During the American Diaspora, African Americans went north to escape the poverty and racism of the South. Many succeeded. On average, an African American living in Harlem earned more that a southern white family. As Langston Hughes commented, "It was the... [more]
During the American Diaspora, African Americans went north to escape the poverty and racism of the South. Many succeeded. On average, an African American living in Harlem earned more that a southern white family. As Langston Hughes commented, "It was the period when the Negro was in vogue."
The Great Depression had not yet hit, and the prosperity of the 1920s facilitated a blossoming in black art. Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were shaping the music of the Jazz Age. Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston were exploring their souls in writing. In an essay entitled "The Negro Writer and the Racial Mountain", Hughes called for black artists to unapologetically depict African American experiences and to incorporate Modernist aesthetics in their works.
Africa herself was exerting influence over European fine art. Matisse took Picasso to an exhibition of African art in Paris; the latter in turn passed on this influence to Braque. Henri Rousseau delved deep into the primitive, simplifying his figures to an almost cartoonish effect.
White interest in the "primitive" (which was more ethnographic than social) spurred wealthy white patrons to fund many Renaissance artists. Though such patonage smacks of condescension, the art that sprang forth is indeed worthy of attention. Jacob Lawrence, Louis Mailou Jones, Edward Burra, and other painters of the Harlem Renaissance searched African and African American cultures for their modes and styles of expression. For the first time, African Americans entered into American painting as celebrated and compassionately rendered figures.
For example Jacob Lawrence embarked upon a series entitled, "The Migration of the Negro Focuses on the Great Exodus of Blacks from the South to the Industrial North". The third panel portrays triangular figures traversing a barren land. The space is flattened to suggest that they are holding each other up for support. Black birds form another triangle in the sky, as if guiding and watching their journey. [show less]