A Reflection of the 60s and 70s in WCMA Artwork

Art has been used as a form of social commentary, personal expression, a practice of skills, and an array of other reasons. The strength of art within our world has been notable for ages. Throughout eras like the Renaissance and the 19th century, art has been a key aspect of society and culture. Within our modern era there are certain periods of time that art helped immensely define and make a period and vice versa. Two particular decades that famously had strong styles were the 1960s and the 1970s.

Pieces of art made during this time are, for the most part, heavily influenced by the political climate of the time, the changing of society, and simply a change of aesthetic. Through the lens of Williams College Museum of Art we can see not only a reflection of the 1960’s and the 1970’s but also a personal attachment from the faculty and students about what art from the 60’s and 70’s spoke to them during their own era. Williams College Museum of Art has always acquired artwork that spoke to the faculty and/or the student body. This makes the College’s collection even more special and personal because of the added aspect that each piece of work was chosen for some personal reason. The Williams College of Art takes into account how a piece of art will speak to their student body and thus there are periods where some art is acquired more than other eras.

By taking a deeper look into the art of the 1960’s and 1970’s that the college owns, a number of inferences can be made not only about the college but also about the climate and popularity of styles and colors of those two decades of art. Through the college’s museum, insight into what art was prolific, how art was characterized, and simply how art helps in representing an era can be understood through a series of data visualizations.

To begin our research, we extracted data from the original dataset and cleaned it to only include artwork made in the 1960s and 1970s. From thereon-out, the visualizations we set forward to analyze have to do with color, artists & years, and medium & media.


The timeline below includes events and innovations occurring at the WCMA during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as important dates in American history to help contextualize the environment surrounding life in America during that time period. 


WCMA Gallery

Below is a chronological Gallery of WCMA artwork made during the 1960s to the 1970s that was included in our dataset.


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Median of brightness used in works

Median of hues used

The first graph that displays the brightness used in works of the 60’s and 70’s displays that era was one dominated by bright colors. It was more popular to use a lighter palette than a darker one. Whether it was the taste of the college to simply acquire brighter pieces of work, or if the era was defined by brightness, we can see that during a tumultuous era of war and heavy politics that using or seeing dark colors was not desired. The graph of hues also displays that hues of red were a popular option. In general,  using loud colors seems to be the choice rather than grim, darker colors. These two graphs make statements for how we can define the era of the 60’s and 70’s simply through looking at a palette of colors used.

The 1960s marks the introduction of pop art, op art, psychedelic art, and names like Lichtenstein and Warhol, who are today considered pioneers of contemporary art. These art movements are characterized by bright, spontaneous colors, and embody cultural movements that represent post-war conflict and turmoil. These colors, normally thought of as clashing, were embraced by the time period in favor of the feelings of post-war freedom. The contrast between black and white colors was also commonly used in op art.

However, the tone changed in the 1970s towards neutrals and earthy tones, such as the iconic avocado-green. The 70s marks a time when the country was recovering from the stresses of the Vietnam War, and favored colors of peace and calm. The dominant colors only an echo their vibrancy, as many images are much darker than the vibrant 60s. The art of the 70s were almost a sign of counterculture, reversing the hippie notes of the 60s when politicians were revealed as corrupt and war demanded sacrifice. It abruptly put hippie culture to a halt, as if those optimistic smiley-face t-shirts were no longer appropriate. Americans changed their focus to be more organic and natural, and this is demonstrated with the color shift.

Artists & Years

Data Mapping of Artists and Years

The network map above shows the relationship between the different artists and the specific years that were focused on as we looked into the William’s College Museum of Arts collection. Prevalent artist include Andy Warhol, Elliot Erwitt, Ralph Gibson, and Emilio Sanchez.

Andy Warhol: an American artist who was a leader in the visual art movement: pop art. His works explore the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture, and advertising that grew in the 1960s, and span a variety of media, such as painting, silkscreening, photography, film, and sculpture.

Elliot Erwitt:  is an American advertising and documentary photographer. He is best known for his black and white candid shots of ironic and absurd situations within everyday settings, some which are included in our dataset.

Ralph Gibson: American art photographer best known for his photographic books. His images often incorporate fragments with erotic and mysterious undertones, building narrative meaning through contextualization and surreal juxtaposition.

Emilio Sanchez:  Cuban-born American artist known for his architectural paintings and graphic lithographs. A representational artist with a modernist and sometimes abstract approach, Sanchez emphasized pattern, color and strong lighting contrasts. By 1970 architectural themes, from detailed stained glass windows to abstracted storefronts or city skylines, dominated his oeuvre.


This pie chart displays which media the Williams College  Museum of Art has the most of. Print contains the highest percentage while photographs follow in second place. Drawings come in at 7.3%. The rest of the collection is spread out across different media, thus showcasing the wide variety of media the college acquired from those eras. However, it is evident that print and photographs were the media of choice in the 60’s and 70’s