Art of the Harlem Renaissance
A Revolution Aaron Douglas The Song of the Towers Works Cited Links
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 success 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.
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
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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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. http://www.artnoir.com/index.douglas.aaron.html.
Exhibition: Aaron Douglas. http://www.si.umich.edu/CHICO/Harlem/text/adouglas.html
African American Art: Aaron Douglas. http://www.artic.edu/artaccess/AA_AfAm/pages/AfAm_3.shtml
Haskins, Jim. The Harlem Renaissance. Connecticut. The Millbrook Press, 1996.
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Aaron Douglas Online Coloring Book
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