Twentieth-Century America: The Evolution of a Black Aesthetic (p.183-216)

Lacey DeAngelis

Chapter four of African-American Art talks about many African- American artists from the 60’s and 70’s that expressed their political beliefs and human rights through their artworks. The beginning of the chapter states that the United States in 1960’s had “social disruption and violence” happened “as a result to two issues in particular: the failure to make progress on the integration of black Americans as equal citizens and the waging of an unpopular war in Vietnam.” (p.183) Many of the artists used these issues in their artworks and expressed their feelings and emotions towards the issues. For example, the chapter mentions many African-American artists that use the Civil Rights movement within their artworks to express “their political sentiments in art, for them race and politics were inextricably linked…” (p.190) On page 190, the artist Charles White is mentioned because he is an African American artist that used anger and showed homage to the children victims of a racial hate crime in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960’s. This artist stuck out to me not only because he uses incidents from the civil rights movement within his artwork, but because he is one of the artists that I liked from the Chelsea Galleries in New York City. Other artist like Benny Andrews helped change the way African-American artwork was depicted. He was an activist and a painter that established the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC) in 1969. Andrews along with Cliff Joseph, “picketed the major art museums with other artists’ groups… to protest about the exclusion of racial and ethnic minorities from exhibitions and employment, and the under-representation of women.” (p.191) Andrew was an activist, but also a painter that reflected the social tensions within American during this time period. In his artwork the Champion, Andrew shows the strength of a black through painting a prizefighter. During this time, boxing was one of few professional sports which African Americans could play in. “Boxing… was seen as a means to escape poverty; boxers Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali became black heroes.”(p.192) Andrews didn’t want to be known as a “black artist”, but curators at the time would only consider his artworks dealing with black people for African-American exhibitions and none of his paintings he had done of whites. Overall, this chapter thus far has taught me a lot more about how African American artists were restricted throughout the Civil Rights period in time and how artwork and artists depicted this restriction in society.

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3 Responses to Twentieth-Century America: The Evolution of a Black Aesthetic (p.183-216)

  1. Jayme Walker

    Like many other readings we have read this semester, I had a really difficult time reading chapter four of African-American Art. The concepts discussed throughout the reading made me feel embarrassed for our country. I consider myself extremely fortunate because I have never experienced discrimination to the extent that African-American’s faced throughout the civil rights movement. In connection with our course, many African-Americans channeled and expressed their feelings about events throughout the civil rights movement aesthetically through the use and creation of art.

    As Lacey also mentioned, I recognized the artist Charles White from the reading because I saw a piece of his art while in Chelsea, New York. (And, I must add, I was quite proud of myself for recognizing White and his work while reading because before this course, I never would have known about him or many other artists.) The book talks about how White channeled his anger about hate crimes in Birmingham, Alabama, showing respect to the children victims. White is able to turn a negative event and the emotions he experiences into a piece of art for others to learn from and relate to, much like many artists from the past and present (and undoubtedly those in the future).

    While reading, I also made several connections between the reading and the history class I am taking, History of American Popular Music. I connected the reading to my history class because we spend a lot of time discussing how historical events, such as the civil rights movement shaped popular music and culture at the time. When considering music as art in combination with the historical events that occurred at the time, it is so interesting to see how the themes of our course continue to pop up. I continuously find myself making connections between what we are learning and discussing in Art of Resistance and History of Popular Music, especially when considering slavery, segregation, and discrimination throughout the history of the music industry and how dreadful events and concepts such as those not only motivated the music artists, but also those who listened to the music. I am very interested to see how our class and course material continues to shape my understanding and appreciation of what I learn in other classes.

  2. Sarah Rose

    This chapter focused a lot on the way African Americans fought for integration as equal citizens of the U.S. It stated how artists did their part to express their feeling about the U.S. in the 60’s though early 80’s in relation to equality. Although, like other members of my group, I enjoyed seeing artists I was familiar with, such as Charles White, my favorite part of the reading was about the Spiral group.

    The Spiral group was “…a particular kind of spiral, the Archimedean one; because, from a starting point, it moves outward embracing all directions, yet constantly forward,” (185). It was a group of 10-16 artists who came together in New York City. Their purpose was to show their support for the civil rights movement as a group, but still keep their individual artistic style. “Not since the Harlem Renaissance had such a group of artists been formed around a political, aesthetic, and social agenda,” (185). To me this is a great example of mixing as described in Mixed Blessings, by Lucy Lippard. These artists came together and collaborated on art that they felt passionate about. Despite the fact that all of their styles may have been different, much like the diversity of KOS and Rollins, they were all fighting for something they believed in and were able to work together. One piece they did was Black and White, It was a representation of the March on Washington in 1963.

    I also really enjoyed The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, by Betye Saar. She created a sculpture of the stereotypical “black mammy” large frame, dark skin, big red lips, and she had her hair tied up (201). This portrayal of Aunt Jemima had a twist though, she had a gun in her left hand and there was an image of a fist in the middle of the frame, symbolizing resistance. I felt this was an example of Turning Around. She is poking fun at the traditional idea of a sweet black worker eager to serve and showed her in a new light, as a woman who wants to fight back and be free. I feel like this piece represents all African Americans at that time, tired of being patient and gracious and ready to fight for what she believes.

  3. Austin Smith says:

    The 1960s proved to be times of unpopular events for American society. The Vietnam War was very unpopular to the public and African Americans were seeking their rights which they had been promised. A group of artists met to specifically find a way to show their support for the civil rights movement. They wanted to maintain their identities through their art while still showing their support. I thought this was an amazing goal for the artists who participated. This reminds me of the resistance art I have been seeing which stands up for what is right and in a sort of way, “sticks it to the man.” The man being the oppressor which in this situation are the white superiors refusing rights to African Americans. This, to me, is the definition of our class. The next monumental moment that stood out to me through the readings was the section on The Evolution of a Modern Black Aesthetic. This section mentioned the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. This man was the emblem for civil rights and fought vigorously to achieve them for African Americans. When he was murdered inner city riots occurred and a lack of structure persisted in the civil rights movement. This was a sort of turning point in the African American art and represented the injustices that were presented against them. It is interesting to me how an event can change the way things are perceived and presented at that time. I believe that is what is so important about viewing art is putting oneself in the shoes who was creating the art and what they were going through at the time. I thought it was interesting when the readings mentioned that African Americans visited Africa or their homeland to give themselves further insight about where they came from. I believe this insight refreshed their desire for freedom where they now live in America. This renewed sense of belonging most likely pushed them even harder to fight for what is right. The important thing is to know that the fight will not be won in one battle. There will be many losses before one can make a change and overcome the goliath who stands in front of them.

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