Thornton Dial's work addresses American sociopolitical exigencies such as war, racism, bigotry and homelessness. He draws attention to these themes using the overlooked and under-considered material artifacts of everyday American life. Combining paint and found materials, Dial constructs large-scale assemblages with cast-away objects ranging from rope to bones to buckets. Works such as Black Walk and The Blood of Hard Times, for example, use corrugated tin and other dilapidated pieces of metal to refer to the destitute bodies and vernacular architecture of the rural South. Dial invokes the history of the American rural South throughout much of his work.
In 2011, Dial's work was profiled in a four-page story in Time Magazine, where art and architecture critic Richard Lacayo argued that Dial's work should not be pigeon-holed into the narrowly-defined category of "outsider art":
"Dial's work has sometimes been described as "outsider art", a term that attempts to cover the product of everyone from naive painters like Grandma Moses to institutionalized lost souls like Martín Ramírez and full-bore obsessives like Henry Darger, the Chicago janitor... But if there's one lesson to take away from "Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial," a triumphant new retrospective at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, it's that Dial, 82, doesn't belong within even the broad confines of that category....What he does can be discussed as art, just art, no surplus notions of outsiderness required....And not just that, but some of the most assured, delightful and powerful art around."Wikipedia