Can a Black Artist be a Black Artist Without Creating Black Art?

Can a black artist be an artist without creating black art?

Inspired by the reading Black Dimensions in Contemporary American Art by J. Edward Atkinson, I pose this question as my new blog series. Following upcoming and established black artists, I follow their works presented within the NYC art scene. I regard each artist essentially by measuring his or her blackness in creation. Black artists, black art. Is this one and the same? Should the premise of a black artist assume to revolve around the Black Experience?

Is this an obligation or their limitation?

Probed by Atkinson, he pondered this question in the creation of black art. Do black artists feel a need or a want to create art that speaks on the legacies of being black? Is there a psychological recognition of the intention to create this specific art or is this an unconscious, dubious task of “Well what else can I create, what else can I express or speak of?”

Is this the sole inspiration that succumbs black artists creativity? Or is this the result of having suppressed voices in American society? As the black artist now being allowed a platform on which to speak and spread ideas, does the black artist feel it is their social obligation to use this platform as an opportunity to do right by their people by encapsulating their voice and stories into artistic creation?

When given the tools of creation where the makings of an artist are fundamentally boundless, black hands decide to retrace their steps that have already been taken rather than walk outside of them.

Why? Allowed the possibility to create anything, why this and why only this? As a question of “If you can have anything in the world, what would it be?” I try to understand why an artist chooses nothing, but all that they were given.

Is this their means of stating the entirety of life, society and self all encompass around the identity of BLACK?

The “black aesthetic” is void, the implications of what is thought to be “black art” is not defined by artistic style but the social identity of being black in America.

There is no archetype of “black art” because other than their inclusion of black forms and black subjects, there is no verifying feature that constitutes black art. The black subject matter fills the canvas literally in form and figuratively in meaning.

“This collection presents the forms and styles operative in the works of artists who have assembled together, not because their creations are related by styles or form some kind of school, but because they happen to be Afro- American or artists of African descent” (7).

Unlike art movements like Impressionism and Abstraction, there is no definitive nature adopted to stylize the works of one another. The categorization of “black art” can even come across as a form of segregation, where regardless of the black artists effort, their work can never be acknowledged alongside the prestigious majority (whites).

“Few nonblacks have either the historical vision or the intellectual appetite to deal seriously with the art of the American black…” (7).


Black. Black people who happen to make art. Black art. Black artists.

Underrepresented and misrepresented, the neglect to fully encapsulate the productions of Black America implies the lesser than quality of their art.


“What is shown from Black America revolves around the themes of protest, propaganda, sociological, diverse, emotional” (8).


Is this a limitation of the artist or is this the limited presentation of the art displays? Is this theme taken from a “social consciousness” suggested by Atkinson, or is this a self-obligation the artist takes for being a minority in America?


Although each black artist is different in approach, his or her form of expression represents a collective identity, one that is only known through living it. Rather than further categorize artists, they are left at race. Those who say they don’t see race, it is because it doesn’t define them. For black artists emerging in the contemporary, they don’t question whether they see race but they rather skip formalities and present it to you.


So here is their presentation.

Black art, black artists

And again I ask this question

Can a black artist be an artist without creating black art?


Black Artists, Black Art





Atkinson,  Edward J. Black Dimensions in Contemporary American Art. New York: New American Library, 1971.


Jasmine BootheComment