Art History Article Abstract: Art and Race in Romare Bearden’s “Projections”

A little art and academia today:

Glazer, Lee Stephens.  “Signifying Identity: Art and Race in Romare Bearden’s Projections.”   Art Bulletin 76.3 (September 1994): 411-26.

Lee Stephens Glazer shows how in the 1964 exhibition of images entitled Projections, Romare Bearden builds on familiar images from art history in order to show an African-American culture that is a vibrant and legitimate part of American life.  Glazer points to African American writers, Booker T. Washington being one, who mastered the discourse of white society to show the economic and intellectual achievements of blacks.  This led to the 1920s and 30s when other black artists and critics sought to distance themselves from “Uncle Tom” stereotypes by revising the African-American image of the past.  Glazer shows how Bearden, taking his cue from Malmaux’s idea of ‘art through art’, sought to establish through his art montages an African-American culture uniquely rich in experience and structure.  Glazer’s semiotic treatment of Bearden’s work shows how his pieces of art – and thus African American culture – have its origins in prior discourse, meaning that his art is not merely one isolated piece of modern culture but is indeed wrapped in historical trappings becoming part of a much larger piece of historical discourse.  One example cited by Glazer is Bearden’s Three Folk Musicians which is a slight tip of the cap to Picaso’s Three Musicians. But what Bearden accomplishes by playing off the back of art history is to acknowledge that African Americans have space and structure comparable to anyone else. The Three Folk Musicians becomes a metaphor for one aspect of African-American life.  Bearden and his Projections did not define the African American community in terms of what it lacked as Glazer claims the media in the 60s tended to do.   It defined it on terms of its own identify built on the back of their historical struggle.  As Glazer points out, Bearden confronts history by imitating it then mastering it. Thus his “artistic style renounces its connection to a unique object or individual point of view.” It identifies its relationship with other historical and artistic signifiers just like African-American culture is one piece of a fabric woven together by varied strings of the past.