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  Art should be understood and loved by the people.

 It should arouse and stimulate their creative impulses.



Works by and about Romare Bearden

The Art of Romare Bearden: The Prevalence of Ritual (1973)  /  History of African American Artists,1792 to Present (1993)

Six Black Masters of American Art  (1972)  / I Live in Music (1994)  /  Memory and Metaphor: The Art of Romare-Bearden-1940-1987 (1991)

Romare Bearden (2004)  /  H. Pippim (1976)  / The Painter's Mind: A Study of the Relations of Structure and Space in Painting  (1969)

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The Negro Artist and Modern Art

By Romare Bearden


For the moment, let us look back into the beginnings of modern art. It is really nothing new, merely an expression projected through new forms, more akin to the spirit of the times. Fundamentally the artist is influenced by the age in which he lives. Then for the artist to express an age that is characterized by machinery, skyscrapers, radios, and generally quickened cadences of modern life, it follows naturally that he will break from many of the outmoded academic practices of the past. In fact, every great movement that has changed the ideals and customs of life has occasioned a change in the accepted expression of that age.

Modern art has passed through many different stages. There have been the periods of the Impressionists, the Post Impressionists, the Cubists, the Futurists, and hosts of other movements of lesser importance. Even though the use of these forms decline, the impression they made in art circles is still evident. They are commendable in the fact that they substituted for mere photographic realism, a search for inner truths.

Modern art has borrowed heavily from Negro sculpture. This form of African art has been done hundreds of years ago by primitive people. It was unearthed by archaeologists and brought to the continent. During the past twenty-five years it has enjoyed a deserved recognition among art lovers. Artists have been amazed at the fine surface qualities of the sculpture, the vitality of the work, and the unsurpassed ability of the artists to create such significant forms. Of great importance has been the fact that the African would distort his figures, if by doing so he could achieve a more expressive form. This is one of the cardinal principles of the modern artist.

It is interesting to contrast the bold way in which the African sculptor approached his work, with the timidity of the Negro artist today. His work is at best hackneyed and uninspired, and only mere rehashing from the work of any artist that might have influenced him. They have looked at nothing with their own eyes--seemingly content to use borrowed forms. They have evolved nothing original or native like the spiritual or jazz music.

Many of the Negro artists argue that it is almost impossible for them to evolve such a sculpture. They say that since the Negro is becoming so amalgamated with the white race, and has accepted the white man’s civilization he must progress along those lines. Even if this is true, they are certainly not taking advantage of the Negro scene. The Negro in his various environments in America, holds a great variety of rich experiences for the genuine artists. One can imagine what men like Daumier, Grosz, and Cruickshank might have done with a locale like Harlem, with all its vitality and tempo. Instead, the Negro artist will proudly exhibit his “Scandinavian Landscape,” a locale that is entirely alien to him. This will of course impress the uninitiated, who through some feeling of inferiority toward their own subject matter, only require that a work of art have some sort of foreign stamp to make it acceptable.

I admit that at the present time it is almost impossible for the Negro artist not to be influenced by the works of other men. Practically all the great artists have accepted the influence of others. But the difference lies in the fact that the artist with vision, sees his material, chooses, changes, and by integrating what he has learned by his own experience, finally molds something distinctly personal. Two of the foremost artists of today are the Mexicans, Rivera and Orozco. If we study the work of these two men, it is evident that they were influenced by the continental masters. Nevertheless their art is highly original, and steeped in tradition and environment of Mexico. It might be noted here that the best work of these men was done in Mexico, of Mexican subject matter. It is not necessary for the artist to go to foreign surroundings in order to secure material for his artistic expression. Rembrandt painted the ordinary Dutch people about him, but he presented human emotions in such a way that their appeal was universal.

Several other factors hinder the development of the Negro artist. First, we have no valid standards of criticism; secondly, foundations and societies which supposedly encourage Negro artists really hinder them; thirdly, the Negro artist has no definite ideology or social philosophy.

Art should be understood and loved by the people. It should arouse and stimulate their creative impulses. Such is the role of art, and this in itself constitutes one of the Negro artist’s chief problems. The best art has been produced in those countries where the public most loved and cherished it. In the days of the Renaissance the townsfolk would often hold huge parades to celebrate an artist’s successful completion of a painting. We need some standard of criticism then, not only to stimulate the artist, but also to raise the cultural level of the people. It is well known that the critical writings of men like Herder, Schlegel, Taine, and the system of Marxian dialectics, were as important to the development of literature as any writer.

I am not sure just what form this system of criticism will take, but I am sure that the Negro artist will have to revise his conception of art. No one can doubt that the Negro is possessed of remarkable gifts of imagination and intuition. When he has learned to harness his great gifts of rhythm and pours it into his art--his chance of creating something individual will be heightened. At present it seems that by a slow study of rules and formulas the Negro artist is attempting to do something with his intellect, which he has not felt emotionally. In consequence he has given us poor echoes of the work of white artist--and nothing of himself.

It is gratifying to note that many of the white critics have realized the deficiencies of the Negro artist. I quote from a review of the last Harmon exhibition, by Malcolm Vaughan, in the New York American: “But in the field of painting and sculpture, they appear particularly backward, indeed so inept as to suggest that the painting and sculpture are to them alien channels of expression.” I quote from another review of the same exhibition, that appeared in the New York Times:

“Such racial aspects as may once have figured have virtually disappeared, so far as some of the work is concerned. Some of the artists, accomplished technicians, are seen to have slipped into grooves of one sort or another. There is the painter of Cezannesque still life, there is the painter of Gauginesque nudes, and there are those that learned various ‘dated’ modernist tricks.”

There are quite a few foundations that sponsor exhibitions of Negro artists. However praiseworthy may have been the spirit of the founder the effect upon the Negro artist has been disastrous. Take for instance the Harmon Foundation. Its attitude from the beginning has been of a coddling and patronizing nature. It has encouraged the artist to exhibit long before he has mastered the technical equipment of his medium. By its choice of the type of work it favors, it has allowed the Negro artist to accept standards that are both artificial and corrupt.

It is time for the Negro artist to stop making excuses for his work. If he must exhibit let it be in exhibitions of the caliber of “The Carnegie Exposition.” Here among the best artists of the world his work will stand or fall on its merits. A concrete example of the accepted attitude towards the Negro artist recently occurred in California where an exhibition couple the work of Negro artists with that of the blind. It is obvious that in this case there is definitely created dual standards of appraisal. 

The other day I ran into a fellow with whom I had studied under George Grosz, at the “Student’s League.” I asked him how his work was coming. He told me that he had done no real work for about six months.

“You know, Howard,” he said, “I sort of ran into a blind alley with my work; I felt that it definitely lacked something. This is because I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say. So I stopped drawing. Now I go down to the meetings of the Marine and Industrial Workers Union. I have entered whole-heartedly in their movement.”

We talked about Orozco, who had lost his arm in the revolutionary struggle in Mexico. No wonder he depicted the persecution of the underclass Mexicans so vividly--it had all been a harrowing reality for him.

So it must be with the Negro artist--he must not be content with merely recording the scene as a machine. He must enter wholeheartedly into the situation which he wishes to convey. The artist must be the medium through which humanity expresses itself. In this sense the greatest artist have faced the realities of life, and have been profoundly social.

I don’t mean by this that the Negro should confine himself only to such scenes as lynchings, or policemen clubbing workers. From an ordinary still life painting by such a master as Chardin we can get as penetrating an insight into the eighteenth century life, as from a drawing by Hogarth of a street-walker. If it is the race question, the social struggle, or whatever else needs expression, it is to that the artist must surrender himself. An intense, eager devotion to present day life, to study it, to help relieve it, this is the calling of the Negro artist. 

Source: Speech and Power

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Ralph Ellison on Bearden and African Art

First, I should tell you that although I’ve been collecting African art for a long time, I am not a Pan-Africanist. I love the art for itself. Nor am I anti-Africa. [Laughter.] No, as far as writing goes, I’ve not been influenced by Bearden, although I met him during what I believe was his first period. He was doing the heroic, mural type of painting which was developed by such artists as Diego Rivera. Later, I was to have many talks with him, and over the years, I always found him stimulating and conscious of where he was going.

As a serious artist in his own field, Bearden still affirms and strengthens me in my own work. . .  . concerning the influence of one artist upon another, I’d say that it frequently takes other forms than that of copying or trying to do what another artist or writer does in his precise manner. That is mere imitation. But, sometimes, by working in his chosen form, a fellow artist can affirm one’s own effort and give you the courage to struggle with the problems of your medium.

So, in that light, you might say that Bearden influenced me. Just by knowing him at a time when we were both working hard and without much recognition, I found strength for my own efforts. He had faith in the importance of artistic creation, and I learned something about the nature of painting from listening to his discussions of his craft. Look around, and you’ll see that I own a number of his works. So, as I see it, it’s not the imitation of an artist’s work, or even his endorsement of your talent, that’s of basic importance, but this assertion of artistic ideals, and the example of his drive to achieve excellence.

But, then I’ve found a similar affirmation in the examples of football players, jazz musicians—who for me are the most important—tap dancer, and even a few bootleggers [Laughter]. Such people attract me with a certain elegance and flair for style, as have certain preachers and teachers.

I never attended anything but segregated schools, from first grade through graduation, and yet certain fine teachers inspired me to do the best I had in me. Being angry over segregation, it took me a while to realize that despite a handful of indifferent teachers, I also had a few that were excellent, people who still inspire me.

Source: The Essential Ellison (Interview)—Ishmael Reed, Quincy Troupe, Steve Cannon. Ishmael Reed’s and Al Young’s Y’Bird • Copyright © 1977, 1978 Y’Bird Magazine

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Having grown up during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Romare Bearden devoted his life and art to redefining, as he said, "the image of man in terms of the Negro experience I know best." After painting as a Social Realist in the 1930s and 1940s, and then in a mode derived from Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s, Bearden ultimately found his own voice in the imaginative collages he made from 1964 on.

Using a fragmented style inspired by the rhythms of jazz, he assembled magazine clippings into phantasmagorical invocations of the myths and rituals of black American life. Bearden did not take up printmaking seriously until the late 1960s, when he began to frequent the Printmaking Workshop, a non-profit studio run by his longtime friend, the artist and master printer Robert Blackburn.

Over the next two decades he worked there and with other publishers and printers, eventually completing more than one hundred editioned prints in various techniques, as well as dozens of monotypes.

Many of Bearden's prints, particularly his lithographs and screenprints, are based on existing collages and monotypes.

With Blackburn's encouragement he also made some experimental collagraphs and intaglio prints that engage the collage process and printmaking in unusual and inventive ways. In “The Train,” for example, he recast a 1964 collage by adding new textures and colors. This was achieved by using mesh screens and photography to generate the photogravure plate, which was subsequently cut up so colored areas could be inked separately and reassembled jigsaw style for printing.

The train of this print's title is a small detail at the upper left, but it nonetheless invokes larger issues of migration and segregation. As Bearden said, trains "could take you away and could also bring you to where you were. And in the little towns it's the black people who live near the trains."

Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 221

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A History of African-American Artists

From 1792 to the Present

By Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson

The late Romare Bearden, a premier African American artist in his own right, devoted 15 years to researching and writing this magnificent study of the lives and achievements of 36 significant African American artists born prior to 1925. He and longtime friend and coauthor Henderson were motivated by frustration over the lack of literature on black artists. Through great perseverance and determination, they managed to track down forgotten artwork, piece together vivid biographical portraits, and conduct interviews with surviving artists, who, in spite of their stature and longevity, had never before been interviewed. As Bearden and Henderson set the scene, historically speaking, for such artists as Robert S. Duncanson, Edmonia Lewiss, and Henry Ossawa Tanner, they expose the degree to which racism limited opportunities for black artists. The life stories of the artists associated with the Black Renaissance during the 1920s—such as Aaron Douglas; Archibald Motley, the first painter to boldly celebrate urban African American society; and sculptor and influential mentor Augusta Savage—are recorded with consummate insight, as are accounts of the giants of the Depression era, Beauford Delaney and Jacob Lawrence.

 Richly illustrated and written with resounding empathy and pride, this is a major contribution to the literature on African American history and to the annals of American art.—Booklist 

Himself one of the most prominent modern African American artists, Bearden conceived this landmark volume, treating more than 50 of his predecessors and contemporaries, before his death in 1988. Henderson has ably carried on his mission in a lavishly illustrated book containing 250 black-and-white and 61 color reproductions. Opening in the 18th century with Joshua Johnston, the authors go on to examine the work of Robert S. Duncanson, Henry O. Tanner, Aaron Douglas, Edmonia Lewis, Jacob Lawrence, Augusta Savage, Ellis Wilson, Archibald Motley, Alma Thomas, and others born before 1925. Their lives and careers, which often involved overcoming racial barriers, are portrayed against the backdrop of artistic, social, and political events; black Renaissance and Depression artists receive the most attention. This thoroughly researched conspectus is a solid choice for U.S. art and history collections.—Library Journal

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Romare Bearden (September 2, 1911 – March 12, 1988) was an African- American artist and writer. He worked in several media including cartoons, oils, and collage.

Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1929 he graduated from Peabody High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He completed his studies at New York University (NYU), graduating with a degree in science and education.

After he started to focus more on his art and less on athletics, he took courses in art that led to him being a lead cartoonist and art editor for the Eucleian Society's (a secretive student society at NYU) monthly journal, The Medley. . . .

One of his most famous series, Prevalence of Ritual, concentrated mostly on southern African American life. He used these collages to show his rejection of the Harmon Foundation’s, the Chicago arts organization, emphasis on the idea that African Americans must reproduce their culture in their art (Greene, 1971). Bearden found this to be a burden on African artists, because he saw this idea creating an emphasis on reproducing something that already exists in the world. He used this new series to speak out against this limitation on Black artists, and to emphasize modern art. . . .

In "The Art of Romare Bearden", Ruth Fine describes his themes as "universal." "A well-read man whose friends were other artists, writers, poets and jazz musicians, Bearden mined their worlds as well as his own for topics to explore. He took his imagery from both the everyday rituals of African American rural life in the south and urban life in the north, melding those American experiences with his personal experiences and with the themes of classical literature, religion, myth, music and daily human ritual." . . .

Romare Bearden died in New York on March 12, 1988 due to complications from bone cancer. In their obituary for him, the New York Times called Bearden "one of America's pre-eminent artists" and "the nation's foremost collagist."Wikipedia

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Capitalism and the Ideal State: Marcus Garvey  / Negroes and the Crisis of Capitalism (Du Bois) 

 Economic Emancipation of Africa

Liberty and Empire  /  Money is Speech   /  On Capitalism: Noam Chomsky

Audio: My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

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Malcolm X

A Life of Reinvention

By Manning Marable

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Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins' bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

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Ghosts in Our Blood

With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean

By Jan R. Carew

Carew, an activist, scholar, and journalist, met Malcolm X during his last trip abroad only a few weeks before he was killed in 1965. It made such an impression on Carew that he felt compelled to search out Malcolm's family and friends in order to flesh out the family history. He interviewed Wilfred (Malcolm's older brother) and a Grenadian friend of Malcolm's mother named Tanta Bess. Comparing his family's experiences with that of Malcolm X, he gives the most complete picture yet of Malcolm's mother. Carew also offers a tantalizing glimpse of Malcolm X's transforming himself into El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, a man less blinded by his own racial prejudices yet as committed to the betterment of his race as ever. Just before his death, Malcolm X became convinced that a U.S. agency was involved with those trying to kill him, and Carew here reveals the evidence Malcolm X gave him to support these beliefs. The mystery of Malcolm's death remains unresolved, and we are once again filled with regret that he was cut down before he could fulfill the promise of his later days. While this book will not replace The Autobiography of Malcolm X (LJ 1/1/66), it is an important supplement. All libraries that own the autobiography should also purchase this one.—Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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