The White Working Class and the United States great geographical divide

I hate the term “white working class” or (WWC) because it ignores the plight of working class members from other racial and ethnic groups.  Nevertheless, the term has importance, but it can be somewhat misleading.  When we speak of the WWC we should not see there plight only through the influence of economic restructuring in the manufacturing sector.  Their plight must also be seen through the lens of geographic isolation and a deficiency of human capital.

The issue of the WWC, I argue is as much a matter of the conditions of the rural United States.   By the 1950s, the majority of the United States had become urban/suburban dwellers.  Still, the conditions of rural places were not as dire then as they are today.  Since the 1980s, there has been a steady decline in the rural United States (economic opportunities, population, and social well-being).  This transformation has largely been ignored by politicians, journalists, and sadly my own profession of social scientists.

As we saw in this most recent election, there has been a festering resentment among rural residents and thus a significant segment of those identified as the WWC over this real form of non- consideration.   Although they are a shrinking population which underscores some of the reasons why social scientists are few and far between in exploring their social issues, as the electoral college recently demonstrated they are still a voting block that must be recognized (no accident that the GOP picked up states with larger rural populations).  This is where Democrats and Liberals have failed and I say this a proud Liberal who is a registered Democrat.

In January, Alana Semuels wrote the following linked piece for The Atlantic.  Speaking as a sociologist, this is wonderful anecdotal glimpse into this growing divergence in lived experiences that can educate on the “why’s” the WWC is abandoning the Democratic Party and why the educated classes are being framed as a pejorative elite.  Enjoy 😊 Kent Bausman, Ph.D.

Abstract Art: Tri-City, 48×24″ (2015)

This canvas was 2015 Father’s Day gift from my wife and daughter.  It is 48×24″ in size.   At the time I started it, I wanted to document the process of its creation.  I wish I would do this more often with my paintings, but the spontaneity of their creations does not always lend itself to such breaks for photos?  You can see that I initially toyed with the inclusion of some geometric shapes.  This harkens back to a technique I engaged in quite frequently in my early paintings.  As you can see from the completed painting I abandoned those shapes.  This was a difficult choice. I did not care about their presence in the painting and I wasn’t sure how to eliminate them without destroying the rest of the painting.

I started to feel my confidence shaken. I was afraid I was not going to be able to find a way to resolve this little dilemma.  After everyone in the house was asleep, I buckled down, spurred by a couple tasty beverages, while Amy Winehouse served as the soundtrack.  This is the unintended pleasure I get with painting, the solitary experience.  I like time to myself, always have.  Painting in these solitary moments allows me to clear my head, to silent any irrelevant mindful preoccupations.

I purposely set out with these color choices in mind.  They reflect colors associated with my youth.  From 9 to 18 years of age the principle colors represented here were associated with an athletic organization that I participated in Oklahoma City.  This organization was integral to the development of my self- esteem and confidence.   I wasn’t originally from Oklahoma.  I was born in California and every summer I would live out there with my loving but alcoholic father.  When I would come back to Oklahoma for the school year I never really felt like I fit in.  I was for sometime quite the shy kid.  It didn’t help that I was also a poor kid being raised by a single mother.  My mother signed me up for baseball and football when we first moved to Oklahoma City as a way to integrate me with kids my age.  I proved to be an above average athlete and this lessened my feelings of being an outsider.  For me, the athletic field was a true meritocracy, where my background didn’t matter. On the field,  social class divisions had little influence on how I imagined I was being judged.   It was one of the smartest moves by my mother.  It immensely assisted my adjustment to my parents divorce and our subsequent move to this place that was so culturally removed from what I was used to.

My successes on the field instilled in me a confidence I think I carry to this day, be it my unlikely pursuit of a career in academia or now painting.  I don’t want to leave the impression that I don’t I still suffer the pangs of self-doubt.  I do.  I think my wife and some of those who know me best would say this is the most contradictive part of me.  But, this too points to why I enjoy painting so much, particularly abstract painting.  It stimulates me to engage in self-reflection, be it my present or as this story tells, my past.

I am so happy I ditched those early geometric shapes…confidence to pursue a different path.

Kent Bausman

Abstract Art: Untitled #7, 36×24″(2012)

This is a painting I originally completed around 2010.  The geometric shapes you see were a part of the original painting.  Yet, the colors presently on the canvas, specifically the blues were not a part of the original composition.  Initially the painting had more earthy color combinations, some browns, yellows, and greens. The grayish whites in the upper and bottom corners are the only original colors from 2010.  I always loved the placement of the shapes but those initial earthier color choices never really spoke to me.  With that, the painting languished in my garage studio.

In 2012, I was afforded the opportunity for my first public show.  The gallery was called “Third Degree Glass Factory.   As the name can attest, the place deals more with blown glass art work.  In the front half of the building there is a rather large gallery space.  Each month they use that space to show non-glass art work.  On every third Friday of the month they have a free open house to start an artist’s show.   This was how my wife and I came to learn about the place.

At the end of 2011, unbeknownst to me, my wife sent the owner some pictures of my work inquiring about the possibility that I might show there.  Friends and family had been encouraging me to go public with my work, but I was always a bit reluctant.  You see I am more of a self-taught painter.  I took some art classes in High School, but nothing beyond that in terms of training.   I started painting in earnest around 2007, so my confidence as an artist was still developing.   Clearly, my wife had greater confidence in me as a painter than I did of myself.  That’s still a bit true today.  I paint for myself, and what pleases my eye.  Because, I came to painting later in life in a non traditional way there are still times when I feel like a bit of an imposter, but I have digressed.

My show was scheduled for July of 2012, and because of the size of the space I felt I needed a few more pieces.  So, I revisited this painting attacking it with blues. If you exam a number of my paintings you will see I am drawn to blues.   I frequently have to resist the temptation of using blue.  Blues are probably my safety net in painting.  I say everything thing looks better in blue (try it). I find peace in blues. It permeates my life.  I often dress in blues, the majority of cars I have owned were blue.  Blues speak to me, so when I experimented with the application of blues in this previous completed painting, it finally felt complete to me…2 years later.

Obviously, some would see a Mondrian influence here, but as an artist lacking a formal training, raised in the 70s, I could equally argue there in an influence from the bus on “The Partridge Family.”  In actuality, I think much of my interest toying with geometric shapes of color is tied to my more structuralist approach to viewing the world around me.  As a sociologist, I am drawn to an exploration of the patterns to social life.  I believe I have always had this knack of thinking and looking at things more systemically.  It is why I was drawn to sociological thought and now it manifests itself occasionally in my paintings.

Kent Bausman

“Winter Me,” 36×24″ (2010)

I have always been drawn to the colors in this painting, and for whatever reason when I look at this painting I see a face in it. I can’t help but think there was a bit of a cubist influence here, in particular the color choices (e.g. Picasso’s Ma jolie or Guitar player). I love looking at cubist works, but I would not say that my style of painting is remotely cubist in orientation.

As I said, I see a face in this painting and I think it is me. I see two eyes, a nose and a mouth speaking to various audiences (type of work I do as a professor). This was my first painting of 2010 and completed during the winter. I HATE winters, and I can’t help but think this influenced my reliance on darker colors as well. Winters in St. Louis are very brown and dead, it’s just outright ugly, which directly affects my moods. Any other time of the year it is a very beautiful place to live, but I digress.

This is the rare painting I tried to add my signature. I do not like signing my paintings, I think they are distracting, unless you have a cool signature which I do not : ).

This now resides in OKC at my brother’s house.  He and my sister-in-law recently got a house together and this was a house warming gift.

Kent Bausman

“Academics could change the world if they stop talking only to their peers”

This is a long overdue conversation!  Our culturally and scientifically illiterate society is the product of this limited scope of knowledge communication.  If the news reported on social scientific studies the way they do on medical reports that would help as well.

It wouldn’t hurt if we took the lead of C.Wright Mills here and also spoke in a language the general public understood.  Some of the most pressing areas of social life studies are not rocket science in their understanding, but we make them so with our unnecessary dependence on convoluted jargon.

Untitled #4, 48×48″ (2011)

This is a hard painting to describe. I started out experimenting with the application of joint compound on the canvas. I was thinking something sculptural initially but nothing ever made me comfortable. In the disappointment with the experiment, I reverted back to the comfort of a style that was quite common in my early paintings, the use of geometric patterns of color.

I recognize that this painting may seem very simplistic, I struggle with that too! Nevertheless, I have never attempted to add to this painting or to start the canvas anew. For reasons that escape me, I like the simplicity. As the joint compound experimentation can attest, the eventual completion of this painting was not that simple.

There are five principle color areas, I actually see them as 2 color areas separated from 3 others. The 2 areas apart from the 3 areas conveying a story of transition (this is my separate inference not the conscious intent of the painting).

Kent Bausman

Art & Social Science, (2015). 36×36″

I started this canvas on August 5th 2015.  I was hesitant how to begin.  I started by approaching the painting as 4 parts. This morphed into 2 diagonal parts, divided by a blue line.

That developing incarnation did nothing for me.  However, there were a couple of color areas that started speaking to me. I wanted to maintain their presence in the painting. The right panel of blue was harmonious to me. Still, I needed something to finish the other side of the canvas.

Bare with me as I dissect the process by using the analogy of approaching a research question in the social sciences.  You form a research question (some idea of colors you are interested in exploring). You review the research literature related to your question (consider your influences and inspirations for that painting). Decide on all the possible variables (paint colors or mixtures) which will work to give conversation with the blue right panel.  You form a hypothesis of what you think will work (layering of chosen colors) and develop a data collection method (e.g. decide on the paint application strategy and tool choices). The analysis phase is simply the constant evaluating of the emerging effort with each completed paint color application, and the conclusion is what you interpret it to represent if anything upon completion.

I hope you liked that analogy, I originally wrote this at the start of the fall 2015.  I was putting my sociology professor hat back on at the time I created this piece, so I believe that had something to do with the interpretation.  I see a bit of nature influences in this painting.  It is peaceful, and that was how my summer in 2015 went…

Untitled #3 (2016) 30×48″


So my wife and I had this spot above our bed that I thought could really use a painting. It was a narrow space. I didn’t really have any paintings that fit the space from a dimensional standpoint.  I went out and got a canvas that would fit the space and set away to painting.

I find blue to be a harmonious color which I believe is particularly important to a bedroom.  Additionally, I find blues remind me of my true love, the ocean.  As much as I try to resist my reliance on blues, once again I gravitate to these colors. Again, I feel a vibe I get from watching the ocean when I paint with blue.

Recently, vertical lines have been speaking to me. The horizontal placement of these lines represent what I would characterize as a form of dialectical thinking. Although the colors are complimentary they are nevertheless oppositional in lightness and darkness, and the middle white line constitutes a form of synthesis. Think of something Hegelian.  I really don’t mean to sound sophisticated. I learned about Hegel during my study of Marx, and I have always been intrigued by dialectal thinking.

The horizontal lines come in three colors, blue, white and red. The reliance here on 3 colors has less to do with a Hegelian consciousness and everything to do with the reality that my personhood is solely shaped by myself, my wife and my daughter. I imagine the blue lines represent the harmony I offer to our unit, the red lines represent the life that my wife brings to the equation, and the white line represents the purity that our daughter contributes. I hope you enjoyed the story of this creation.  My Aunt recently turned 70 years of age and had an interest in it.  The painting now lives in Springfield.

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