People who find themselves displaced from their homeland and transferred to a foreign country would need to exert a lot of effort at “assimilating" the local culture. This is because doing so may involve disregarding their own set of beliefs so that they would be able to conform to the culture of their “new" country. African Americans had to shift their understanding of art so that their artistic creations would be appreciated in America. To better understand this concept, an appreciation of the history of African American art is needed.
Art in the time of slavery
The period of slavery in America saw how many African Americans had to shift their paradigms with regard to art, sticking to what were the accepted forms of art in America, which were mostly influenced by Europe. During this time, the African American artists were defined as “slave artisans with other skills such as quilt making. " However, this definition later changed to “painters of white families’ portraits, " and in some cases, the painters were called “portrait painters of well-to-do free persons of color. " Some of these painters gained acclaim and were able to buy their freedom from their masters by bartering their artwork.
After the Civil War
In the period after the Civil War, many African American artists were being recognized for their talent. Up to the 1920s, most of the artists of this time produced works that were displayed in museums and studios. However, the works that were produced during these times still conformed with European tradition and the training that these artists received were still mainly characterized as European.
“The Harlem Renaissance"
In the late 1920s, different African American artists formed a movement called Negro or Harlem Renaissance. This opened the door for African American art, in the form of literature, music, knowledge and visual arts, to become explored and rediscovered, which also led to the upliftment of the individuality of African Americans as a people. The decade that followed this was considered the “Renaissance" of African American art, where artists broke free from foreign influences to discover their own unique art form. From this period on, African American artists were free to express themselves based on what has been discovered during this “Renaissance. "
The rough path that Black artists in America had to take is a testament to what they had to undergo to “regain" their identity as a people. Give this, the history of African American art shows not only the struggles of Black artists towards freedom from foreign influences but also of self-discovery.
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