Visual art, such as paintings, sculptures, or photographs, has provided a glimpse into the eras in which the art represents.

Image of the Shaw Memorial

Statues and sculptures are created to memorialize a person or event. These works of art can give viewers a detailed visual and physical depiction of a person or event. The sculpture pictured here is called the Shaw Memorial. According to the National Park Service, the monument depicts Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts. The men were African-American volunteers who fought in the Civil War. The memorial depicts them marching past the State House on their way to South Carolina; Shaw rides his horse, while the men march alongside him.

Paintings have traditionally been a source of expression for an artist's interpretation of issues and events. Early American paintings were used to capture images of individuals, places, and events because that was one of a few ways to communicate what was going on in the United States. Read more about some of the famous painters in U.S. history.

Interactive exercise. Assistance may be required. Click on each of the paintings to learn more about the artists and their work.

Visual works of art commonly use photographic images. Photographers, like those described below, created photographic works of art that tell the history of a particular era through pictures of individuals and places. Click on each picture below and read about several of America’s most influential photographers in American history.

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Image of a woman holding a baby, she is flanked by two other small children who have their heads turned away from the camera

Dorothea Lange was hired by the U.S. Farm Security Administration to photograph the plight of migrants impacted by the Great Depression. This photo, called The Migrant Mother, represents the impact that the Great Depression had on American families. Close Pop Up
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: Image of an African-American woman holding a broom in one hand, and a mop in the other. An American flag is hanging on the wall in the background

The Farm Security Administration also hired Gordon Parks, an African-American photojournalist. His work captured the poverty and social inequality between African Americans and whites in the Washington D.C., area during the 1930s. Parks chronicled the life of Ella Watson (pictured here) who worked in a federal building as a custodian. Watson was hired at the same time as a woman with similar qualifications, but Watson was repeatedly denied promotions while her white counterpart was promoted. Close Pop Up
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Very young children, mostly under ten years old, stringing beans in a factory near Baltimore, MD.

Lewis Hine was a social reformer who researched the issue of child labor in the early 1900s. Hine conducted his research by photographing children working in the nation’s factories and farms. Close Pop Up

Sources for images used in this section, as they appear, from top to bottom: