Max Ginsburg – “Truth is Beauty”

Max Ginsburg has exhibited extensively since the 1960’s. He recently had a retrospective solo exhibition at The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, OH (2011) and at The Salmagundi Club in New York City (2011). In 2008 he had a solo exhibition at The Martin Luther King Labor Center of The Hospital Workers Union in New York, NY and in 2014 he had a solo show at the ArtRage Gallery in Syracuse, NY. Although he has had many solo shows in commercial galleries, in recent years he has been seeking public venues to reach a wider audience.

Ginsburg’s paintings are in several public collections, most notably The New Britain Museum (New Britain, CT), The Butler Institute of American Art (Youngstown, OH), The Service Employees International Union (New York, NY and Washington, DC), AFL-CIO Labor College (Silver Spring, MD), The Society of Illustrators Museum (New York, NY), and The Art Renewal Center (Morristown, NJ).

He has won many awards, most recently “Best in Show” in the Art Renewal Center competition of 2011 and a Gold Medal from the California Art Club in 2013.

From 1980 – 2004 he was one of America’s foremost illustrators, commissioned by the leading book publishers and national magazines. Ginsburg painted covers for many classic books, including Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor and A Separate Peace by John Knowles.

He has taught painting at The Art Students League of New York (1997-2000, 2008 – Present), The School of Visual Art (1984-2000), and The High School of Art and Design in New York City (1960-1982). He has also given many “Painting from Life” workshops in recent years.

Ginsburg recently published a monograph of his paintings (1956 – 2010) entitled Max Ginsburg – Retrospective.


“Truth is Beauty”
It is often said that art is the expression of ideas. One of the many ideas expressed in art is Social Realism which is about the social concerns of people in society and is not to be confused with “Socialist Realism” or capitalist commercial illustration whose main purpose is to sell a product. The basis of Social Realism is humanism. It is about life’s joys, struggles, issues of “making a living,” poverty, war and peace. John Keats said “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” “Truth” is social realism. Falsification is not. When I see social injustice I do not want to look the other way and I do not want to condone it.

I refer to my own paintings and many paintings by Old Masters as examples of Social Realist art. These Old Master paintings have influenced my artistic development. In discussing my work and the paintings of these Old Masters, I am concerned with both content and form and their relationship to their historical time. Most of the artist’s works I selected have realistic social content but some, being part of the modern art movement, are not realistic in form. The Ashcan School and the American Social Realists in the early twentieth century opposed “salon painting” and felt that artists should also paint about the “lower” classes who composed the majority of society. But they also felt that realism in form was part of the old aristocratic art so they began to stylize and painted more abstractly. As a result the communication of their message was weakened and, from my point of view, lost the aesthetic beauty of the realist form.

Since I believe that “Truth is Beauty,” I therefore try to paint the content that I see in life truthfully. In addition to the content, I try to paint the form I see realistically which is to me aesthetically beautiful. I am also concerned about capturing the unique character of the person or subject I am painting which gives the subject a uniqueness that is very much a part of the reality. A person posing is an individual with unique qualities, not a mannequin or a memorized anatomy formula. When painting from life, there is the unique quality of the shapes, values and colors, and their relationships that express the individuality of the model. These are qualities that can’t be replicated from formulas because they are unique and have to be seen. For example, there is no formula for skin color. It is not pink or brown. Blonde hair is not yellow. White walls are not white, and so on. They are the relationships of shapes, values, colors, and lighting that we see exclusively in the situation we are painting.

The semantics of social realism has changed during the twentieth century. Many people connect the words “Social Realism” with communism. Social Realism has become a tainted phrase. Many artists shy away from calling their art “Social Realist.” Many say, “My art is above politics.” Many become narcissistic and avoid social issues. Today there is a growing interest in the Academic Ateliers but here too there is more of an interest in classical beauty than in contemporary reality.