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Art of the Harlem Renaissance

A Revolution                           Aaron Douglas                            The Song of the Towers                      Works Cited                 Links


A Revolution

    The Harlem Renaissance marked a revolutionary period in American history for the reason that blacks emerged as successful artists.  Movements within the Harlem Renaissance led blacks to excel in history, literature, art, and music.  The reason for such new suHarlem.jpg (19240 bytes)ccess was that the black’s cultural style of art was much different than people were accustomed to.  Before World War I black artists were rarely ever seen and they were never respected.  “More African-American artists emerged during the Harlem Renaissance than in the previous one hundred and fifty years” (Wilder 14).  The reason for this eruption of talent and creativity from the black community in such a short period can be explained by the fact that blacks’ were not respected for one hundred and fifty years making it impossible for them to express themselves.  Major black influences in the arts became the result and cities all over the country were being introduced to this new age art from a suppressed culture.  Great artists including Aaron Douglas emerged from this time period and forever changed art because no longer was it an expression of the white world.  

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                         Aaron Douglas (1899-1979)

    Aaron Douglas was a black man from Topeka, Kansas, who was expected to be nothing in life.  Douglas, however, was different and strove to be successful.  He was born in 1899 and by the 1920’s and 1930’s he was a highly successful artist making his arrival to the art world in New York.  Douglas was taught by Winold Reiss, a German artist.  Douglas learned many techniques from Reiss but he added a new blend of culture to his pieces never seen before in art.  Douglas painted many murals and his art was so popular that it was published on many magazine covers including Opportunity and The Crisis.  Douglas received success because his art was innovational for the fact that it included African abstraction with modern European art styles which made it appealing to whites and blacks.  This art could be directly related with the new popularity of jazz music which was a mixture of musical tastes for a new fresh sound.  

    African art was very geometric, yet simple art form which had definite lines and colors.  Douglas mixed industrialism, slavery, and art into one blend of modern African-American style of art.  This new art form became quite influential and Douglas’ style could be seen in later generations of black art.  Opportunity and The Crisis let Douglas’ art be seen by people all across the country, and Douglas’ influence spread with it.  Douglas was not the first to include his African “roots” in his art, which expressed his true cultural feelings.  Alain Locke “was known as the “dean” of the Harlem Renaissance-encouraged black artists to turn to Africa for inspiration” (Wilder 15).  Douglas used a musical sense in his art that made it more than just a painting but a feeling.  Emotions were conveyed through his painting and a jazzy feel was evoked.  “Lines, shapes, and colors in his paintings are repeated and varied like jazz themes…” (Wilder 15).  Aaron Douglas was a prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance in the art world, because he involved his African culture into modern art, which appealed too many.  

Aaron Douglas in 1934 painted a mural series named Aspects of Negro Life, which was painted for the New York Public Library on 135th Street.  One of the murals is named “Song of the Towers”, which shows the position of blacks in America.  In this painting a jazz musician is centered in the center standing upon a cog or a gear of some sort.  The musician holds a saxophone and is waving to someone in the distance.  The musician looks very professional and happy about where he is in life.  Another man is shown running up the same gear the musician is standing upon, and this man carries a briefcase.  The man running looks less successful and lower down in society, and in the picture he is running away from a green hand.  One last man is in the bottom left hand corner and is being held in the corner by the green hand, and he appears to be entangled.  The scene is in New York because The Statue of Liberty is seen far in the distance in between the large skyscrapers.  

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The Song of the Towers     


The green hands that are trying to grab the slaves are coming from the bottom of the painting, which represents the south.  The hands are trying to pull the black men back down into the south where they can be abused once again.  The industry of the North is the Negro’s savior and the buildings show the sky is the limit in the North.  “The Statue of Liberty stands at the center of Song of the Towers; it’s very small, which may imply that its promise of liberty for all has not yet been fulfilled” (Wilder 16).  Since the statue is so small and far away it shows that liberty is not yet being fulfilled in America for all people, especially minorities.  

    The man on top of the gear has made it to the North so he is happy and plays his jazz music with pride.  The other men are struggling to escape are being held back by the South, which gives them no opportunity.  The one man who has a briefcase is escaping the South and the briefcase shows that he has some class unlike the man in the lower left corner, who has nothing.  The colors used are dark towards the outside but in the center they get brighter by the man who is playing the saxophone.  This shows how jazz music was so lively and happy, but the Southern men could not cherish it because they were being held back by the Southern society, hence the use of the hands holding two of the men back.  The piece of art beautifully shows the power of industrialism, the partial freedoms of the North, the glory of Jazz, and the horrific society of the South.  

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Works Cited

Wilder, Jesse Bryant. Nexus: The Harlem Renaissance. OH: Pallas Communication, 1996.

Lewis, David Levering. When Harlem Was In Vogue. New York: Vintage Books, 1982.

Uzelac, Coni. Artnoir's African/American Art History 101: Aaron Douglas. 1/19/03.

Exhibition: Aaron Douglas.

African American Art: Aaron Douglas.

Haskins, Jim. The Harlem Renaissance. Connecticut. The Millbrook Press, 1996.


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Aaron Douglas Online Coloring Book

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