ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home    ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)


Not only are traditional ritual and ancient myth essential

in Bearden’s work,  we also find jazz and the blues

themes represented on his canvases.



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)

*   *   *   *   *

About Romare Bearden, Artist

By Amin Sharif


Romare Bearden has been called by American art critics Myron Schwarzman “the foremost American artist who portrayed the African American experience through the language of narrative and metaphor.” Born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1921, Bearden’s family moved early in his life to Harlem, New York. It would be there that Bearden’s social activist parents would entertain in their home the most notable writers, musicians, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance. It was through these historic figures and his family’s deep concern for social reform that Bearden would inherit both his political and artistic sensibilities.

Not just an artist, Romare Bearden was a multi-talented genius. He played one year of professional baseball in Boston, played in jazz bands, and even composed music.   Bearden’s composition Sea Breeze was recorded by both Billy Eckstein and Tito Puente.

And, Bearden also designed sets for Alvin Alley’s Dance Company. His early artistic work was to find its way into publications such as The Baltimore Afro-American, Colliers, and the Saturday Day Evening Post. 

Romare Bearden was a highly educated man. He attended New York University graduating with a degree in mathematics. After serving in the military, Bearden studied philosophy in Paris. Eventually, Bearden returned to the United States and obtained a graduate degree in social work from Columbia University in 1966. In his lifetime, Bearden was to receive five honorary degrees and the prestigious President’s National Medal of Art in 1988.

Always believing in the social responsibility of the artist, Bearden formed the Spiral Group composed of African American artist in 1963. The Spiral Group sought to make a contribution to the Civil Rights Movement that was at its apex at this time. It was during this time that Bearden developed his famous “collage technique.” The technique “represented a stylistic breakthrough” for Bearden. And it would be a technique that Bearden would refine throughout his life. This collage technique--called by its creator  “photomontage”--consisted of clippings from popular magazines, black and white photography, and pieces of Bearden’s art. The result of Bearden’s photomontage was often startling, sometimes mystical, sometimes socially sensitive imagery. 

Though Bearden complains in his essay "The Negro Artist and Modern Art" that Negro artists had developed nothing “original” akin to spirituals and jazz, Bearden’s photomontage technique, as well as his paintings, would place him far beyond any such criticism. Bearden following his own advice in using local settings created magnificent works. It was said of his work Bayou Fever that invoked “African heritage rooted strongly in Louisiana and about the African Diaspora in the Caribbean and North America.” 

It was not only locale that made Bearden’s work so interesting. Found in this artist’s work are a deep appreciation for the “ancient myths and traditional ritual” embedded in African and African American society.

In addition to these unique factors, we find that Bearden is not afraid to place the seal of his own symbolism on his work. We find all of these themes present in Bearden’s Prevalence of Ritual series.

Perhaps the most famous work of this series is Bearden’s Prodigal Son based on the New Testament story. James Weldon Johnson included the same tale in his famous collection of sermons God’s Trombone.

Not only are traditional ritual and ancient myth essential in Bearden’s work, we also find jazz and the blues themes represented on his canvases.

Indeed, many critics assert that “jazz is the aesthetic pulse” of Bearden’s work. Bearden, we know, completed some “illustrations” based on the subject for an “unrealized” book inspired by the 1961 movie Paris Blues.

One might recall that the movie starred Paul Newman, Joane Woodward, Sidney Poiter, and Diahann Carol. The musical score of the movie was provided by the great jazz composer Duke Ellington. And the movie also included a cameo appearance by Louis Armstrong. By the way, Paris Blues was not the only movie that Bearden was to be involved, he painted some twenty-two watercolors for the New York scenes of John Cassavette’s film Gloria.    

Among Bearden’s many works on jazz and blues are his Le Jazz, Out of Chorus, and Louisiana Serenade. 

In closing, we must touch on the only criticism launched against Bearden’s work that is his preference for “social realism.” Bearden says that it was when he joined the “Artist Students League” studying under George Grosz that he began to include “social commentary” within his art. But one must remember that almost from birth, Bearden was exposed to social protest-- if not by his activist parents, then most certainly by the Negro intellectuals that visited his home. But the fact is that Bearden’s works are never harmed, but are only enhanced, by his keen eye and acknowledgement of the suffering of the black and poor in which he came in contact. 

Indeed, in such works as the Factory Workers, Bearden give humanity and dignity to his fellow Negro--a value too often denied the Negro within American society. If this be the only fault in Bearden’s work, then it is one that is more than acceptable to those who have come to love this genius and his great artistic accomplishments. Bearden died in 1988 after a full and productive life. 

*   *   *   *   *

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

*   *   *   *   *


"I try to show," Bearden once said, "that when some things are taken out of the usual context and put in the new, they are given an entirely new character."

And a patchwork quilt, no matter how rich its pattern, is always made out of remnants cut from their context—out of scraps of outworn cloth, now put to a new use, and acquiring a nobler quality. Whether faded or frayed, their role in a new design refreshes their meaning and beauty.

Bearden's Patchwork Quilt, made up, in part, of exactly such fragments of cloth, has a share in this kind of ennoblement.

A student of many cultures, Bearden took Egyptian tomb reliefs as his inspiration for the figure, with its graceful lines, its distinctive left arm and hand, its sideways posture, and its legs parted as if in midstride.

Another influence was the centuries-old sculpture of Benin. These bases in high, specifically African aesthetics claim a regal ancestry for Bearden's lounging African American woman.

In fact, his work lives in its cosmopolitan and democratic fusions—of the distinguished heritage of painting and the domestic practice of quilting (in which there is a distinct African American tradition), of analytic art (in the echoes of Cubism) and household decoration, and of everyday leisure and utter elegance.


The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 276

*   *   *   *   *

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

*   *   *   *   *

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

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America.

This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

*   *   *   *   *

The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.” 

His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

*   *   *   *   *

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)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)



update 18 April 2012




Home Sharif Table  Mau Mau Aesthetics   Fifty Influential Figures

Related files:   The Negro as Author  Race Prejudice and the Negro Artist     End of African-American Literature?   Negro Artist and Modern Art   About Romare Bearden  

 Letters of H. L. Mencken Lumumba: A Biography   Black Girl in Her Search for God  H L  Mencken on Negro Author The Responsibility of the Artist   

 Responsibility of Blacks in Cyberspace   The Responsibility of a PanAfrican Socialist