Art Young’s Reward, Jesus Christ (ca. 1938)

By Oscar Rieveling

Art Young was a recognized artist best known for his political cartoons which could be found in many early 20th century socialist publications. However, he did not always identify with left-wing ideals, originally considering himself a Republican with little political involvement. Through his association with individuals such as Piet Vlag and John Sloan, he would begin to embrace the radical ideas burgeoning in Greenwich Village during this time and advocate for issues such as labor issues, women’s rights, and sexual equality.

Born in Stephenson County on January 14, 1886, Art Young was a recognized artist best known for his political cartoons which could be found in many early 20th century socialist publications.Young continued to work until his death in the year 1943 at the Hotel Irving in New York City. His artistic training was extensive, attending the Chicago Academy of Design, Art Students League of New York, and the Académie Julian in Paris before participating in the creation of the socialist magazine The Masses. It was in this publication that the first version of Reward, Jesus Christ appeared as the cover for a special holiday edition. Still, the work that will be on display at the Johnson Museum will be a later example that appears to have been made by the artist independently from the magazine, indicated by the alternate color and text utilized.

Young offers a startling representation of Jesus Christ’s historical personage in the sense that it is not an idealized or devotional image. Instead, the poster emphasizes Christ’s revolutionary and agitative role that openly challenged the government of his time. The work also expands upon the fraught relationship between religion and politics, while underscoring the human nature of this iconic figure.

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