Ben Shahn (American, September 12, 1898 - March 14, 1969) was a painter, lithographer, and photographer best known for his left-wing political leanings, works of social realism, and The Shape of Content, a publication of his lectures. Shahn was born in Kovno, Lithuania, when the country was still occupied by the Russian Empire. In 1902, Shahn's father, Joshua Hessel, was exiled to Siberia. Shahn then moved to Vilkomir, Lithuania, with his mother, Gittel, and his two siblings. Their family moved to the United States in 1906 to join their father who had fled from exile. After settling in Brooklyn, NY, Shahn began to train in lithography and graphic design, and his favorite medium was egg tempera. In 1919, Shahn enrolled in New York University to study Biology before entering the City College in 1921 to study Art. He also studied Art at the National Academy of Design. In the 1920s, Shahn and his wife traveled around Africa and Europe to study the works of renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881- 1973) and Raoul Dufy (French, 1877-1953).
In 1933, Shahn worked as an assistant of Diego Rivera (Mexican, 1886 - 1957); at this time, Rivera was working on the mural at the Rockefeller Center in New York. Two years later, Shahn was recommended by Walker Evans (American, 1903 - 1975) to join the Farm Security Administration photographic group. One of the artist’s most famous works is the fresco mural he did for the Jersey Homesteads' community center. Shahn also worked on murals for the state on the Federal Security Building and the Bronx Central Annex Post Office.
During the Second World War, Shahn made a series of paintings laced with anti-war sentiments. An example of his work during this period is Death on the Beach. Shahn's famous portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. is an example of work he did commercially for Time. He also did commercial works for CBS, Fortune, and Harper's. In 1954, Shahn represented the United States at the Venice Biennale alongside Willem de Kooning (Dutch, 1904 - 1997).
In the last two decades of his life, Shahn was active in academics and received honorary doctorates from several universities, such as Princeton University in Princeton, NY, and Harvard University in Cambridge, MA. He had exhibited at institutions including Edith Halpert's Downtown Gallery in New York, NY, in 1930, and New Jersey State Museum, in Trenton, in 1969. His works can be found in numerous galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Shahn died in New York in 1969.