African American art is a representation of an array of blackartists. These artists’ works are a reflection of the AfricanAmerican aesthetic. Most of the African American’s art focuses onthe struggle of blacks for equality. A significant goal of manyartists also entails enhancing the self-worth of African Americans.This goal is achieved through the creation of works, which depict theresilience, strength as well as brainpower of African Americans. Thecreation of positive artwork that portrays blacks positively instillsa feeling of self-respect and pride in their culture. In thefollowing discussion, the essay makes a summary of the primary goals,issues and strategies used by African American artists. In doing so,the essay uses the works of black female artists, Faith Ringgold andAdrian Piper, and works of black male artists, Jacob Lawrence andCharles Alston.
Key Goals, Issues and Strategies
The artworks that will be used as examples are: In “BetweenFriends” by Faith Ringgold is the painting of two women. One of thewomen is white while the other is black. Despite the women appearingclose to each other, there is an apparent unease among them. Thisillustrates the racial barrier between both women. In “Self-PortraitExaggerating my Negroid Features” by Adrian Piper, is a 1981drawing of her self-portrait. She intends to depict the woman she isas opposed to how people see her. The image is one of a black woman,who may be mistaken for being white like she had experienced. JacobLawrence’s “One Way Ticket” is a painting that highlights theracial disparity towards blacks and white. The painting portrays howAfrican Americans did not mix with whites, in specific when using thebus. Charles Alston’s “Walking” captures women walking.Alston’s inspiration for the painting derives from the “Montgomerybus boycott”. The artist’s objective is to illustrate the women’sdetermination to end racial segregation towards blacks in America.
One of the goals of African American artists includes arepresentation and promotion of black culture. As Mesch (48) notes,several African artists borrowed the ideas of Negritude to makevisual representations of how to deal with their cultures. Artistsintend to re-conceptualize blackness apart from society’sstereotypes, which has negatively affected African Americans’relationship to their culture. By doing so, the artists seek to breakany form of bourgeois dishonor about facets of blacks’ lives, whichmay encourage racist beliefs. The promotion of African Americanculture is significant in building the self-esteem of all blacks. Theartists intend to ensure that African Americans are proud of who theyare and where they come from. When comparing the four paintings, therepresentation of culture appears to be more apparent among AfricanAmerican female artists. Ringgold paints the images of two women. Onefemale is African American while the adjacent one is white. In thepainting, Ringgold probably illustrates the hostility between bothraces. But at the same time, portrays the need for these women toconfidently appreciate who they are and where they come from.Likewise, Piper paints herself with enhanced facial features toemphasize her blackness. This encourages other black women toappreciate their cultural identity, regardless of how society mayperceive them.
Another goal of black artists is to highlight the issue of racialdiscrimination towards blacks. From historic to modern times, AfricanAmericans progress to face racial discrimination. This is perfectlyillustrated in Lawrence’s painting where he paints blacks andwhites in a bus. Despite using the same means of transport, it isapparent that blacks have been segregated to the back where theycannot mix with whites. Also, they are allocated fewer seats and mostare compelled to stand. The painting highlights on the separationbetween African Americans and whites, as they could not mix. Thiscompares to Ringgold’s painting. Her work represents two women ofdifferent races. Although the women seem to be in the same place, itis impossible for them to stand close together. The women do not evenlook at each other. It becomes clear that because these women are ofdifferent races, they cannot interact freely. Both male and femaleAfrican American artists were concerned of the racial discriminationand have highlighted this in their artwork.
It is apparent that the issue of race influences the works of allblack artists as they all include the aspect of race in theirpaintings. Although the themes for the paintings differ, each of thepainting compares on the fact that they delve on the issue of race.In “Between Friends” the female artists expounds on how the raceissue separates African Americans from whites. Ringgold aims toillustrate that though the two women standing close together wereable to talk, there was a racial barrier dividing them, ensuring thatthey could not form any closer friendship. This compares to howAfrican Americans and whites cannot mix while using the same bus asillustrated in “One Way Ticket”. Lawrence and Ringgolddemonstrate how race influences how people interact. While those ofthe same race can freely stay close together, there is uneasinesswhen two people of different races come close to each other. In“Self-Portrait Exaggerating my Negroid Features” the artistsexpresses how people seem to confuse her race. By exaggerating herfeatures she communicates how people view blacks. It is apparent fromthe image that, because of their race, African Americans are viewedas having larger facial features. This is an aspect of comparisonthat has been used to differentiate blacks from whites. CharlesAlston’s “Walking” uses the same approach as Lawrence’spainting. The women walking and the association of the painting witha boycott, speaks out on how African Americans could not mix withwhites, specifically when travelling in the same bus.
The artists employ the strategy of creative expression in theirpaintings. As they express the issue of the struggle for equality forall races, this is achieved through creatively expressing thecharacters of their paintings. In “Between Friends” the femaleartists creatively positions her characters apart from each other. Bydoing so she manages to address there racial inequalities. Likewise,in “One Way Ticket”, the male artist creatively separates AfricanAmericans from whites in the painting. The “Self-PortraitExaggerating my Negroid Features” is clear in its inventive appealfor the audience to keenly observe the character’s features. Bydoing so, the artist expresses her intention of highlighting AfricanAmerican features. Just as the name of the painting suggests in“Walking”, the characters are walking. It is a creative way ofexpressing what the artist is communicating, which is the women’sresistance to racial segregation.
Mesch, Claudia. Art and Politics: A Small History of Art forSocial Change Since 1945, (n.d): 44-67.