Abstract The research question being investigated in this essay is, “What were the long-lasting effects of the Harlem Renaissance on modern art?” The vast majority of my information and background on this topic came from art galleries and museums.
There was a variety of other sources used as well including the encyclopedia, article posts and official history websites.This topic was so compelling because visual art is not discussed as much when talking about the Harlem Renaissance like literature, stage performance and music. It was worth studying because I always wanted to know what the Harlem Renaissance did for African-American people in that time period and how it has translated into today’s world. To gain an understanding of what the Harlem Renaissance was, I will provide some background knowledge. The Harlem Renaissance was a time period in the Northern United States when African American art, music, literature and stage performance was very prominent. Social injustice, prejudice, war as well economic decline was also prominent during that time. I firmly believe that visual art was much more effective in conveying these issues because it left room for the viewers of each artwork to create their own perception and internalize the meaning.
The Harlem Renaissance brought awareness of these issues but more specifically, social injustice. It helped rebuild pride within the black community, passed down artistic styles and created an environment that would allow modern artists to talk about the issues that they saw within the world. Word Count: 245Table of ContentsIntroduction The Harlem Renaissance can be a very popular topic at times when discussing the art movements throughout history. One thing that is overlooked is what the Harlem Renaissance did for African-American people, artists and the future of art.
The Harlem Renaissance started during the time period of what we know as the Great Migration. The Great Migration officially ended in the early 1970s. Majority of the African-American community lived in the South and starting moving towards the North in 1910. This migration took place because of poor economic opportunities and harsh segregationist laws.
There was also a need for industrial workers during the First World War. By 1920, nearly 300,000 African-Americans from the South had moved towards the North. Harlem, New York was one of the most popular areas for these families. Harlem was previously a more Caucasian area.
The Great Migration was one of very many themes that became popular in the newly formed artistic movement titled “The New Negro Movement”, which we now know as the Harlem Renaissance. The Great Migration was one of many themes that influenced the Harlem Renaissance. The decision to investigate this topic came from personal inspiration. As an African- American visual art student myself, I thought it would be important to further educate myself on the history and cultural context of the Harlem Renaissance. I specifically chose to analyze the visual art aspect of the Harlem Renaissance because of how it impacted the African American community during that time. Not only is this topic relevant personally, but the historical art relevance has influenced modern artistic movements.
As previously stated, the Harlem Renaissance is one of the most popular art movements in history. This extended essay aims to answer the question of “What were the long-lasting effects of the Harlem Renaissance on modern art?” I will demonstrate how the Harlem Renaissance has impacted modern art while evaluating the influences of the Harlem Renaissance during the time period of 1910 to the early 1930s. Background of the Harlem Renaissance To better understand the Harlem Renaissance, it is necessary to first examine what influenced the Harlem Renaissance and what it was. The Harlem Renaissance is classified as the “golden age” in African-American culture. Literature, music, stage performance and art all manifested during this time period. The Harlem Renaissance started in the city of Harlem, New York and lasted until the early 1930s.
Certain issues such as economic depression, social injustice and war all influenced the Harlem Renaissance. Not only did it help create the Renaissance but it also served as one of many artistic themes and subjects within this golden age. Many forms of art that were created during this time became popular in the African-American community and other ethnic communities. The Harlem Renaissance lasted over a decade but the social and cultural effects lasted much longer. Many artists took risks during their career in order to inspire and educate the viewers of their artwork. These risks would soon help influence the future of African-American art and culture.
Great Migration The first influence and the most important was the Great Migration. The Great Migration had the biggest impact on the Harlem Renaissance because of the influx of African-Americans moving from the South up to the Northern part of the United States. This migration started in 1910 and that is what also started the Renaissance. In 1910 142,100 African-Americans lived in New York. By 1940, 661,100 African Americans were living in New York. Along with Harlem being a popular city, Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh were the other top migrated Northern cities during this migration period. With this Great Migration also came with a great deal of issues. The first issues was housing.
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) practiced years of denying mortgages based upon race and ethnicity. The FHA played a significant role in institutionalized racism and helped build segregation. The FHA also practiced a policy of “redlining” when determining which neighborhoods to approve mortgages in. It was the practice of denying or limiting services to certain neighborhoods based on racial or ethnic background. So with an overpopulated area like Harlem where the vast majority of people living there were African-American, there was no financial assistance or mortgage flowing within this area.
The Great Depression started after the stock market crashed in October 1929. Unemployment reached 25% and the wages of those who had jobs decreased by 42%. Many African-Americans had already lived in extreme poverty, and the widespread economic decline had made life more complicated. African-American workers were normally the first to lose jobs at factories and farms. They were denied public service employment opportunities that were believed to be readily available to all citizens. Some charities during the Great Depression refused to provide African-Americans that were in need, especially in the South. As a result, African-Americans suffered more than any other ethnic group during the Great Depression.
With an overpopulated Harlem and a limited supply of jobs, there was an increase of crime within the area because of economic shortage. The government made an attempt to keep this to a minimum by banning alcohol nationwide in 1920. In order to survive in Harlem where there was a low supply of life necessities many turned to illegal jobs such as bootlegging alcohol. Speakeasies sold alcohol illegally as a means of income. This business establishment was very popular at public settings such as the Cotton Club. The Cotton Club was a nightclub well-known for broadcasting the different art forms that were popular during the Renaissance.
For years, they featured popular African-American artists that performed in front of Caucasian audiences. World War I One influence that is often overlooked is war. World War I started July 28th, 1914 and ended November 11th, 1918. Discrimination and violence against the Black population was popular in the Southern United States. The economy in the Northern states increased with thousands of new jobs opening up in industries supplying goods for the First World War. Laws in the North were less unjust but African Americans later found out that they had not escaped the environment that they had moved away from. When the United States declared war against Germany in April 1917, they realized that an Army of 126,000 men would not be enough to ensure victory overseas. With that in mind, the Selective Service Act was passed during May 1917 stating that all men between the ages of 21 and 31 had to enter the draft.
Even before this act was passed, many African-American men joined the war efforts. It was a way to prove that they were worthy of being treated equally in their homeland. Between 300,000 and 400,000 African-Americans served in the American Expeditionary Forces. Many of these African-Americans fought on the Front line between 1917 and 1918. They were the largest minority group in the American military contingent during World War I.
Many African -Americans fought in the war in hopes of gaining recognition, respect and honor for the service of their country. When the first all-black regiment known as ‘The Harlem Hellfighters’ returned from the war in 1919, a quarter of a million people came out to greet them. The parade was a way to show honor and appreciation for the African-American men that served the nation. World War I was so impacting because it gave African-Americans a chance to feel equal in America even though they were not. African-Americans that fought in the war certainly helped increase civil rights activism. They went overseas to fight in Europe and returned to see there was still war going on in their homeland. These steps towards equality brought conversation of the road ahead to gain political, economical and social equality.
Social Injustice The one influence that ties into all previously stated influences is social injustice. Slavery had only been abolished 45 years from the Great Migration. A lot of the social injustice practiced such as discrimination, segregation and unequal opportunity was still prominent. African-Americans were denied things such as public services, unequal education, unequal housing and job placement. African-Americans were treated no better than second class citizens. A lot of these forms of racial injustice were deemed as acceptable because of the Jim Crow era.
Any of the laws that were enforced happened under Jim Crow, and they promoted racial segregation in the South starting at end of Reconstruction in 1877. Although this discrimination was more popular in the South and has been for many years, it was never fully escaped when African-Americans moved towards the Northern United States. The FHA and high job demands in the North increased racial tensions while nearly creating a race war. Many servicemen returned from the war to find that African-Americans were doing the jobs they left behind for the war cause. This undeniable fact lead to an uprooting of white supremacy. One well-known white supremacist group was the Ku Klux Klan founded later in the year of 1865 when slavery was abolished.
This group was well-known for lynching African-Americans to send a message that African-Americans should remain inferior to Caucasians. The Klan extrema was not only against African-Americans but it was also pro-Christianity. The NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and other civil rights groups worked to create an anti-lynching law and create other anti-discriminatory laws.
Race riots and marches were other methods used to speak out against equal and unequal treatment of African-Americans in the United States. This time period of social injustice can be classified as the pre-civil rights era that would soon occur after the Harlem Renaissance. Visual Artists of the Harlem Renaissance Now that all influences of the Harlem Renaissance have been identified, I can now analyze the visual artists that contributed to the Harlem Renaissance.
Visual art challenged the racism that was so prominent while striving to create a more progressive political stance. Common themes during the Harlem Renaissance were slavery, black identity, the effects of institutional racism, the experience of modern life in African-American communities and the Great Migration. What makes these artists special is that they were not afraid to speak on these issues and would openly make those issues an artistic theme. The Renaissance helped create the developing idea of a new black identity within the African-American community.
With these being common issues talked about during that time period, artist talked about what had happened in the past with uprooting from slavery and the post effects of its banishment. The two most common ways that artist spoke on these issues is by painting and sculpting. Painting was a great art form to use in communicating these issues because it was a way to endlessly include detail within their theme. Painting allows an artist to portray their selected theme in the way that they want to. The imagery used within these paintings would easily communicate what the message was while still being vague enough to let their viewers create their own inferences. Unlike painting, sculpture gave small parts to a more intricate story. Many African-American sculptures created figures of traditional African figures.
It was mainly used for portraying the traditional African culture that African-Americans originated from. Meta Fuller Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller was born June 9th, 1877. She was an African-American artist well-known for creating her work based on Afrocentric themes. She was a talented artist who wrote poetry, painted but specialized in human sculpture.
Human sculpture is also closely linked to African art. Traditional African sculpture became a very popular artistic style in Europe during the early 1900s. Fuller also created artwork that spoke on the social issues in America. One of her most notable artworks was a sculpture of Mary Turner. Turner was a young African- American woman who was with child when she was lynched in Georgia.
The day she was lynched she had also protesting the lynching of her husband the day before. Fuller was a mother who moved around trying to attend schools to continue her artistic career. In 1923, Fuller applied for a summer art program sponsored by the French government. She was more than qualified, but was turned down by the International Judging Committee because she was African-American. She later studied with Auguste Rodin in Paris after being turned down. She became a well-known sculptor in Paris. This common trend as to why she could not be accepted into art schools and programs also ended when she was accepted to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Eventually through all the setbacks and failures, she created her legacy as the first African-American woman to receive a U.S. Government Commission.
Her contribution to the Harlem Renaissance was important because not only did she address the racism and injustice towards the black community, but she also lit the torch for other upcoming African American female artist that would soon emerge. She was not afraid to address racism for what it was and wanted her viewers to understand the brutal truth of the social injustice that was being experienced every day. Jacob LawrenceJacob Lawrence was born in 1917.
Lawrence and his family moved to Harlem in 1930. One of his most famous artworks “Soldiers and students” is notable because it is believed to be painted about the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. This artwork is a perfect example of speaking out against the segregation that was prominent. His artwork was almost like the “poster child” of what desegregation looked like across America during this time period. Lawrence became most popular when the “Migration Series” he created was shown at a downtown gallery in New York in 1941.
He was the first African-American to be represented by a New York gallery. Fortune magazine even published an article about the series before it was eventually purchased by the Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Collection. Lawrence was also drafted into the Coast Guard during World War II where he was assigned as a combat artist. When he was discharged, he returned to Harlem and continued painting. During the 1950s Lawrence’s work was now influenced by everyday imagery until in the 1960s he returned to a more straightforward style that he previously expressed. In 1971, Lawrence was offered a teaching position at the University of Washington and moved to Seattle. Lawrence’s work has been displayed in different museums in Seattle, Georgia, Virginia, DC, New York and Texas to name a few. His two artistic styles were cubism and social realism.
Cubism and Realism was starting to become more popular art styles especially within Latina art culture. The Cubism movement started with Pablo Picasso and was used to show geometric shapes in the form of human-like figures. The Social Realism movement became popular in the 1920s during the period of economic decline and racial tension.
It was one of the more political based art movements. Along with Meta Fuller, Jacob Lawrence is another artist that spoke about the long road to racial equality in America. Hale Woodruff Woodruff was born in Cairo, Illinois but grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. In the 1920s, he studied at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis. He also studied at Harvard University, the School of The Art Institute of Chicago, the Académie Moderne and Académie Scandinave in Paris. In 1938, he spent time studying mural painting with Diego Rivera in Mexico.
The time he spent in Mexico influenced his own art making style and media. His main artistic style that he took from his time studying with Rivera was Cubism. Woodruff and Lawrence both used Cubism heavily in their artwork after the Cubist movement took off. Woodruff started to become more popular in the 1920s when one of his paintings was entered into the yearly Indiana artists’ exhibition. In the early 1930s Woodruff returned to the United States to begin his teaching career in Atlanta, Georgia. His hard work in the arts program at Atlanta University landed him as chairman of the art department. He was also named as one of the most talented African-American artists of the great depression era.
One of his most famous artworks is Amistad, created in 1938. Amistad was created in the similar media style of muralism that Woodruff picked up while studying with Diego Rivera. In the mural, Woodruff decided to paint Africans revolting against the Europeans that enslaved them on a boat headed to what may have been considered the “new world”. Amongst all of his artworks revolting against enslavement, oppression and injustice was a common theme. ConclusionTo conclude, the research I conducted for my extended essay allowed me to gain knowledge about my history as well as how modern artists gained inspiration from art making during the 1920s. If it had not been for this essay, I would not have been able to gain the knowledge and understanding of my cultural background and where it originated.The Harlem Renaissance did so much for the African-American community. Although there was a lot of social injustice involved, it still paved the way for modern art and the future of Black America.
The Harlem Renaissance helped bring awareness of the social injustice that was current in America while expressing the racism that happened in the past. Visual artists played a major role in this because hearing a song or reading literature about social injustice does not compare to seeing it. When you view visual arts, it helps bring the truth about that event or theme that happened while leaving room for interpretation. The African-American community experienced so much hatred that it left the community feeling low. The Harlem Renaissance restored pride by expressing all the artistic talents within the community.
Although most artwork created in this era were about the issues that African-Americans experienced, there was a share of artwork that glorified African-American culture and excellence. Visual art not only passed down pride in the community, it also passed down many artistic making styles. The main artistic styles that can be found in modern art today is muralism, portraiture and realism. Social injustice never ended especially in the African-American community.
These three artistic styles have given modern African-American artists the chance to talk about current issues while still expressing pride within their culture. Lastly, Harlem Renaissance artists created an environment where talking about issues were acceptable. At times, protesting was too risky because of the possibility of getting hurt or losing your life in the process. In past art history, art was made about beautiful objects and settings. The Harlem Renaissance was one of the major artistic movements that talked about current living conditions and issues. Creating visual art was a safer way to discuss injustice and spread the message intended within visual art. Once an idea is created, it cannot be destroyed.
Visual artists in the Harlem Renaissance also contributed to the civil rights activism by passively influencing and inspiring African-Americans to fight against racism. Anton Chekhov once said, “The role of the artist is to ask questions not answer them.” Many visual artists in the Harlem Renaissance questioned the role as well as the direction of America in terms of treating African-Americans as equal human beings. These questions have helped change America as a country and culture, forever. It is evident what the Harlem Renaissance has not only done for that era, but the future of African-Americans and modern art.