Art as Black and White: examining interactions between race in the 20th century through Black artist experience.


  • Tucker Collins George Mason University
  • Shannon Davis George Mason University



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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Author Biography

Shannon Davis, George Mason University

Dr. Davis received her BA in Sociology in 1997 with distinction as an Undergraduate Research Scholar from the University of North Carolina at Asheville.  She received her Ph.D. in Sociology in 2004 from North Carolina State University.  She also spent two years as a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Carolina Population Center

Her research has two foci.  One vein of her work focuses on the creation of families and the negotiation of family life.  Specifically, she is interested in how family members negotiate the intersection of paid and unpaid work in their daily lives, how gender inequality is reproduced in families, and on the construction and maintenance of beliefs about gender, or gender ideologies. She is also interested in how gender ideologies inform decisions about education, work, and relationships. Other recent research has examined the processes through which inequality is reproduced or undermined in higher education with an eye toward understanding the role that undergraduate research can play in changing the future of the professoriate. She was the recipient of a 2012 OSCAR Mentor Award for her mentorship of undergraduate scholars, a 2013 Teaching Excellence Award, and a 2019 OSCAR Mentoring Excellence Award for Sustaining Mentorship. In 2018, she received the Kathleen S. Lowney Mentoring Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems. She currently serves as Chair of the Faculty Senate (2020-21).

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How to Cite

Collins, T., & Davis, S. (2021). Art as Black and White: examining interactions between race in the 20th century through Black artist experience . Journal of Student Research, 10(1).



Research Articles