Art Wednesday_POST Header-01.png
  • Russ Ramsey

Dignifying Work

With Labor Day approaching, today’s Art Wednesday features paintings which honor the dignity of work. We spend so much of our lives at our jobs. Though the labor may be hard, the call to work is filled with dignity.

Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, 1857


Artists have always been drawn to depictions of labor—from primitive cave paintings of hunters to early American foundries to scenes set in busy city offices. Work is an essential part of being human.

Thomas Anshutz, The Ironworkers Noontime, 1880


Winslow Homer lived in fishing villages along the east coast. The Herring Net (1885) depicts the bounty of the sea, and the work involved in claiming it. Here, Homer dignifies the industry and difficulty of the fisherman’s job.

Winslow Homer, The Herring Net, 1885


There is something beautiful about human beings at work. Our bodies were designed for labor. Even before sin entered the world, we worked the ground.

Van Gogh, The Sower, 1889


When we choose idleness, we drift into a sense of purposelessness. When we’re unemployed or without something to do through no choice of our own, we often battle miseries like depression.

George Morland, The Miseries Of Idleness, 1780


Caillebotte’s The Floor Scrapers (1875) captures physical labor. Three men scrape the floor of an expensive apartment. The artist presents the workers not as people who are less than the apartment owner, but as craftsmen whose work makes the place beautiful.

Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers, 1875


Often our work involves learning—showing up to apprentice under those who have devoted their lives to the vocations to which we feel called, as seen in Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, painted in 1632.

Rembrandt, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632


Georges Seurat’s Farm Women at Work (1883) was part of a series of his rural studies. Though the work being done in this painting was obviously difficult, Seurat presents the scene as filled with light, beauty, and harmony.

Seurat, Farm Women at Work, 1883


We’ll close with one of my personal favorites—Edward Hopper. If you’re discouraged in your work, know that no matter how long this season lasts, there is dignity and honor in honest work.

Hopper, Office in a Small City, 1953

LIKE ART WEDNESDAY?

GET AN EVEN DEEPER LOOK INTO THE LIVES OF NINE ARTISTS IN RUSS RAMSEY'S BOOK REMBRANDT IS IN THE WIND

Don't miss a thing.

Sign up below to stay up-to-date on Fathom columns.

RIITW Promo pic 1.jpeg

Where to find more from Russ

  • Facebook
  • Twitter