Art as Black and White: examining interactions between race in the 20th century through Black artist experience.
Keywords:African-American Art; Racism; White-majority; White-patronage; Commodification; Exploitation
The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between African-American art throughout the 20th century and mainstream art critics’ perspectives of the African-American community. Aaron Douglas’, Jacob Lawrence’s, and Jean Michel Basquiat’s experiences as artists spanned the 20th century. The study examined approximately 40 primary documents written by White individuals who played a role in the mainstream art world during the 20th century. The analysis determined that there was no change in the perspectives of the White majority towards the African-American community in response to Aaron Douglas’, Jacob Lawrence’s, and Jean Michel Basquiat’s art. Two main themes emerged regarding White response to these artists. First, the White majority seems to have felt threatened by the African-American community and utilized its power to keep African-American art confined to its own community. Second, the White majority commodified African-American art in order to keep it outside the mainstream. Therefore, the key contribution of this study is to document one important way that racism seeped into the arts. Not only can the findings be applied to other methods of cultural production, but the construction of this study can provide a model for other studies dealing with similar qualitative materials.
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