George Tooker-(The Subway 1950)

Artists use their creations to depict a variety of social problems. A skilled artist can represent something complex with a straightforward sketch, carving, or painting. To fully comprehend what a specific artist intends to convey to his or her public, one must have excellent analytical and observational skills. Since the time of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and other greats, society has used art to depict various facets of how the society functions, such as aspects of culture, economics, and even politics. This paper focuses on George Tooker's 1950 painting, 'The Subway,' attention will be on the subject, form, and content as depicted by the artwork.

Subject and Form

From its name, George Tooker's painting presents a scenario at a subway station, with the center of attention being a woman in a red dress surrounded by several men, each appearing to be going in their own direction. The painting creates a scenario of alienation in such a way that every person appears to be minding their own business. They stand relatively close to each other, but no connection exists between any of them. The woman's facial expression depicts anxiety and sadness. It is as if she is bothered and worried about the men surrounding her. Her mind seems to be fixated on something that really frightens her, and she appears to have much insecurity in her life. These men appear shifty and unsavory, and their facial expressions are disquieting. These men appear to be stuck in some trance. Important to note, these seem to have a striking resemblance-from their dress code, facial appearance, and stature, with the only notable difference being the color of their clothes.

An interesting observation is that the people in the painting all appear to be going somewhere, but it is difficult to tell where they are headed to as their pathways seem to lead to obscurity. The walkway seems to head to an infinite destination which an observer cannot quite comprehend. There are some men on the staircases, but the stairs seem to lead to nowhere as they are incomplete. Some are in enclosed spaces that could be phone-booths, but it is not possible to tell what they are doing in those enclosed spaces. Their faces are turned away from the directions their bodies face, and they actually appear to be stealthily gazing at the woman. Another easily recognizable aspect of the painting is the barriers separating each of the characters. The men in the 'booths' are separated by the brick walls. The men on the staircases are separated from the others by metal rails. A swinging metal door also serves to create alienation for some of the characters. The characters at the center of the painting are quite close to each other, but they appear to be heading in different directions; they are alienated from each other despite the proximity to each other. George Tooker's image is of high quality and quite elegant in appearance. He painted using egg tempera, producing a smooth, clean surface. The details of the photo are a manifestation of the artist's prowess and talent. The directional angles and straight lines on the walls and the floor are accurately done with precision. The color scheme adds richness in variety and keeps the observer bouncing around.


As earlier mentioned, art can be used to represent the realities of life. In the creation of his painting, George Tooker aimed at addressing the issue of alienation in the society. Ideally, society comprises of people with different qualities and abilities and they ought to take advantage of their diversity to better themselves and help each other as a community. However, people do the exact opposite as they choose to seclude themselves, with each person focusing on selfish personal interests. Social, religious and gender alienation is common in the modern society and Tooker aimed at castigating such differences. As the painting depicts, leading a secluded path often leads to nowhere. People pursue vanity when they go separate ways. However, when people pool their efforts together in one direction, the results are always positive and satisfactory. Society cannot progress without unity; unity of purpose is what everyone should strive to promote. Such kind of unity can only be attained through communication, empathy and caring for each other. The pursuit of selfish personal gains only leads to human suffering.

The painting can be said to be an imagery of the modern American life. The nation is one of the most populous countries in the world, but there are several inherent divisions among the population. During the 1950s, the nation was grappling with issues of social seclusion on the basis of gender, race and sexual orientation. Some segments of the population lived in loneliness despite being surrounded by the masses. As an artist, George Tooker saw it as his responsibility to address such pressing issues to assist members of the society in reflecting on their way of life. His painting is considered as one of the greatest in addressing alienation in the society and true to his word; he did a great job.

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