EN (AVANT) GARDE!: BLACK AMERICAN ARTISTS FOR AND AGAINST BLACK AESTHETICS, 1925-1975
Fletcher, Kanitra Shenae
Numerous writers, historians, and activists have alerted their audiences to "the danger of the single story". The reduction of lives and histories to a single narrative implies sameness, conceals complexity, and ultimately denies humanity. Nonetheless, art histories and institutions historically have presented modern black American art as something that invariably exhibits a black aesthetic of culturally specific forms and moral or political content, which reinforces the idea of black American black American culture and people as monolithic. This study instead focuses on artists who are a part of what I term the “black avant-garde,” a diverse group of artists working between the 1920s and 1970s, such as Richard Bruce Nugent, Alma Thomas, Bob Thompson, and Adrian Piper, who problematized rather than codified blackness. Rather than a black aesthetic, many black avant-gardists operated in the modes of larger American avant-garde movements, including abstraction and conceptualism. Others created art that touches on divisive themes, and aspects of class, gender, the body, and sexuality that historically have been silenced within black cultural discourses. The black avant-garde therefore challenged notions of the type of art that black audiences desire or expect. At the same time, art historical surveys often account for twentieth century black art with discussions of prominent sectors of the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement in which artists and cultural leaders fervently developed proposals for distinct black artistic styles and purposes. These texts rarely describe the conflicting voices in and around these movements. Those artists whose work disconcerted critics due to its controversial subject matter, such as homoeroticism and miscegenation, or problematic imagery, such racist caricature, vernacular styles, and even abstraction, generally were left out of later accounts of these histories and/or their art is portrayed as anomalous. In fact, their work is critical to understandings of black art and cultural histories. It refutes the single story and reflects the numerous stories and diverse voices that black aesthetics cannot silence.
Fine arts; african american art; american art history; american modern art; black aesthetics; black american art; black avant-garde art; Art history; African American studies
Hassan, Salah; Rooks, Noliwe M.
History of Art, Archaeology, and Visual Studies
Ph.D., History of Art, Archaeology, and Visual Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis
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