The African American Artist: A Historical Odyssey

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The African American Artist

The African American Artist you know is an art on their own.

My history-savvy friends, artists, and art appreciators alike! Buckle up, because we’re embarking on a vibrant journey through time. Our destination? 

The heart of African American art, tracing its roots and watching its branches spread throughout the centuries.

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A Splash of the Old: Late 18th to 19th Century Art

Let’s start with a little time travel back to the late 18th and 19th century. Picture it, the American landscape is evolving, and African American artists like Joshua Johnson, Edmonia Lewis, and Robert S. Duncanson, are stirring up the art scene with their remarkable contributions. If you were to ask me to paint a picture of the time (pun fully intended), I’d say it was the genesis of something monumental.

Despite the societal hurdles of the time (we’re talking about pre-Civil War America here, people!), these early artists created masterpieces in a variety of genres. We’re talking still lifes, portraits, and landscape paintings that could compete with the European masters. Now, isn’t that a sight to behold?

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Enter: The Renaissance in Harlem

Fast forward to the 1920s, and you’ll find yourself amidst the Harlem Renaissance. This time was a cultural buffet of literary and visual arts with an extraordinary interest from public and private institutions. In 1920, The New York Public Library in Harlem even held the first of many exhibitions of work by “Negro” artists. Not too shabby for a public institution, eh?

In the same breath, 1921 brought with it the formation of the Department of Arts at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Under the guidance of Professor James V. Herring, a number of aspiring artists got a chance to flex their creative muscles and share their genius with the world. Other universities jumped on the bandwagon too. Can you imagine the inspiration floating around those halls?

Making Waves: The Harmon Foundation

Let’s pause for a moment to appreciate the Harmon Foundation exhibitions that started in 1928. They were billed as “Exhibitions of the work of Negro Artists,” and boy, did they deliver! The exhibitions provided artists from different regions the chance to meet, share, and marvel at each other’s work. I mean, they even got cash awards as an encouragement, thanks to Otto H. Kahn and Arthur B. Spingarn!

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Creating A Mark: Mainstream, Traditionalist and Neo-Primitive

Cruising into the era of the Great Depression and the blossoming Civil Rights Movement, we encounter artists like Sargent Johnson and Marion Perkins. They sprinkled African inspired imagery into their work. Aaron Douglass, however, did more than just sprinkle. He embraced it wholeheartedly with his “Africana” style.

Artists of this era were a diverse group, ranging from mainstreamers like Joseph Delaney and Norman Lewis to traditionalists such as Richmond Barthé, Laura Wheeler Waring, and Charles White. And let’s not forget the Neo-primitives like William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Horace Pippin, and William Edmondson, whose work had a unique, naive charm. These artists truly expanded the definition of African American art.

Patronage or Lack Thereof

But let’s be real for a moment. Despite these monumental strides and achievements, the issue of patronage (or rather, the lack of sustained patronage) for African American artists remains a sobering reality. Even after two decades of sporadic government and foundation interest, many African American artists still struggle. Quite a bittersweet note to end on, right?

There you have it, folks! A vibrant journey through the labyrinth of African American

art history. From the late 18th century to the mid-20th century, we’ve watched this rich tapestry weave itself through various styles, movements, and societal challenges. Each thread, each artist, contributes to the larger picture, making it as diverse as it is profound.

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Struggle, Resilience, and Pure Artistry

The reality of our art world tour? Struggle and achievement are intertwined, folks. These artists emerged from a society grappling with civil rights movements and economic downturns. In the face of adversity, they carved out their own space, creating art that resonates with people from all walks of life.

They were mainstream, traditionalist, and neo-primitive artists. They were teachers, students, and patrons. But above all, they were resilient. Their art is testament to their spirit and determination.

The Legacy

Our artists left behind more than just their art. They left a legacy that resonates with many African American artists today. They showed us that art isn’t just about creating something beautiful. It’s about voicing your experiences, your struggles, and your hopes.

For those who’ve enjoyed this romp through art history, remember this: art grows with its audience. Whether you’re a scholar, an artist, or simply a fan of culture, you’re part of this story, too. Let’s celebrate the contributions of African American artists and continue their legacy by appreciating, supporting, and uplifting their work.

A Brush with History

Remember to check out some of the incredible work these artists have produced, if you haven’t already. I’m talking about the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. – they all showcase the genius of these African American artists.

More Than Just Art

What’s clear from our art-filled adventure is this: African American artists have consistently overcome societal hurdles to produce breathtaking work. It’s a story of resilience, creativity, and perseverance. They’ve proven that art isn’t just about painting a pretty picture – it’s about expressing who you are and what you stand for.

So, here’s to the artists who shaped African American art history and to those who continue to forge their path today. Keep painting, keep sculpting, keep creating – the world is your canvas!

In the spirit of our journey, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these artists and their work. Which artists resonated with you the most, and why? Drop a comment below and let’s keep the conversation going!

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Until Next Time…

That’s all for today, folks! I hope you enjoyed this dive into the rich history of African American art. Remember, the next time you gaze at a painting or a sculpture, take a moment to appreciate the artist’s journey behind it.

Until our next historical deep-dive, stay curious, stay creative, and most importantly, stay supportive of all artists. Cheers!

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Serwaa, a gifted storyteller with a knack for uncovering the extraordinary in the ordinary. Her words dance across pages, painting vibrant narratives on culture, human rights, and everything in between. While she's not weaving tales, you'll find her playing the cello or planning her next globetrotting adventure. You might say she's a bit of a 'renaissance woman' - but she'd just call it 'embracing her curiosity'!