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Copy of African Art and the Black Aesthetic

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Nick Sherek

on 19 April 2013

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Transcript of Copy of African Art and the Black Aesthetic

African Art and the Black
Aesthetic What is African Art? Clarity of Form and Detail Youthfulness Which now leads us to... Self-Composure Luminosity Resemblance to a human being Most African Art is based on 5 elements African artists praise a carved figure by saying that it "looks like a human being." Artists seldom portray particular people, actual animals, or the actual form of invisible spirits. Rather, they aim to portray ideas about reality, spiritual or human, and express these ideas through human or animal images. The lustrously smooth surface of most African figural sculpture, often embellished with decorative scarification, indicates beautifully shining, healthy skin. Figures with rough surfaces and deformities are intended to appear ugly and morally flawed. The person who is composed behaves in a measured and rational way; he or she is controlled, proud, dignified, and cool. A youthful appearance connotes vigor, productiveness, fertility, and an ability to labor. Illness and deformity are rarely depicted because they are signs of evil. African artists place a high value on fine workmanship and mastery of the medium The Black Aesthetic To regard African art simply as one would Western art is to misread its meaning and misunderstand its role in traditional African society. For the peoples of traditional Africa, sculpture served a function similar to that in Western culture of books of literature, law, religion, history, or education. In the absence of written documents, Africans often preserved their beliefs and values and conveyed them from generation to generation through their art. The significance of each work, therefore, derives not merely from its tangible form or its aesthetic merit, but equally from the concepts and beliefs that it embodies”. Definition of art by Karenga:
"Cultural production informed by standards of creativity and beauty and inspired by and reflective of a people's life-experiences and life-aspirations." The concept of the “black aesthetic” has been integrally linked with the black arts movement, yet even at the height of that movement, there was no real agreement about the meaning of this term. In his introduction to one of the central documents of the movement the black aesthetic (1971), addison gayle remarked: “the black aesthetic, then, as conceived by this writer, is a corrective – a means of helping black people out of the polluted mainstream of Americanism, and offering logical, reasoned arguments as to why he should not desire to join the ranks of norman mailer or a william styron. Intellectuals of Black Art and Aesthetics Alain Locke Larry Neal Kariamu-Welsh Asante Marimba Ani W.E.B Dubois Scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He studied at Harvard University and, in 1895, became the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard. He wrote extensively and was the best known spokesperson for African American rights during the first half of the 20th century. Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. He died in Ghana in 1963. W.E.B. Dubois DuBois seemed to believe that in art, and especially to what he saw as the essentially artistic nature of the African, could be found a significant way out of the prison house of rationality, a detour to a happy consciousness as it were. DuBois's entire political project was driven by one fundamental need: to elaborate a critique of the failure of enlightened society to provide a political domain in which the black could be modern. The lives of the subjects he considered exemplary of the African American quest for a modern identity DuBois's tactic was to contrast the theoretical claims of the modern doxa with its practical effects, the material manifestations of modernization, which he saw as impoverished, with the spiritual condition of blackness, what he called the soul. Dubois also stated the collective source of Black Art in his discussion of its social origin. He stated that even though black art has both a personal and universal aspect, these are “combined with a certain group compulsion... meaning that the wished, thoughts and experiences of thousands of individuals influence consciously and unconsciously of the message of the one who speaks for all. This “social compulsion”, dubois continues, was shaped by the black experience in enslavement and emancipation, and the struggle African Americans waged to liberate themselves and strive upward. IN a word, it rises out of a culture in which people are creating themselves, celebrating, sustaining and developing themselves and introducing themselves to history and humanity. Alain Locke Principal among his contributions in these areas was the development of the notion of “ethnic race”, Locke's conception of race as primarily a matter of social and cultural, rather than biological, heredity. Locke was in contemporary parlance a racial revisionist, and held the somewhat controversial and paradoxical view that it was often in the interests of groups to think and act as members of a “race” even while they consciously worked for the destruction or alteration of pernicious racial categories. Alain LeRoy Locke was born on Sept. 13, 1886, in Philadelphia PA. He was an American educator, writer, and philosopher, who is best remembered as a leader and chief interpreter of the Harlem Renaissance. A humanist who was intensely concerned with aesthetics, Locke termed his philosophy "cultural pluralism" and emphasized the necessity of determining values to guide human conduct and interrelationships. Chief among these values was respect for the uniqueness of each personality, which can develop fully and remain unique only within a democratic ethos. Alain Locke passed away on June 9, 1954, in New York City." Locke saw black aesthetics quite differently than some of the leading Negro intellectuals of his day; most notably W. E. B. Du Bois, with whom he disagreed about the appropriate social function of Negro artistic pursuits. Du Bois thought it was a role and responsibility of the Negro artist to offer a representation of the Negro and black experience which might help in the quest for social uplift. Locke criticized this as “propaganda” (AOP 12) and argued that the primary responsibility and function of the artist is to express his own individuality, and in doing that to communicate something of universal human appeal. Racial designations were for Locke incomprehensible apart from an understanding of the specific cultural and historical contexts in which they grew up. A great deal of Locke's philosophical thinking and writing in the areas of pluralism, relativism and democracy are aimed at offering a more lucid understanding of cultural or racial differences and prospects for more functional methods of navigating contacts between different races and cultures. Locke was the architect of the New Negro Movement and the Harlem Renaissance, the focus of which was the promotion of black art and culture. His philosophical interests were focused primarily on two issues: cultural pluralism; and race relations. On cultural pluralism, Locke's view can be summarized thus: each culture group has its own identity and it is entitled to protect and promote it. In the particular context of America, the claim to cultural identity need not conflict with the claim to American citizenship. On race relations, Locke felt that if we can do away with prejudice and pride, we might be able to reconcile nationalism and internationalism, racialism and universalism. Larry Neal was one of the most influential scholars, authors and philosophers of the BAM. He has been characterized as a spiritual journeyman of the BAM. Neal was born in 1937 in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in Philadelphia. He received his degree from Lincoln University and a masters from the University of Pennsylvania. Neal is best known for several significant works in the BAM. He is noted for his work with Liberator Magazine, Black Theatre Magazine, Negro Digest and Black World and also for co-editing Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, a collection of theory, poetry and prose by writers of the BAM, with Amiri Baraka. Larry Neil “Unless the Black artist establishes a ‘Black aesthetic’ he will have no future at all.  To accept the white aesthetic is to accept and validate a society that will not allow him to live.  The Black artist must create new forms and new values, sing new songs (or purify old ones); and along with other Black authorities, he must create a new history, new symbols, myths and legends (and purify the old ones by fire).  And the Black artist, in creating his own aesthetic, must be accountable for it only to the Black people.” the black arts movement is radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates the artist from his/her community. Black art is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the black power concept. A such, it envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of black America, In order to perform this task, the black arts movement proposes a radical reordering of the western cultural aesthetic. It proposes a separate symbolism, mythology, critique, and iconology. The black arts and the black power concept both relate broadly to the Afro-americans desire for self determination and nationhood. Both concepts are nationalistic. One is concerned with the relationship between art and politics; the other with the art of politics. A main tenet of black power is the necessity for black people to define the world in their own terms. The black artist has made the same point in the context of aesthetics. The two movements postulate that there are in fact and in spirit two Americas-- one black, one white. Black artists take this to mean that their primary duty is to speak to the spiritual and cultural needs of Black people Therefore, the main thrust of this new breed of contemporary writers is to confront the contradictions arising out of black people's experience in the racist west. Currently, these writers are re-evaluating western aesthetics , the traditional role of the writer, and the social function of art. Implicit in this re-evaluation is the need to develop a “black aesthetic”. It is the opinion of many black writers, I among them, that the western aesthetic has run its course: it is impossible to construct anything meaningful within its decaying structure. Dr. Welsh is widely published in both scholarly journals and book length studies, she is a scholar of cultural studies including performance and culture within Africa and the African Diaspora. Dr. Welsh serves as the Director of the Institute for African Dance Research and Performance. An anthropologist and African Studies scholar
best known for her work Yurugu, a comprehensive critique of European thought and culture. Yurugu examined the influence of European culture on the formation of modern institutional frameworks, through colonialism and imperialism, from an African perspective. The Differences Between the Committed and the Detached School of Art The Detached School of Art The Committed School of Art The Black Aesthetic as defined by Karenga:
"A distinctive mode of artistic expression and a distinctive standard by which Black art can be identified and judged in terms of its creativity and beauty as well as its social relevance." Individual creativity emerges from the expressive tradition of the communal canon instead of in response to the reactions of an audience, adoration or wealth. It is from this context that an artist is appreciated, acclaimed and affirmed. Any art form that celebrates the features and history is corresponding with the highest expression of the Aesthetic. It is the diasporan African's privilege and position that allows her to see Africa as a concept as well as a diverse and multicultural continent. This conscious vision and perspective of the African in America has guided, informed and inspired the African to reclaim Africa politically as well as historically and aesthetically. The African Aesthetic is visible from popular culture to the classical cultures. In music, dance, theater, film, and art, including body adornment art, there emerge symbols, colors, rhythms, styles and forms that function as artistic instruments and cultural histories Kariamu Welsh Asante Marimba Ani In this limited conceptual system "aesthetic" is understood as the "concept of beauty". It purports to deal with "taste" and appreciation of the "beautiful". "Aesthetics" deals with theories of the essential character of the beautiful and how it can be judged. The European discussion of the
aesthetic becomes analytic; the pathos is intellectualized; the mystery denied. The focus becomes that of judgement and critque. For us judgement and criticism issue form the Afrocentric quest. Gayle "argued, in essence, that conditions in America had not changed to the degree that the (African American) could desert the race question, engage in an art for art's sake endevor of or wander free in the sunny utopia of abstraction in an attempt to desert the harsh reality of being black in the twentieth century." Elizabeth Catlett reaffired the need for art being linked to Black struggle, stating that "only the liberation of Black people will make the real development of Black art possible. Therefore it is our advantage as artists as well as Blacks to lend all our strength to the struggle." Works Cited
Karenga, Maulana. Introduction to Black Studies. Los Angeles: University of Sankore, 1993. Print.

"Alain LeRoy Locke." (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.
Gayle, Addison. The Black Aesthetic. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971. Print.

"W. E. B. DuBois and the Identity of Africa." W. E. B. DuBois and the Identity of Africa. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.

Begho, Felix O. "FUNCTION AND AESTHETICS IN TRADITIONAL AFRICAN DANCES." N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.

Richards, Donna M. "The African Aesthetic and National Consciousness." The African Aesthetic. N.p.: n.p., 1994. 63-65. Print

Welsh-Asante, Kariamu. The African Aesthetic: Keeper of the Traditions. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993. Print.
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