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The Cultural Aesthetics of Visual Art By Dr. James R. Gore 

Culture has an influence on how art is perceived. Since perception is a cognitive function, the question is how does cultural experience affect the viewing of artwork? A 2019 article in the journal, Frontiers In Psychology…Cognitive Science stated: “Culture aesthetics requires an empirical inquiry into the kinds and varieties of experiences associated with the artistic activities as they are understood in diverse cultures.” (Yang, Silveira, Formuli, et al, 2019). 

Visual art by African American artists whose artwork reflect the African American experience, have had an especially significant role in America. One factor of importance of art by African American artists, as it provides a perspective or worldview that is self-interpreted based on experience. In the book Harlem Renaissance, Art of Black America by the Studio Museum of Harlem, a quote by Alain Locke, (1925, p.11) stated: “If after absorbing the new content of American life and experiences, and after assimilating new patterns of art…then the Negro may well become what some predicted, the artist of American life.” 

Historically, African American visual artists have had key periods which define their art, such as: the Harlem Renaissance, spanning the 1920’s and 1930’s and the Black Arts Movement (BAM) also referred to as the Black Aesthetic Movement, beginning in the mid-1960’s thru the early 1970’s. Regarding the Black Arts Movement, the New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (2016) stated: 

Artists involved in the Black Arts Movement were adamant in their aim to reveal the particularities, struggles, strengths, and celebrations of African Americans through the creation of poetry, novels, visual art, and theater. Embedded in these works was a palpable emphasis on Black economic and cultural autonomy that was akin to the teaching of the Black Power Movement and Black Liberation Struggle

Visual Artists from the Harlem Renaissance such as: Jacob Lawrence, James Van Der Zee, William H. Johnson, Palmer Hayden, Aaron Douglas, Meta Warrick Fuller and Carl Van Vechten were visual storytellers of the African American aesthetic during the Harlem Renaissance. The Black Arts Movement brought the increased use of Public Art which artist Jeff Donaldson’s famous Wall of Respect is said to have inspired the Outdoor Mural movement. Artist Betye Saar utilized medium such as printmaking and Faith Ringgold’s mixed-media artwork is still being celebrated today.  

African American visual art is becoming increasingly relevant institutionally and to art collectors. The artwork of Jean-Michel Basquiat has sold at auction for over One Hundred Million Dollars and Kerry James Marshall and most recently an Earnie Barnes painting have been sold at auction for multi-millions. The works of Marshall is especially notable because his work has become valuable while he is still living. 

It is important for America’s cultural pluralism to be successfully self-defining, that visual artists of all cultures illustrate their experiences and tell their stories. In addition, objective perception of cultural aesthetics of other cultures is important to diversity and inclusion in our society. Objective perception does not mean without feelings of emotions, it simply refers to an open-minded approach to artwork you are experiencing.