By Phillip Brian Harper
In an immense reassessment of African American tradition, Phillip Brian Harper intervenes within the ongoing debate in regards to the “proper” depiction of black humans. He advocates for African American aesthetic abstractionism—a representational mode wherein an paintings, instead of striving for realist verisimilitude, vigorously asserts its primarily man made personality. conserving that realist illustration reaffirms the very social proof that it may possibly were understood to problem, Harper contends that abstractionism exhibits up the particular constructedness of these proof, thereby subjecting them to severe scrutiny and making them amenable to transformation.
Arguing opposed to the necessity for “positive” representations, Abstractionist Aesthetics displaces realism because the fundamental mode of African American representational aesthetics, re-centers literature as a primary website of African American cultural politics, and elevates experimental prose in the area of African American literature. Drawing on examples throughout a number of creative construction, together with the visible paintings of Fred Wilson and Kara Walker, the tune of Billie vacation and Cecil Taylor, and the prose and verse writings of Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, and John Keene, this booklet poses pressing questions about how racial blackness is made to imagine yes social meanings. within the method, African American aesthetics are upended, rendering abstractionism because the strongest modality for Black illustration.
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Additional info for Abstractionist Aesthetics: Artistic Form and Social Critique in African American Culture
28 Thus reduced to a lowest-level commonality in which their very humanity was annulled, black people assumed a condition of abstraction whose import was wholly negative. Just like the property relation, however—which can now be adopted and mobilized by African Americans themselves—abstraction is neither good nor bad per se, its value instead depending on the functions it is made to serve and the perspective from which it is assessed. 31 Such conformity implicates a disavowal of individual interest whose import is as much intellectual as moral, as it bespeaks not only a selfless preferment of the common good but also the valuation of general principles over concrete particulars—a mode of abstract reckoning that is understood as the very epitome of rational thought.
For if it were not enough that the assemblage manifested a thoroughly masculine aspect (logical and inevitable given the SEALs’ exclusively male membership), the gathered personnel were all clothed in immaculate summer service uniforms whose gleaming whiteness at once matched and extended that of the gallery’s floor, walls, and ceiling. Hence the elevation and normatization of conventional masculinity (entailing uprightness, impassivity, stoicism, strength) that VB39 both exposed and enacted was of a piece with the chromatic uniformity it is understood to have presented, with one reviewer going so far as to characterize a documentary photograph of the event as “white-upon-white” (fig.
Betye Saar has in fact forwarded such resistance in her own artwork, recasting dubious figures such as Aunt Jemima as exemplars of strength and autonomous agency in pieces whose effect, by Saar’s account, is to “empower the stereotype” rather than to perpetuate it, as she evidently believed Walker’s silhouettes to do (fig. 22 If that danger seems to have been neutralized in Saar’s own case, as is evidenced by her retooling the imagery to her purpose, the means by which this was achieved are apparently shared by other commentators, who have similarly cited their immersion in the offensive materials.
Abstractionist Aesthetics: Artistic Form and Social Critique in African American Culture by Phillip Brian Harper
Categories: African American Studies