Whatever one thinks of the two Reinike paintings in the previous post (and they aren't compositionally his strongest, by any means), they do encode the social teachings of a Christian church that has only been able to excuse its more reactionary moments by overemphasizing the poor's rewards in heaven and ignoring the Gospels' condemnation of the consequences of wealth here on earth.
I have long insisted that while it is a mistake to ignore formalist issues (if a message-laden work is too cluttered or outright ugly, it is hard to get an audience to look at it), there are artworks that gain enormously in interest because of when and where they were created. I still remember my sense of surprise when I first encountered Reinike's Cacophony, an extremely polite but blunt reminder that the frenetic laying up of treasures on earth then going on had an air of the Golden Calf about them. One didn't expect to find such sentiments expressed openly in the context of an immensely reserved and literate appreciation for the accomplishments of traditional culture, but Reinike has always been a very genteel version of the big-picture kind of guy, and I've grown accustomed to surprises from his work.
I free-associated my way to recollecting Reinike paintings, which I hadn't thought of in some time, by way of thinking about the late Atlanta folk artist Ned Cartledge's social-commentary bas-relief panels from the Reagan years. I'm surprised to find almost no images of them online, though a Nexus Press book reproducing them is still available from the Contemporary.
Cartledge was an enormously reflective working-class progressive, an anti-racist Southern white who once produced an image of Uncle Sam crucified as a protest against those who were putting religion to regressive political uses.
In decades when Southern folk art (I leave to one side the then-controversial "African-American vernacular art" championed by William Arnett) was identified with flamboyant showmen and rural apocalypticists, Cartledge was a quietly urbane urban folk artist making witty but carefully reasoned points about the condition of society.
These two artists have almost nothing in common, except that each one's work goes against the prevailing stereotypes associated with his position in the art world.
The only lesson to be drawn from this is that the South, and the planet in general, is a much more complicated place than we think. And short of going into the two-thousand-word explications of the sort in which I indulge on the joculum.livejournal blog, that is a fairly pathetic excuse for a conclusion, but it's the best I can do at the moment.