African American Art


Mid-Century/Civil Rights/post civil rights era


Two schools work in a parallel paths. Those who sought to define African American Arts as separate and those to sought to defined it as part.  During this period there was a rediscovery of the art produced by slaves and an integrations of the breath of the experience into new art works at the same time to discover art that was wholly and uniquely African American.  The result has been the formalization of African American Art as a field of study taught at the highest regarded institutions in America.  The recognition of this art by critics, the representations of it in the finest museums collections, libraries, and galleries.

Jazz and the Harlem Renaissance, to MidCentury.

1900- 1955

With Jazz came a confidence. There were major advances in mainstreaming African American Art especially in music. The Harlem Renaissance produce magnificent work that American as a nation pointed to with pride, but there were still color lines and a justified impatience grew  to be equal and not to meld but to claim arts as being Black first.

Post Civil War

1887- 1900

African American Artist began to at least in art to integrate their talent with the country as a whole and the prevailing artistic trends of the day namely Romanticism. The hope was not to be seen as African American Artist but as Artists. This however came hard up against and American that was both ashamed and unwilling to admit its shame. So artist found that they were accepted and revered not in America but in Europe specifically Paris.  Here they were abel to study and live and express themselves based on talent.



During the Antebellum Period the first “school”of African American artist emerged.  That of portrait painter.  This was the first melding of a western European idea “portraiture” with the talent and skill set that was natural to their roots. Here again this was a path to freedom.  All the while in the South those arts and crafts which were brought to this country in chains became known as they arts and crafts of the people who held them in Slavery.  How much of Southern Cuisine is based is African American tradition?



The net that caught Africans to be sold into slavery was thrown it must be remember by other Africans for profit. They did not care what they were losing, only of the profit. Because of this many talented artisans were able to bring the essence of their tribal strength to American.  It is interesting to note that those who ended up in the South were able to more easily hold onto their roots then then Those in the north who tended to follow more of a Western European tradition.  The Southern owners had little respect for the human but somehow saw the power of the art. Slaves with talent were culled out to be exploited for their skills and that skill was respected enough that Art was sometimes able to buy a man his freedom.

An important genre of artistic expression filed here under Folk Art.  The Reason is that so much of the past two hundred plus years of America’s existence African Americans were denied formal training and were self taught.  This is not in anyway to suggest that Fine Art is not here in abundance, where the artist was formally trained and worked within defined disciplines and principles: the Harlem Renaissance a prime example of a defined school of artistic  expression.  This categorization also in no way suggests that much of the greatest American Art is  if not created by African American Artists influenced by the African American experience.  This country not only must bare the  shame of how African American’s came to this country, but give a profound sense of gratitude for for the gifts that provided to American art. Especially in the  fields of Music, Dance, Theater, Poetry and Cuisine.

African American art fall into the following five periods:

Colonial(pre 19th century);


Post Civil War/Jim Crow Era

Jazz/ The Harlem Renaissance through Mid Century Era;

The Mid Century/Civil Rights/Post Civil Rights Era.