"Black is a Color"

"...some angry artists are using their arts as political tools, instead of vehicles of free expression,...an artist who is always harping upon resistance, discrimination, opposition, besides being a drag, eventually plays right into the hands of the politicians he claims to despise--and is held there, unwittingly (and witlessly) reviving slavery in another form. For the artist this is aesthetic atrophy.

Certainly the american black artist is in a unique position to express certain aspects of the current american scene, both negative and positive, but if he restrics himself to these alone, he may risk becoming a mere cypher, a walking protest, a politically described stereotype, negating his own mystery, and allowing himself to be shuffled off into an arid overall mystique.

Racial hang-ups are extraneous to art. no artist can afford to let them obscure what runs through all art--the living root and the ever-growing aesthetic record of human spiritual and intellectual experience. can't we get clear of these degrading limitations, and recognize the wider reality of art, where color is the means and not the end?" [sic]

--Raymond Saunders, African-American artist, in his 1967 pamphlet Black is a Color
    Throughout the twentieth century, African-American artists debated whether portraying subject matter of importance to African-Americans, or creating aesthetically pleasing works of art, should be the primary goal of "black art." While those on opposite sides of this debate stressed the differences between the two approaches, there are several commonalities shared between them, and mergings performed of them.

While works such as pioneer collagist Romare Bearden's Opening Statement address issues of racial representation and identity, they are also extremely colorful, vibrant and aesthetically pleasing. Kerry James Marshall's Lost Boys, also included in this gallery, performs another function. Marshall employs extremely aesthetically pleasing forms in order to make subversive statements about the harsh realities of African-American life; as he reveals in his interview with Charles Rowell, this beautiful work was inspired by the artist's reactions to his brother's imprisonment.

The other works included in this selection, which some may categorize as simply visual works with no didactic meaning, also hold racial significance. To assert, not only that the African-American form is beautiful and worthy of such vibrant and colorful artistic style, but that African-American artists, traditionally discriminated against as less able than their white counterparts, can create such exquisite works, is indeed a significant step.


Vol. 11, No. 3 (Summer, 1988)

Opening Statement
Romare Bearden, 1987


Vol. 16, No. 1 (Winter, 1993)

Woman of Color
Malaika Favorite, 1990
10" x 16"


Vol. 16, No. 3 (Summer, 1993)

"Blue Soul"
From The Angel Serres by Dennis Paul Williams


Vol. 18, No. 3 (Summer, 1995)

"Decisions," from the Family Quilt series
Malaika Favorite
Oil on canvas and masonite
24" x 24"


Vol. 18, No. 4 (Fall, 1995)

Edson Luz


Vol. 21, No. 2 (Spring, 1998)

Lost Boys
Kerry James Marshall, 1993
Collage and acrylic canvas, 104" x 120"

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