Black Artists in White Art History

"Recognition of African history by black Americans preceded that recognition by the historical profession. Only in the post-World War Two era of colonial independence did mainstream, scholarly writing come to share black Americans' view. As black African nations became independent (beginning with Sudan in 1956, Ghana [formerly the Gold Coast] in 1975, and Nigeria and many others in 1960), academic history increasingly stressed the achievements of African societies." - Nell Irvin Painter, Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present, 14.

 
 
Augusta Savage with Realization, 1938.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Conditions of Our Investigation
 
Few Black subjects depicted in the Global North in the pre-modern age:
 
  • Travel was difficult, and was largely undertaken only to trade and during times of war
  • The concept of race invented in the Age of Enlightenment
Resulting in:
 
  • The perception that Black people did not live and coexist with Europeans until the advent of the Atlantic slave trade in the 17th century
 
  • The perception that Black people did not engage in creative expression
 
 
  • The license to dismiss and disregard the contributions of Black artists within the Western canon
 
Youth, Greece, 400 BCE.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is "Black"ness?
 
Black = “a term that, in its brusque utterance, contained a white supremacist sense of racial difference, personal contempt, and, oddly enough, complexity that came to define these new African peoples” (Powell, 8). “…black has almost always initially meant racial identity, and only thereafter a social and/or political condition: an ingrained way of thinking that has been difficult to overcome…blackness is less a color than a metaphor for a political circumstance prescribed by struggles against economic exploitation and cultural domination: a state of consciousness that peoples of various pigmentations have experienced, empathized with, and responded to” (Powell, Black Art: A Cultural History, 10).
 

• African
• Colored
• Negro
• Angolan
• Calabar
• Nago
• Koromanti
• Creole
• Mulatto
• Quadroon
• Octoroon

  • Spanish speaking elite invented at least 53 words to define black people
Anonymous, Las Castas, 18th century. Oil on canvas.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do we miss when we do not see Black subjects depicted in the art historical canon?

 

 

 

What is lost when Black artists are not understood as providing key, exceptional, and noteworthy contributions to the Western canon?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art presents us with puzzles to solve...

 

 

"It is commonly assumed that vision is immediate. It seems direct, uncomplicated, and instantaneous—which is why it has arguably become the master sense for the delivery of information in the contemporary technological world. However, just because you have looked at something doesn’t mean that you have seen it. Just because something is available instantly to vision does not mean that it is available instantly to consciousness."
- Jennifer L. Roberts
 

Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra, 1876.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To analyze a work of art:
 
1.
Start your analysis with a visual description of the work
 
  • What do you see?
 
  • What is the work made out of?
 
  • What kind of artwork are you looking at?
 
  • How was it made?
 
  • What elements (shapes, colors, textures, etc.) are repeated? What stands out?
 
  • Is the work typical or expected? If so, is the work a part of a series, or related to other works? If not, what makes the work exceptional or unusual?
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleopatra
Cleopatra
To analyze a work of art:
 
1.
Describe the work.
2.
Look at the work closely and free associate. What ideas, connections, stories/myths, histories, sensations, or other works come to mind, and may be a relevant path to explore?
Edmonia Lewis, Death of Cleopatra (scale and detail), 1876.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To analyze a work of art:
 
1.
Start your analysis with a visual description of the work
   
2.
Look at the work closely and free associate.
   
3.
What do you want/need to know about the work to better understand it?
 
  • Who made it?
 
  • When was it made?
 
  • What movement was the artist associated with?
 
  • What were some of the important concerns at the time that the work was made?
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Questions Art Historians Ask
   
  • Chronology = When was it made? How old is it?
  • Provenance = Where was it made? Who paid for it, and when?
  • Artist = Who made it? Under what conditions was the work conceived?
  • Style = How does it look? Is that look particular to a time, place or artist?
  • Subject = Who and what is depicted? What story is being told?
  • Iconography = What symbols are used and what do they mean?
  • Form = How was the work composed and made?
Consider the formal elements such as composition, materials, technique, line, color, texture, space, mass, volume, perspective, foreshortening, proportion, scale, etc.
Titian, Portrait of Laura Dianti, 1520.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edmonia Lewis
1845 - after 1911

 

Edmonia Lewis

Henry Rochner, Carte-de-visite of Edmonia Lewis, c. 1870.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Indian Arrowmaker

Hagar in the Wilderness
Edmonia Lewis, Old Indian Arrowmaker and His Daughter, 1866 - 1872.

Edmonia Lewis, Hagar in the Wilderness, 1875.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleopatra

Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra, 1876.
William Wetmore Story, Cleopatra, 1869.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death of Cleopatra

Artemisia Gentileschi, Cleopatra, date unknown.
Reginald Arthur, Death of Cleopatra, c. 1914.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After consulting a few sources, begin developing your thesis.
Writing a Thesis Statement
 
As you begin to write about the work, remember to use the following format when introducing it to your reader:
Artist, Title, Date.
Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra, 1876.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To analyze a work of art:
 
1.
Start your analysis with a visual description of the work
   
2.
Look at the work closely and free associate.
   
3.
What do you want/need to know about the work to better understand it?
 
  • Who made it?
 
  • When was it made?
 
  • What movement was the artist associated with?
 
  • What were some of the important concerns at the time that the work was made?
   
4.
Let your questions above guide you to a methodology/the most appropriate or interesting tool to apply to the work in which to build your understanding.
 
Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra, 1876.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art Historical Methodologies
     
Always use:
 
Contextual Analysis
considers significant historical events and important ideas in a period of time, usually when the artwork was made, and how those events and ways of seeing the world may have influenced the way a work of art looks and how it is used.
     
Formalism
the concept that a work's artistic value is entirely determined by its form; the way the artwork is made, its purely visual aspects, and its medium.
     
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Iconography
identifies the symbols in a work, and uses their definition to interpret meaning.
     
Semiotics
identifies symbols in a work, and considers why they mean what they mean to interpret meaning. Semiotic theory breaks down individual elements of the work (subjects, signs, contexts) in order to make sense of the whole.
     
 
     
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Biography
considers the life of the artist, and/ or significant events in their lives to interpret meaning.
     
Psychoanalysis
considers the unconscious effects of traumatic events or experiences in the life of the artist or viewer, or shared by a society, to interpret meaning.
 
 
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Feminism
considers the social, economic, and cultural positions of subjects who are represented, implied, making, or viewing works of art, as well as issues of equality and power (or the lack thereof) related to gender and sex to interpret meaning. Feminism seeks equality and uses Marxism, Semiotics, Psychoanalysis and historical context to analyze and critique the dynamics of power.
     
Marxism

considers the relationship between power, economics and class as depicted in a work of art, or otherwise relative to the work’s reception or the artist’s biography to interpret meaning in a work of art.

     
 
 
Methodology Flash Cards
 
Approaches to Art essay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MLA vs. CMS
Modern Language Association
    • Uses "in text" citations, i.e.: (Johnson, 9)
    • Full bibliographic information is given at the end of the paper in a "Works Cited" section
 
Chicago Manual of Style
    • Uses footnote citations
    • Full bibliographic information is given in the footnote
    • A "Bibliography" may be included at the end of the paper to guide your readers to additional sources
Gordon Parks, Eartha Kitt, 1952

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago Manual of Style Footnote Citations
 

1. Author’s First name, Last name, Title of Book (Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication), page number.

 
Corresponding Bibliography Entry:
Last Name, First name. Title of Book. Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication.
 
Single Author Book

2. Steven T. Brown, Tokyo Cyberpunk: Posthumanism in Japanese Visual Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 124.

 
Magazine or Journal Article

3. Bill Wasik, “#Riot: How Social Media Fuels Social Unrest,” Wired, January 2012: 76-83, URL.

 
Journal Article Accessed through Online Database or Website
4 Erwin Panofsky, “Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 64, no. 372 (1934): 117-119, & 122-127, http://www.theslideprojector.com/pdffiles/art261/janvaneycksarnolfiniportrait.pdf
 
Additional Resources:
Purdue OWL CMS style guide
Berkeley's guide to evaluating sources

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerry James Marshall, Past Times, 1994.