If you ask a large number of Black people to name an artist, nine times out of ten they will provide the names of Blues, Jazz, Classical, or Rap musicians or dancers. When requested to name visual artists, you will very often be met with blank stares. This is bound to change soon due to a Renaissance in the world of art, and a great deal of the steam is coming from Black visual artists.
There have always been Black visual artists, but they are often not met with the acclaim in the Black community musicians and others receive. There are those who can be heard lamenting the lack of respect they receive regarding their craft.
They describe situations such as the following: An artist is displaying her or his art during an art fair. Visitors to the art fair see art they find attractive. They ask the artist for the cost, and very often when the artist responds, the potential client might say something like “My young son can draw, I think I’ll have him draw one of those for me.” They saunter into the sunset sans the art and head toward another booth where they look for a commercial piece that will match their couch.
The moral of this vignette is that many people do not understand the value of visual art.
Essentially, it is one of the most important facets of culture in a society. It can transmit the ethos of an entire age. There is a reason people will pay millions of dollars for an authentic piece of art created by a serious artist. Prominent artists today realize many millions of dollars for their creations.
Unfortunately, many visual artists are not fully recognized until after they die. There are exceptions to this, however, and one example is the late, great, Jean-Michel Basquiat, the young Africa American who started his career as a graffiti creator who went on to be one of the greatest artists of modern times. His work currently commands millions of dollars.
Basquiat is not the only Black artist garnering fame and fortune; in fact, there are a whole host of Black artists gaining attention; these are so numerous there is no room here to name them all. They are, however, making such a splash that the world is sitting up and taking note. One notable example is the portraits created for the first Black president of the United States and his wife, Barack and Michelle Obama. Barack’s portrait was done by Kehinde Wiley and Michelle’s portrait was created by Amy Sherald. Both artists are phenomenally successful. Moreover, one of the most prominent artists in the world resides in Chicago. He is renowned sculptor Richard Hunt.
Along with the increase in prominence of individual Black artists, there are several organizations that serve as venues for them. In Chicago, the South Side Community Art Center is the oldest existing institution that focuses on Black art. It is the last of the WPA projects and opened in the 1940s. According to reports, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt actually attended the opening reception.
Since the 1960s through the present day, there are numerous facilities that have focused on highlighting art created by Black people. Back in the day, there was Osun Center for the Arts; Afam Gallery; Johnnie Matthews Gallery, Black Arts Guild (BAC), and Maurice Hodo Gallery to name a few.
Today, in addition to the South Side Community Art Center, there are several organizations or venues that focus on Black art. These include, but are not limited to, Pigment International, Diasporal Rhythms, Gallery Guichard, the DuSable Museum, The South Side Community Art Center, Heaven Gallery, Vertical Gallery, Faie African Art Gallery, Carl Hammer Gallery, Blanc Gallery, Little Black Pearl, Offbeat Street Art Tour, Art West, Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, and Some Like It Black Creative Arts Bar. There are also Black arts collectives like Sapphire & Crystals and AFRICOBRA.
The foregoing barely touches on the magnificence of the Black visual arts in Chicago. Nationally, and even internationally, Black artists are becoming as prominent as rock stars among art collectors.
Why is art so important? As indicated, visual art is a purveyor of culture. It has the capacity to freeze history in time which provides a useful societal barometer. Do yourself and your community a favor and familiarize yourself with Black visual arts and artists. While at it, you can also enhance that couch! A Luta Continua.