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The work of art under consideration is an etching entitled “The Asphalters Wabash Avenue” by Ralph Pearson. The researchers have estimated that the etching may have been made approximately in 1911. The work of art being analyzed represents modernism is fine arts. The date I viewed the work was April 21st. The work is currently exhibited in the de Young Gallery (fine arts museum, San Francisco, CA), department of the Achenbach Foundation. The etching has been exhibited in the de Young fine arts museum since 1954. It is claimed to be a gift of Dan London. The dimensions of the etching are 276*203 millimeters (10 7/8*8 inches).

Ralph Pearson’s “The Asphalters Wabash Avenue” looks like a drawing on a piece of parchment. It seems as if the etching is framed with a passe-partout. When the etching is being done, a design is incised by acid on a plate made of metal. In such a way, the print is being made (mostly, on canvas or paper). Ralph Pearson used the technique described above to show the following scene. The etching portrays an ordinary day in a metropolis. Five figures are depicted in the foreground installing the asphalt. There are also groups of people on both sides of the street. Apparently, they are simply passing by. On the one side of the street, there is a lamppost. On the other side, there are blocks of buildings. It is rather difficult to determine the season of the year that is depicted in the etching. Judging from the artist’s manner of depicting the skies and the clouds in the upper right rectangle, it is possible to assume that the artist actually depicts a spring day. As the smoke rises from the resin, it is also difficult to make out in what direction a streetcar is moving. Depending on which direction the streetcar is moving, it is depicted either arriving to a station, or leaving it. The silhouettes of a horse’s head and, presumably, a cabman are showing through the smoke. The works on the foreground are depicted presumably with the shovels in their hands shoveling gravel. Presumably, there is a paving machine somewhere on the background, in the etching’s bottom right rectangle. All things considered, the formal elements of the work of art being discussed are used to reinforce the theme, mood, and feeling of the artwork itself as etching seems the most suitable technique for depicting the process of installing asphalt.


The researchers and critics have estimated that the etching was created in the early 1910s. The etching is claimed to have been a gift of Dan London. All things considered, the work of art under consideration can be classified as a piece of modernism. The specific genre of fine arts that the etching represents is, apparently, realism. The work of art being analyzed relates to the artist himself and his contemporaries for it refers to some of the most topical and pressing social, ethical, economic, scientific, and environmental issues of that time. The late nineteenth and the early twentieth century were marked by some significant scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs. The great leap forward that science and technology have made in the respective period was accompanied by the process of commodification of labor, natural resources, and urbanization. Each of the aforementioned processes has made its contribution to capitalist way of life and globalization. The focal point in the etching being analyzed is people working hard to make a living. People in the etching are depicted with their backs facing the viewer. In this respect, it is essential to take a small detour to point the following. There is the possibility that the artist may have portrayed the workers with their backs to the viewers on purpose. There may be few possible explanations as to why the artist has decided to do that. At some point, the positioning of figures intensifies the viewer’s sense of being present in the artwork itself. On the other hand, portraying the workers with their faces facing the viewer may have contributed to the expressive force of the etching. Apart from that, some people representing the working class might find it humiliating to be depicted in the artwork at the moment of doing their job. Considering the placement of figures, the object being depicted, and the scene as such (the theme of the artwork), few observations should be made. There are no trees or any other signs of the presence of nature in the etching. With regard to this, it is possible to assume that the artist unwittingly makes a reference to the problem of human alienation from the nature. Another social and ethical issue that manifests itself in the artwork under analysis more vividly is the problem of equality, namely, equal educational and job opportunities.

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Since science, technology, and medicine have made a great leap forward, the image of civilization was changed. The volumes of information have begun to increase at an exponential rate which, in its turn, forced the mankind to redefine the notion of medium. Mankind has managed to shed the light on the mechanics of the universe and the questions that have been haunting civilizations for centuries. Still, the mankind is incapable of explaining why some people prosper and others suffer. The experience shows that uneven distribution of wealth might be one of the possible explanations. The pace of life has accelerated since people have to work more and harder to make a decent living. Assuming that the foregoing assertion is correct, less time is left for people to think about culture, art, and beauty. With regard to this, it has to be pointed out that it is essential for a person to feel that they are a part of something greater than themselves. Metaphorically, the street in the Ralph Pearson’s etching is the road that each person is taking, while asphalt that the workers are installing represents all that keeps the systems created by men together and makes them function properly going unnoticed. The world is a quintessence of chaos. Those, who bring order and peace, often pass unnoticed as well. Road is counted among the so-called archetypal symbols. Archetypal symbols refer to primeval consciousness. Through referring to primeval consciousness that is fairly implicit, Ralph Pearson calls those who observe his work to rethink their lives. At the same time, the artist teaches the viewers that labor is an integral part of the human life.
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In conclusion, “The Asphalters Wabash Avenue” is a modernist and realist etching by Ralph Pearson. In the artwork, the plane of expression and the plane of content complement each other harmoniously. Lastly, the artwork raises a wide range of important ethical, philosophical, social, economic, and environmental problems such as human alienation from nature, poverty, equal educational and job opportunities, equality, humanity, and morale.

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