Art Term

Documentary art

Documentary art is a term associated with the artists who documented the harsh realities of British life during the Depression in the 1930s

Julian Trevelyan, ‘The Potteries’ c.1938
Julian Trevelyan
The Potteries c.1938
Tate
© The estate of Julian Trevelyan

In a decade dominated by mass unemployment and social deprivation, a new radicalism took hold of European politics and artists responded to these events by adopting a realist style that was easily understood. They believed that both the dominating art movements of the time, abstraction and surrealism, were too obscure to communicate effectively.

In Britain those who shared these beliefs congregated at the Artists International Association (AIA) and the Euston Road School. Some of these artists worked with Mass-Observation, an organisation set up to record the daily lives of ordinary working people.