Please submit Project 2 this week ;0)
Faith Ringgold, The Flag is Bleeding, 1967.

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Clement Greenberg, Avant-Garde and Kitsch, 1939


avant-garde = artists or works that are novel or experimental. Influential art critic, Clement Greenberg argued a preference for works that were perceived as "original," and centered on process and materials (form) rather than narrative content of iconography that he associated with storytelling. Greenberg also argued that artists who created art for the establishment rather than for themselves would invariably produce work that is clichéd. Hence, abstraction became associated with individual freedom and Social Realism with communist collectivism.

Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, panel no. 1: During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans, 1940-1941. Casein tempera on hardboard.










The Migration Series

Lawrence called his style, "dynamic cubism"











Key Ideas to Greenbergian Formalism
  • Abstraction was historically inevitable
  • Argued that the avant-garde was the only culture currently alive and moving forward
  • Identified a dichotomy between the avant-garde, which he associated with "high art"–original, one-of-a-kind, sophisticated, academic works that could only be fully understood by a privileged elite–and "kitsch," which he argued was an aspect of industrialism–cheap, mass produced, unintelligent products sold to the masses
  • Championed "art for art's sake"
Norman Lewis, Phantasy II, September 23, 1946. Oil on canvas.











Sam Gilliam, Untitled, 1968.

Alma Thomas, Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers, 1968.











Alain Locke, among others, counter argued that:

"No art idiom, however universal, grows in a cultural vacuum; each however great, always has some rootage and flavor of a particular soil and personality" (Alain Locke quoted in Patton, African-American Art, 150).

Hale Woodruff, Afro Emblems, 1950. Oil on linen.

Ashanti gold and brass weights











  • Some artists were critical of the failure of Black artists to develop their own style
  • Felt that white patrons had pigeon-holed Black artists into creating racial art, and promoting any creative expression, whether it demonstrated skill or not
  • Wanted to be seen as "artists," not "colored artists"
  • Suspicious of works made for white audiences
  • "One of the greatest dangers to the Negro Artist to arise in recent years;...he has yielded to the insistence of the white segregationists that there are inescapable internal differences between white and black" (James Porter, Art Front, quoted in Patton, African-American Art, 158).
James Hampton, Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly, c. 1950 - 1964.












James Hampton with Throne of the Third Heaven










  • Other artists felt that abstraction might be a viable way to move forward
  • For Norman Lewis, abstraction offered the possibility of creating a "universal" art based on African motifs which could "strike a blow against stereotype. Abstract Expressionism could thus release an African-American artist from the burden of realism that seemed inextricably associated with the racial art of the 1920s and 1930s" (Patton, 175).
Norman Lewis, Untitled, 1958.












"The nucleus of the New York African-American artistic community was small, informative, intense, but short-lived. Many contemporaries 'disappeared' by either relinquishing their professional careers as artists or relocating to live outside the United States. They were Ralph Ellison's invisible men" (Amiri I. Baraka quoted in Patton, African-American Art, 179).

Gordon Parks, The Invisible Man, Harlem, New York, 1952.

Gordon Parks, The Invisible Man, Retreat, 1952.











Robert Frank, Trolley- New Orleans, 1955 - 1956.

Robert Frank, Indianapolis, 1956.










“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.” Gordon Parks
Gordon Parks, Malcolm X, 1963.

Gordon Parks, Harlem Gang Leader, 1948.










Gordon Parks, Two Pilots, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943.

Gordon Parks,Gordon Parks, Eldridge Cleaver and His Wife, Kathleen, Algiers, Algeria, 1970.











Gordon Parks, Boy with a June Bug, 1963.

Gordon Parks, Girl on a Chair, nd.


The Story Behind Kendrick Lamar's Exhibition of Gordon Park's Photos