Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence profoundly shaped the depiction of American history in art through their ambitious and insightful oeuvres. From generating new national traditions through the Harlem Community Art Center to capturing communal experience through paint and collage, they paved the way for subsequent generations of storytellers. In this episode, hear from each artist as they recount the social, political, and artistic currents that guided their paths.
- Romare Bearden in Harlem, circa 1950. Romare Bearden papers, 1937-1982. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
- Photograph of Jacob Lawrence with Harlem Scene (The Butcher Shop), 1938 December 9. Federal Art Project, Photographic Division collection, circa 1920-1965. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Oral history interviews featured:
- Jacob Lawrence, 1968 October 26
- Romare Bearden, 1968 June 29
- Charles Henry Alston, 1965 September 28
- Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight papers, 1816, 1914-2008, bulk 1973-2001
- Romare Bearden papers, 1937-1982
- André Thibault/Teabo papers regarding Romare Bearden, circa 1930s-2003, bulk 1980-1998
- Charles Henry Alston papers, 1924-1980
- Romare Bearden Collection at the Wildenstein Plattner Institute
[Theme music plays]
Jacob Lawrence: Most of the characters in my series have such a great appeal, appeal of struggle, of people involved in a struggle. And if you're involved in history and in Negro history I think it's inevitable that you would be fascinated by the life of Harriet Tubman.
Charles Henry Alston: He's been involved with the semi-Cubist approaches to painting and always I think recurring were those much more personal things, or things out of memory, or race memory, or whatever, they would recur too.
Henri Ghent: do you think that the Negro should now direct his efforts to the black community? That is, by exhibiting exclusively in black communities, colleges, universities, et cetera?
Romare Bearden: Well, I don't think that this should be exclusively done but, since so little of it has been done before, I think that a great deal of effort should be made in this direction to make the communities, to use a cliche, more art conscious, or more aware of the Negro artist.
Deloris Perry: Deloris Perry: Hello and welcome to Articulated. I’m Deloris Perry, and I work as an administrative officer here at the Archives of American Art. This podcast receives support from the Alice L. Walton Foundation.
Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence were two tremendous storytellers who dedicated themselves to saving and sharing voices of the past to build a new future. Through painting, collage, and illustration in a range of venues, each artist forged a singular style while emboldening generations to come. In this episode, we’ll hear from their 1968 oral histories for the Archives, which took place at a fraught sociopolitical juncture in the United States just months after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert F. Kennedy.
[Theme music fades out]
Lawrence and Bearden first met each other working and studying at the Harlem Community Arts Center in the late 1930s, which was part the Federal Arts Project. Under the direction of Augusta Savage, the Center was a major hub for artists across New York and an incubator for graphic innovation during the Harlem Renaissance. To hear more about the Federal Arts Project and its lasting impact, go back to the first four episodes of season one.
Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1911 before his family moved to Pittsburgh and New York, eventually settling in the latter. He found his own style amid the shifting seas of the early 20th century as he digested cubism and social realism to generate expressive, figurative paintings and collages. He worked with myth in a grand sense, recasting the story of African Americans through Homer's Odyssey for his Odysseus Series, or more intimately in his depictions of jazz clubs and Harlem nightlife.
In his 1968 oral history interview with the curator and critic Henri Ghent, Bearden dove into his early career in New York City:
Romare Bearden: After I finished college I went to study with George Grosz at the Art Students League. Now you know Grosz was the great German artist who did the famous book Ecce Homo which has recently been republished. He was a marvelous draftsman. And when I started studying with Grosz, unlike the other students who usually were very tight, I would draw all over the paper. And Grosz said, "Now look, I want you to just draw the model's hand, or maybe just the face. Just use the whole paper and draw it here because I want you to really observe." And this is what I did. I spent a couple of years studying with Grosz. And then I did watercolors; I had never painted in oil. When I finished studying with Grosz I drew at home and I got a job as a political cartoonist with the Afro American which was a well-known Negro newspaper published in Baltimore. For two or three years I did political cartoons.
Grosz had introduced me to a number of the great draftsmen of the past like Ingres, Holbein, Durer, and with my interest in cartooning I became intimate with Daumier and Forain and some of the other great satirical draftsmen. But then I became more and more interested in painting and gradually gave up my cartooning to concentrate mostly on painting because I felt that if I stayed too long in cartooning, you know, it would hurt my painting. And I got a studio. I ran into Jacob Lawrence on the street one day. He said he had a studio and there was one vacant above him. He was living at 33 West 125th Street. So I went and got this studio, my first studio. It was eight dollars a month including the electricity.
Henri Ghent: It was cheap enough.
Romare Bearden: At first I had steam heat but later the landlord sold all the radiators for scrap iron. In those days before the war Japan was buying all the metal they could get. We had to heat with kerosene stoves after that. Besides Jake—I mean Jacob Lawrence—Claude McKay had a place there, you know, the famous poet and writer. And then Bill Attaway stayed there for a while, another writer. In recent years he has done a number of things for Belafonte. I think he wrote one of Belafonte's last things on Negro comedy or humor. Then the late Allan Morrison who was one of the editors of Ebony had a place there. Actually they—he and George Norfolk—formulated the idea for Negro Digest which later broadened into Ebony. So it was an interesting building. And there I was. When you're a young student you have a lot of ideas to express. And I was trying to be very precise in my drawing. One day later on, Bill Attaway said to me, "Why don't you draw—you know, just let yourself go and draw some of the things that you know about!" And I began at that time to do my Southern themes, the people that I'd seen as a young boy when I'd sometimes visit North Carolina where I was born. I did these on brown paper in a gouache tempera medium. I must have done about twenty of these paintings before World War II when I went into the Army. Just about the end of the war a painter came by my studio, William H. Johnson, who was very well-known at that time. Johnson had lived in Europe for many years and he came by with a woman named Caresse Crosby. Caresse was one of the well-known American expatriates of the 20's. And she had a press in Paris at one time, book publishing, with her husband Harry Crosby who was a well-known banker and writer and poet. He later committed suicide. And Caresse had opened a gallery in Washington called the "G" Place Gallery and she was thinking of doing a show of Negro artists. She came by with Johnson and she decided that she wanted to do a one-man show of my work. And that was really my first gallery show, at Caresse Crosby's gallery in 1945 in Washington, D.C. Then I got out of the Army in a couple of months. The war was coming to an end, or was at an end. I met Caresse in New York and we went to the Samuel Kootz Gallery which Kootz was just then opening. He had been interested in art but I think was doing something else,
writing advertising for a motion picture company. But his ambition was to open his own art gallery. His first idea I think was to have some of the leading modern American painters. And then, when Peggy Guggenheim closed her gallery, he turned his attention to the younger painters who were doing more abstract work.
Deloris Perry: Jacob Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1917 and made his career in New York. He was a chronicler of African American experience, and he was known for his series of paintings that depicted and interrogated history. His Migration series, some sixty paintings, has received special acclaim for grappling with the story of the Great Migration, which was the mass movement of African Americans out of the south to escape racial oppression and violence.
In his 1968 oral history interview with the historian and Smithsonian curator Carroll Greene, Lawrence described the art historical context in which he saw himself. A note on the audio: As was customary at the time, the Archives returned the original tapes to Lawrence after he approved the transcript and did not maintain copies; Nehemiah Harvey, an advancement associate at the Archives, will serve as the voice of Lawrence for this episode: Lawrence went on to describe the foundational research for his paintings and the importance of making history visible as part of his work for a children's book called Harriet and the Promised Land.
Jacob Lawrence: Yes. I think I was influenced by many of the artists who influenced most of us at that period, my age group. I think the big school then in the social consciousness school of painting was the Mexican School: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros (who is still living and still very active). This is the big three of Mexico. Of course, Siqueiros was the youngest of the big three. And the others have died, of course, both Rivera and Orozco. Also we were exposed to people like Kathe Kollwitz, the Polish artist; many of the Chinese artists who were doing big woodblocks; they were doing peasants and that type of thing. It all was their choice of content, of people; and I guess this made it social. And this permeated all of the arts of that period with the aid of the writing, literature and everything. It was a period when a man did his Native Son. I'm trying to think of some other—not Hemingway—who did the Okies?
—John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath. And in the dance, this was the material of the dance. So I'm really a product of this period. Some artists have done other things since then, especially those of my age who started out like this. Some of them became very important abstract expressionists like Gorky before he died. But not frequently. I think Franz Kline - they were very much involved with this. I don't know about some of the others. But I do know these two. And then many of the artists were involved in this kind of content in their work. This was the period for dealing with a very humanistic - we thought about man. I mentioned Romare Bearden and how he studied with George Grosz. We all knew who George Grosz was. He was the great German expressionist and satirist of postwar Germany. This is what he dealt with, this kind of satire.
Deloris Perry: Lawrence went on to describe the foundational research for his paintings and the importance of making history visible as part of his work for a children's book called Harriet and the Promised Land:
Jacob Lawrence: Most of the characters in my series have such a great appeal, appeal of struggle, of people involved in a struggle. And if you're involved in history and in Negro history I think it's inevitable that you would be fascinated by the life of Harriet Tubman. This is how I happened to do that.
Now the second time—the book to which you've just referred, I was approached by a publisher, a new publisher who said he was interested in doing children's books and he wanted to know if I would be interested in doing one.
He left the subject up to me. We had a few talks. We met for lunch and talked over the theme and so on. And immediately I thought of me doing a Negro subject because he knew that I had been involved in this, that I was interested in this. Although he did not say that this must be my theme - he left that up to me - but I think he knew that this would be it. So then we talked over the theme. I suggested Harriet Tubman. Well, of course, he knew nothing about Harriet Tubman. And I gave him a sort of synopsis, an outline of this woman. He said it sounded very good to him, and to go on with it. So I started my research because although I knew the general outline, the general story, this was a period of twenty-five years since I had done the first Harriet Tubman, so naturally I had to go back. And even if I had known what I knew twenty-five years ago about Harriet Tubman it would have been different. Because I like to feel that I have grown, my attitude would have been different, my choice of material out of the life of Harriet Tubman would have been entirely different. So I researched the material, took many notes. As most of us who do research do, we know that nine-tenths of what we take is never used but we have to take all of it in order to get that one-tenth. So this was the process. And out of this developed a children's book on Harriet Tubman which is just out, has just been published.
Jacob Lawrence: The Industrial Revolution was part of the American series. It was a series which was to be continued which I've never gotten around to continue as a series. My reason for doing this, I think I mentioned earlier was that I like to think that I have expanded, that I have grown, and I like to feel that the Negro struggle was unique. And, of course all struggle from my point of view. You see, early maybe I didn't think this. Maybe I thought the Negro struggle was unique. And, of course, all struggles are unique in that when and were they take place they have a uniqueness. But generally, I think it's all one. Now I thought of the American history thing. In fact I call it The Struggle. And one of the motivating factors for my doing this again was the negro. I think this is happening more and more now. But up until that time, as late as a few years ago in the 1950's the Negro had not been included in the general stream of American history. We're doing that more and more now. There are books coming out. People are more aware of it. And there's a more conscious effort to put the Negro back where he belongs in American history. I mean up till now he's been taken out, just excluded, or put aside. We don't know the story, how historians have glossed over the Negro's part as one of the builders of America, how he tilled the fields, and picked cotton, and helped to build the cities. Now I don't want to be sentimental and say well the Negro did all this, the Negro did nine-tenths of this. This wouldn't be true either. I mean there were many other groups coming from Europe who contributed. However, these other groups always get mentioned. The Polish, the Italians, the English, they're all mentioned as to their contributions. When I was a child this is all I heard of. All we hear of the American Negro is that he picked cotton. And they don't even call it a contribution. That wasn't even it. So one of my main reasons I thought it would be a good thing if I did plus the fact I think American history is a fascinating subject. But I wanted to do a series showing the American Revolution. Again this had to do with struggle, the struggle of man and showing as part of the struggle a person who took part in the struggle
of man and showing as part of the struggle a person who took part in the struggle was the American Negro. You see, this is not a Negro - as the other themes were - this was not a Negro series. It isn't just Negroes. It dealt with Washington crossing the Delaware, Negroes who where with Washington when he crossed the Delaware. Not as slaves. These people were people who had signed up to take part in the American Revolution. I mean you had people like that. That's what's fascinating about the Schomburg Library. We not only know that Negroes participated in the American Revolution but we know the names of these people. We can go there and find the actual names of people who enlisted in the American Revolution. You also have people who served as the officer's servants. Well, they had to go. That was a different thing. But I'm talking about people who went voluntarily, signed up like anyone else, and served in this thing. So you have that. They were with Jackson at New Orleans, the Negro was. And of course, we all know about the beginning of the Revolution. All through the 1800's the Industrial Revolution was all a part of this thing. You know, we often mention women. We hear about Molly Pitcher. We hear about Betsy Ross. We hear about this woman. We hear about the other woman. And that was the reason, too, why - to get back to Harriet Tubman -the Negro woman has never been included in American History. Has never been. Well, naturally, because we don't even include Negro men. So I think a person like Harriet Tubman is a - well, just a fascinating person. I can't say more than that. But this was the motivating factor for my doing the American history theme and for my still being interested in that.
Deloris Perry: Speaking at a critical moment in the nation’s trajectory, Bearden described the inseparability of the arts, politics, and society:
Henri Ghent: How do you feel about the upcoming election?
Romare Bearden: Well, I was extremely interested until Senator Kennedy was shot. And—you know, if it's the same old tired fire horses that they are going to offer, I would be uninterested again. Not in the election but in the candidates.
Henri Ghent: I take it that you felt he did indeed have something very meaningful to offer?
Romare Bearden: Oh, I think that he had . . . King was shot and now Kennedy. You know, a lot of the Negro people felt that he was one of their last hopes. And I think that he had caught something of the resonance and flavor of the Negro poor.
Henri Ghent: Speaking of the so-called Negro problem in America, have you ever encountered racial prejudice as a black artist?
Romare Bearden: Now you mean a particular prejudice or you mean prejudice in the world of art? How do you mean that?
Henri Ghent: Prejudice in the world of art.
Romare Bearden: Well, my feeling is—I wouldn't say I think—my feeling is that it is there, but not, say, a direct prejudice or a sign saying don't come into this gallery, or don't do this, or we don't take Negroes in. Because Negro artists are in many of the galleries; but I think the prejudice may be an oblique one. Let me explain what I mean: The Negro artist is usually not what you might say "on the scene." He's not moving where a number of the better-known white artists are. I was in the Archives on Thursday and there I saw a photograph on the wall of Rauschenberg and a number of artists around him at what must have been an exhibition at a museum; and there were no Negroes in this group.
You know, you ask a white artists or a critic, "Who are the Negro artists? Do you know any Negro artists?" He might know a friend, but the fact of a Negro "making the scene" or his compatriot, he doesn't think so. It just may not be in his consciousness. Just like I was talking to a critic, Irving Sandler, on a radio program once. He had been to the meetings of this Club on Eighth Street. And he said, "Now that I think of it, too, I wonder why someone didn't invite some—you might have had a different point of view." You follow what I mean?
Henri Ghent: Sure.
Romare Bearden: Also, the art critics . . . I read a number of art books on the history of American painting and it's very seldom that Negro artists are mentioned. For instance, in my opinion, Henry O. Tanner is one of the four or five great American painters. And you never see his name mentioned. In Barbara Rose's latest book on painting from 1900 to the present, nowhere is Tanner mentioned. And he's a better painter than Glackens or Prendergast; especially his late paintings, the ones he did in the late 10's and 30's, the small thing. Mert Simpson has a number of them. Only Rouault is comparable. Well, this question that you raised about prejudice, maybe we can simplify that rather than leave it. I mentioned Barbara Rose's book. I don't think she did it out of any feeling that, well, I'm prejudiced and I'm not going to mention any. It's just not in the consciousness of a lot of people who are writing these things.
Henri Ghent: Why do you think this is so?
Romare Bearden: I couldn't give a definite answer. But I think that Negroes themselves have to encourage . . . should have the same interest in artists that they might have in Negro basketball and baseball players, or now in politics and other things. This has to be pushed the same way. Just as I made the statement about Tanner. Maybe that would call someone's attention to him and they would really look into what this man accomplished. El Greco remained forgotten for three or four hundred years until around the turn of this century when he was rediscovered as one of the great masters of Baroque painting. So it's the same. Nor is the Negro ever equated in many of the paintings that I've mentioned in abstract expressionism. In this magazine which I received in the Archives it said "Finally America arrives in the abstract expressionist painting." But no one, when you stop to think, has ever equated abstract expressionism as a movement with jazz music. It's based on improvisation. The rhythms, the personal involvement, all of this is part of the jazz experience. And many of the abstract expressionists would often play jazz music while they were painting, or at least were very interested in that art form. But here is an avenue I imagine that Negro critics themselves as they get into it are going to have to explore and open up these new dimensions to people.
Henri Ghent: As is common with a great many artists, you have gone from one particular style to another, and more recently I believe you have concentrated on subject matter that is more or less directed to the Negro experience. How do you account for that?
Romare Bearden: Well, what I arrived at after time was the space. And after I got a certain space, that hasn't changed so much. But just one day some of these people that I had dealt with previously began to come onto campus.
Of lives, the gypsy life was passing. But, a lot of the life that I knew in certain rural Negro surroundings is passing. And I set down some of my impressions of that life. It's in a certain sense historical and has certain affinities with many classical things that have happened before. For instance, I used to know a lady in Maryland where my grandfather had a church. And this lady made watermelon cake. And I don't know where she had gotten these baking pans from, her mother or what, or whether she made them. I was too young to think about that at the time. But anyway, she made this kind of red cake, the inside of the cake like a watermelon. And she'd cut out chocolate seeds and put them in this red batter. And over that would be a white batter, and over that striped green and white of the watermelon—this was iced. If you'd stand five or six feet away you'd swear that you were looking at a watermelon. And on weekends the wealthy people in Lutherville would order these watermelon cakes. And sometimes when I'd be visiting in Lutherville I would deliver the cakes for this lady. And her husband was a famous blind guitar player, a folk singer like blind Lemon Jeffries, and he used to play in Baltimore before they moved out to this place. Sometimes he'd go along with me just for a walk and hold on to me or to the wagon and he'd be walking down the country roads. He knew everybody's business, and when people saw him coming they would kind of run because he always had a dream. He'd say, "Oh, Mrs. Jones, I dreamt last night I saw you just laying in that coffin just as plain." Nobody wanted to hear him. So there he was and he'd be strumming on his guitar. It was kind of out of a Greek play. Leading the bind soothsayer, you know, the little boy leads him in and he makes a dire prediction for the city. And this had some of this element in it. If you equate a lot of the things that happened in Negro life you see there's a continuity with many of the great classical things that have happened before. And this is what I tried to find in my work, this connotation of many of the things that have happened to me with the great classical things of the past.
Deloris Perry: Bearden and Lawrence were both taught by Charles Henry Alston, another leading painter in Harlem who supervised New Deal murals in the late 1930s. In his 1968 oral history with painter Al Murray, Alston talks about the then-emergent legacy of the Federal Arts programs and the development of his two former students in a new art world:
Charles Henry Alston: We were all involved because we were involved in other ways with the social realism of the 30's. Because many of us, if not most of us, as a matter of fact, were on one or other of the Art Projects. I happened to be on the mural project so I was particularly aware of the Orozcos and the Riveras. As a matter of fact, I used to go down to Radio City when Rivera was painting the one they destroyed. And between his broken English and my broken French, we managed to communicate. And I was very much influenced by his mural work. And a great number of the painters on the projects in New York, most of us were members of the Artists Union, which was an organization I suppose which would now be considered the left-wing organization if its day. But it dealt with the problems of the artists and kept the Federal Projects on its toes
about providing for the artists and raising standards and whatnot. You couldn't escape the social implications of painting then. I think most of us went through that stage where we did an amount of social realism.
Albert Murray: It seems to me that there's an interesting comparison or contrast somewhere in this particular statement, or that could be extended from the statement we were talking about a little while ago. Those Negro painters who were being influenced by Siqueiros and Orozco, by the social realism, were not escaping blackness; they were very much concerned with projecting black experience in terms of proletarian thinking maybe.
Charles Henry Alston: No, I think they were more or less interested in doing good painting. I think the blackness element was there. How can I say that? I think the only painter that I remember who was consistently concerned with this in a very deep emotional way I would say was Jake Lawrence. And his awareness of his immediate environment has been a constant thing in his painting and in a very fresh dramatic way. I think in the painting of Bearden, for instance, his early painting was pretty much in terms of searching, as any other artist was searching. You'd experiment with what was going on in Europe, you borrowed from Picasso, you borrowed from here, you borrowed from there. You were interested in godo painting and you were interested in keeping up or knowing what the contemporary developments were and exploring them. Now just by virtue of being what you are and living the experience you're living, I think your subject matter tends to be that with which you are most familiar. But I think that was incidental. I don't think it was in terms of a conscious projection of a racial thing. I think later with Bearden it got to be. I have one of those early paintings, too. We both made a trip South one year and I think we were very much impressed with the rural Southern scene. And Romy came back and did a series of very large gouaches on brown paper that . . . well, did you see his last exhibition?
Albert Murray: Yes.
Charles Henry Alston: It's almost come full circle. These things have the same quality in a more contemporary aspect that these early paintings I'm talking about had. I'll show you one of those before you go. It's very interesting if you haven't seen how close it is. These were more literal, conventionally figurative [I don't mean that they were academic in any way at all]. But the same feeling, the same preoccupations are in his last show. I think this last show of his is the one that comes closer to touching what has really been the reality of his experience, of the reality of his reactions, let's say, not his experience. Let's face it, none of us have had too much of that experience actually as experience.
Albert Murray: Yes. Well, from an artistic point of view, what we're very much concerned with is the increasing sophistication and complexity of his language as a painter.
Charles Henry Alston: Yes.
Albert Murray: So he's getting nearer to himself.
Charles Henry Alston: That's right.
That's right. This is the thing which we were talking about earlier. We are very different kinds of painters. Romy has had—well, not as much as, say, Jake. Now Jake has had I think the most consistent line in his work of any of the painters we're talking about that I know. Romy has explored, Romy is some parts of an intellectual. I remember he spent almost a year just copying old masters, not for the sake of copying old masters but to find out what they had, how they designed. And I think he found it very fruitful. He's been involved with the semi-Cubist approaches to painting and always I think recurring were those much more personal things, or things out of memory, or race memory, or whatever, they would recur too.
Deloris Perry: Bearden developed his own graphic language in collage, cutting out images from magazines and newspapers to use as building blocks in complex pictures.
For him, the form evolved from and in response to cultural currents:
Romare Bearden: Now I think that some of the things that underlie my process is the fact that a photographic image when it's taken out of its original content and put in a different space than you saw it in the magazine can have another meaning entirely. Just then a work of art is not life itself. There's a certain artificiality about it and by cultivating the artificiality, or, in other words, by cultivating what is art, you make what you're doing seem more real. And so while my initial thing has been one of shock—as we've mentioned—to a lot of people, I think that other people upon reflection have found a great deal of artistic merit in the work, and often a great deal of social meaning other than what I actually attempted to put into the work itself.
Deloris Perry: Lawrence concluded his interview on an optimistic note when asked about the possibilities for Black artists in the United States:
Jacob Lawrence: Oh, definitely. I definitely think so. This overlaps, too. I think that generally artists should have this attitude and I think definitely that the Negro artist should not feel because he happens to be Negro or because the person who aspires to an art career should not have a positive attitude toward this. I definitely think so. I mean art has always been a difficult thing in our time whether the artist be Negro or otherwise and I think it's part of our maturing, it's part of our growth that we can step into something or aspire to an area which is not always rosy, it's not always an ideal situation; but we can aspire to it like anyone else can. The same aspirations and so on. I don't think that that's exactly true now but I think it's surely more so than it was fifty years ago.
Deloris Perry: And Bearden spoke about the importance of intentionally cultivating historical awareness and community, identifying with the socially conscious and engaged approach of 19th-century French painter Gustave Courbet:
Henri Ghent: do you think that the Negro should now direct his efforts to the black community? That is, by exhibiting exclusively in black communities, colleges, universities, et cetera?
Romare Bearden: Well, I don't think that this should be exclusively done but, since so little of it has been done before, I think that a great deal of effort should be made in this direction to make the communities, to use a cliche, more art conscious, or more aware of the Negro artist. And I think that in time this will make for a better artist because the artist can learn some of the feelings of the community about his work. To make an artist you need many hands and all working together can make for something very meaningful. The Negro artists of the nineteenth century were not, you might say, Negro artists at all. They were people who were Negroes and artists and most of them lived abroad and their work was directed not to Negroes primarily, or with the Negro in mind, but it was directed, like that of other American artists, to the patrons of art. This is what I mentioned earlier about Courbet. He thought about these things: to whom his work would be directed, and something about the social responsibilities
of artists. This was a consideration of his and I think in a way that this is why I revere Courbet. And certainly, I think this is part of the thing that the Negro artist has to do. And with that, I don't think that the Negro community then should be exposed just to Negro artists, but that they begin to be involved in all of art, that they will see Egyptian art, that they will be acquainted then with African sculpture, and involved in a number of artistic experiences.
[Outro music plays through end]
Deloris Perry: This podcast is produced by Ben Gillespie and Michelle Herman at the Archives of American Art. It was edited by the team at Better Lemon Creative Audio
Our music comes from Sound and Smoke composed by Viet Cuong and performed by the Peabody Wind Ensemble with Harlan Parker conducting.
For show notes, work cited, and additional resources, visit aaa.si.edu/articulated.
A special thank you goes to Nehemiah Harvey for being the voice of Jacob Lawrence.
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