Reception of African-American artists

This is a fascinating article and series of short videos about how American museums are now collecting work by 20th- and 21st-c. African-American artists.

A quote from the article: “There was a joke for a long time that if you went into a museum, you’d think America had only two black artists — Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden — and even then, you wouldn’t see very much,” said Lowery Stokes Sims, the first African-American curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and later the president of the Studio Museum in Harlem. “I think there is a sea change finally happening. It’s not happening everywhere, and there’s still a long way to go, but there’s momentum.”

Randy Kennedy, “Black Artists and the March into the Museum, New York Times, 11/28/15.

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21 thoughts on “Reception of African-American artists

  1. Michael Ryan

    After reading this article and more on this topic it amazes me to think that the art world seems to still be fairly far behind in terms of tapping into the amazing art works of African American artists. Its also very shameful to think and realize that at one point, and perhaps even still today, someones artwork could be judged not by how it looks, but by the skin color of the artist. It should be obvious to all that skin color should not dictate whether or not your art work is considered good, and the distinction between amazing art and sub par art should be distinguished by the actual art itself and not necessarily the artist. It is certainly reassuring to see that many people and galleries are wising up to this and including more African American artists.

  2. Khadijah Johnson

    I think it is important that articles like these surface. Everyday African Americans face discrimination. Not saying that it hasn’t got a little better. The discrimination is still lingering. It bothers me that this type of judgement has to be involved in art. Since when does it matter what skin color the artist is. Art should be judged by its content, not the person who created it. I believe it is very important for people to speak up about these issues, as there is still discrimination.

  3. Jaclyn Marcone

    Before reading this article I was unaware of the lack of acknowledgement prior to recent decades of works done by african american artists. Something in the article that I found extremely important was a quote by Norman Lewis in which he talks about how he longed for the day people only care about the work he has created, not the color of his skin. I thought this was very significant because it couldn’t be more true, these african american artists were creating beautiful works of art that were being somewhat neglected due to the simple fact that the artist behind it was black. I think it is great that in todays worlds there are dramatic strides to recognize more african american artists and the amazing works that they composed.

  4. Caroline Petro

    Discrimination against African Americans still exists in our society. However, I was surprised to read that the art world joins in on this disgusting ignorance as well. I was happy to read that museums are now collecting more and more African American art, but it is just a shame that it took so long to do so. It is sad that there were so many beautiful pieces of artwork that were ignored for so long. A quote that stuck out to me at the end of the article was when Thelma Golden discusses the collecting of African American artwork and how it has improved, but understanding these pieces and the importance behind them in art history and museum practice, as opposed to treating the collection of these pieces as a “fad.” She says it is a “fundamental part of museums’ missions.” Something else that I found very interesting was when New York dealer Michael Rosenfeld said that for a while curators were only interested in pieces that showed the black experience. This was there way of showing visitors that they were committed to representing black america. Reading that was incredibly frustrating. These curators didn’t care about the actual art in this situation, all they cared about was their image and looking good for the public who was viewing the art. They couldn’t care less about these artists and their actual experiences. Luckily now, museums are seeking our more and more prime abstract works. Kerry James Marshall’s “Untitled” was absolutely beautiful and my favorite piece shown in this article.

  5. Martin Gomez

    It is a shame that discrimination within this nation has been allowed to exist within the art world for so long. Nearly a century of artists have had their art ignored solely on the basis of skin color. But the positive is that museums and collectors are beginning to recognize this, and are making changes to their beliefs about African American art. I think the most important factor that is being taken into account with these pieces is that they merit places in museums on technique and ability alone. While acknowledging this kind of art is a good thing, to praise it because of who the artist is almost as bad as ignoring it. Hopefully this trend lasts, and African American artists of the past and present can get the recognition they deserve.

  6. Mona

    Discrimination against African Americans still exists to this day. This article was really an eye opener to see how far out this discrimination ranges. I was surprised to read that the world of art is in on this discrimination too. It’s great that the collecting of African American art is getting better but its sad to me that I think that it’s great that it’s getting better. Art is art no matter who makes it. Reading this article was frustrating but its articles like these that need to surface to inform the world as to what is happening.

  7. morgan stubbs

    it’s was really interesting the way Norman Lewis described the African American Art world. He said that you would only ever see one or two artists represented. And even then, they were insanely underrepresented. It was so difficult for African American artists to put their work out there, that many of them kept it to themselves, so their work was never seen. I think it’s amazing that today, people are trying to find this work and are really putting effort into representing African American art culture even though many of these artists have passed away or maybe have long since given up on the dream that their art would one day be viewed by the public. Art is so much more than just something to look at. It’s a way to share your emotion, and share a piece of history the way you personally experienced it. I’m so happy that these artists are finally getting a chance to do that.

  8. Kayla

    It’s sad that discrimination in the African-American community reaches as far as the art industry. As an black female, I have faced racism and some discrimination however, I never thought that this ignorance would go as far as art I create (if I was good at art). Art is about the artwork and the journey it took to make it, not about the color of the person who created it. It’s sad that the color of the artist determines whether a person likes it or not. It’s a shame that this still goes on.

  9. Olivia Price

    Before reading this article, I had never thought about how race impacts the attention artists and their work gets. We have made much progress in racial equality as a nation, but the arts is an area of discrimination that goes unnoticed by many. It is heartbreaking to know that so many brilliant artists and their deserving contributions to the field will not become canonized, or even known. We need to get to the point where race is not a factor in an artist’s career or ability to grow their audience. From this article, it seems that we are moving towards this goal, as museums are beginning to realize the racist tendencies in the past and present. Though this is a step in the right direction, it should have happened a long time ago.

  10. Erica Parker

    I find it a little sad that it has taken this long for museums to appreciate different African American Artist. Even with that being said it is still a great thing. There is so much modern art in the African American community that should be shared with others. It not only shows the beauty of the people, but it also shows the history and way of thinking of the African American people. It is a way of having a voice for a people that are not always necessarily heard.

  11. Peyton Murray

    I think articles like these are important. I feel as though we don’t pay much attention to just how prominent discrimination against African Americans continues to be an issue. This articles was well written and i think it will be very beneficial in efforts to make people aware and address situations like this. Though they’re still in a building process of collecting more art created by African American artists, we’re moving in a positive direction. I think that as time goes on the art industry will be a level playing field and African Americans will gain the recognition that they deserve.

  12. Emily MacIndoe

    It is unfortunate that artists who worked so hard were overlooked for so long, and it makes you wonder how many other African American artists never received any recognition at all. It all seems to go back to the idea that works exhibited in a museum are influenced by social and cultural factors. Many wonderful artworks have probably been ignored simply because either the artist or their style was not was the museum was expecting to see. With the art world becoming more open-ended and abstract, it will probably become even more difficult to judge the value of people’s work. Nonetheless, I think they are moving in a positive direction to represent all cultures equally.

  13. Allison Skowronski

    This article does a great job of informing the public about the disparity between the number of works of art displayed in museums that were created by non African-American artists and the number of works of art displayed in museums that were created by African-American artists. When Lowery Stokes Sims, the president of the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, mentioned that there were only two African-American artists who were represented in galleries and museums (Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden), I was disappointed that more of the African American artists who we read about in Janson’s History of Art were not able to have their work shared with the world.

  14. Lily Van Horn

    In the first video, I appreciate when Eldzier Cortor said, “The idea is to get someone to pause a while. The idea is to get someone to catch their eye.” Art is something beautiful to be admired, it is not to be judged by the person who painted it. It’s hard to hear that these wonderful artists were once “invisible” to the museums at one time, as Betye Saar said. It is amazing and enlightening to know that our society is getting over this form of racism.

  15. Lauren Cook

    Unfortunately, before I read this article I was uneducated about art created by African-American artist. It really spoke to me when Lewis predicted that people would not appreciate his, or other African-American artist, pieces of work until 30-40 years after his death. While watching the video, I thought is was a shame that people disliked their art just because of their skin color. Their artwork seemed to have a lot of emotion behind them.

  16. Noah Dewey

    This article shows the great oppression that african americans have dealt with throughout time. The fact that a piece of art would be received or deemed important based on the skin color of the creator is absolutely absurd. By juxtaposing the statistical data of artworks from african american artists displayed versus works of other races, this article makes one think about the amount of important artwork we may have missed.

  17. Nicolette Vallee

    It is so sad to think that African American artists worked so hard to create beautiful artwork that got ignored due to their ethnicity. I am very aware of the discrimination toward African Americans, however artwork never came to my mind when I thought of this topic. Even though this artwork has been dismissed for so long, I believe society is taking steps in the right direction in order to give these individuals the credit they deserve.

  18. Alli Diehl

    It is so sad that art would not be judged by the beauty of the piece, but by the color of the artist’s skin. So much art could have been displayed, but the pieces of artwork was overlooked and put to shame. I never imagined that there would be discrimination in something so accepting as art. Art is different. Art accepts different. People accept “different looking” art. So, you would really think that art would not have discrimination.

  19. Rachel Ewalt

    As an English major, I have dealt with the issue of the canon and who should be allowed within the canon before, and I’m glad that the expansion of the canon is across the board for art forms. Not only do the artists suffer when they are not included, audiences suffer for not being able to see their great work.

  20. Lostinwonderland

    Amazes me how even discrimination reaches the art world. When art is all about diversity and individual uniqueness. I agree with the comments above on how art is to be viewed and admire how it is, not by who made it. That is almost as insane as saying you would not buy a car because someone of color made it. This article should have more attention.

  21. Abigail Vilcheck

    Art is a form of self and cultural expression and is not to be judged by ones skin color. Because of the discrimination African Americans have faced throughout history, it almost doesn’t surprise me that it reaches art. It is disappointing to think of all the art that has been and could have been missed due to the ridiculous issue of racism.


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