express oneself through abstraction.

Thetwo works reflect different stages of humanity and civilization. TheMigrant Mother is about the era immediately after the industrialrevolution of the 19thcentury when the average family was still struggling to meet basicneeds, an era marked by numerous instances of famine, diseaseoutbreaks, high infant mortality, wars and uncontrolled tediousmigration for massive percentages of populations. This age is alsomarked by long working hours for adults and children in the newlyfound agricultural and industrial establishments. The theme of thephotograph can therefore be associated with struggles of an emergingeconomy. The second work, Autumn Rhythm, is about a time later thanthe first work. In 1950, the American Economy had significantlyadvanced following the success of The New Deal which handled theaftermaths of the Great Depression. In equal measures, the worldwidecivilization was being fueled by the emergence of the scientificevolution and the enlightening, which introduced a paradigm shift inthe way people viewed self expression. During this time, focusshifted from a communal mind driven by closed morality to a moreliberal outlook towards socialism in which various forms ofexpressionism, including exhibitionism, were regarded with moretolerance. Thus, Pollock’s confidence in expressing that side ofhim ( and other humans) which didn’t seem to make immediate sensethrough a piece of art that could fit an entire wall in a livingroom, is characteristic of the shift in humanity in the age ofacademic revolution that encourage individuality and celebrated thedynamic nature of human thought.


TheMigrant Mother is about struggle to survive in a world with scarcebasic resources as a result of migration, poor national economy, badleadership, wars and political instability. It is a picture ofdesperation and hope. Desperation is in the woman’s presentcircumstances, while hope is in her distant gaze into the future. TheAutumn Rhythm is about a struggle to find oneself in a world in whichsocialism has limited the expression of the abstraction of the humanmind. The piece reflects the wonder that is music, especially Jazzwhich Pollock loved, which is made up of spontaneity of thought, andexpression of this disorder, which ultimately leads to a widerharmony.