African American contributions to the cultural heritage of our nation have often been overlooked or unrecognized by our school system, scholars, our people, and by even our own intellectual elites at times. Despite deprivation and adversity from the time of the arrival of early slaves, black and brown artists have made outstanding creative contributions to the history and the cultural development of America. This is something to be proud of, to be celebrated, and it should continue to serve as an inspiration for all Americans.
The paintings, sculpture, graphics, architectural designs, and decorative art objects of black painters, black sculptures, and black visual artists serve to remind us of the diversity in aesthetic qualities and of the creativity of African American artists through the centuries. The artistic and cultural expressions of many of African American masters remain largely unknown and unappreciated by a generation of African Americans who remains largely ignorant of the great legacy and of the genius of previous generations of black artists as well as the history and evolution of African American art.
In visiting the Metropolitan Museum, Museum of Modern Arts, or any other great museum worldwide, we tend to look at the works Matisse, Chagall, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and so many other known European artists, to the detriment of Joshua Johnston, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Robert S. Duncanson, Horace Pippin, Augusta Savage, Hale Woodruff, Palmer Hayden, William H. Johnson, Romare Bearden, Beauford Delaney, Jacob Lawrence, Harold Cousins, Ed Clarke, Lois Mailou Jones, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet and many of our other great artists.
Blacks excelled in arts and crafts for centuries before we became a dominant force in entertainment, sports, and popular culture in America. Where Rap and Hip-Hop are today, the prevailing artistic vehicle for the young, restless or otherwise dispossessed, Arts & crafts were often the only outlet for expressing or commenting on the injustices and repression we suffered from slavery through to the present. Quilt making slaves often used their quilts to convey messages among each other during slavery. Those of us who travel to other black countries, whether to Africa or to the Caribbean, will notice one thing in common, and that is that arts & crafts are always indigenous to these local cultures. We brought this from Africa. The works of our ancestors should be a source of pride and esteem in the black community today, yet many in our society are unaware of the rich contributions while others see arts & crafts as something ‘white’ or elitist, and in most cases, as something alien to the African American tradition.
African American Art History brought to you by Paris-based African American artist Ealy Mays
REFERENCES / SOURCES / LINKS
- Chase, Judith W., Afro-American Art and Craft. New York; Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, l971.
- This book shows the Afro-American culture heritage as a continuous stream from prehistoric Africa to the present day.
- Dover, Cedric., American Negro Art. New York. New York Graphic Society. (1960). American Negro Art is a picture book of art. It is an anthology of black artists total experience.
- Driskell, David C., Two Centuries of Black American Art. Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles County Museum of Art/Alfred A. Knopf, New York, l976.
- This book provides a broad ranged group of works reflecting the efforts of the more significant black American artists from slave times into the mid-twentieth century.
- Early, Margaret, Taking Flight. 1983. New York, New York. Harcourt Brace Jovanich, Inc.
- This book contains biographies of various people from different ethnic backgrounds meeting challenges.
- Everett, Gwen, Lil Sis and Uncle Willie. New York. Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1991.
- This is based on actual events in William H. Johnson’s life.
- Lippard, Lucy R., Mixed Blessings: The New Art in A Multicultural America. First Edition. New York; Pantheon Books, c l990.
- This book concentrates on art made in the United States. It demonstrates how the cultures see themselves and others. Also, it represents the acts of claiming turf and crossing boundaries.
- Locke, Alain, The Negro In Art, New York. Hacker Art Books, New York, l979.
- The general public knows little about the Negros career in the fine arts. This book provides a wealth of information.
- Mosby, Dewey F., Henry Ossawa Tanner, Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Museum of Art, l991.
- Exhibitions of Tanners art from l859-1937. This celebrates his career from the compelling naturalism of his early art as a student to visionary religious paintings of his last years.
- Ringgold, Faith: Twenty Years of Painting, Sculpture and Performance, l963-1983. New York, N.Y. (l44 W. 125th St., New York 10027): Studio Museum in Harlem, c1984.
- This book provides forty-eight pages of paintings, sculptures and exhibitions of African-American artists from l963-1983.