Deserving Recognition: Black Artists in America

A painting of a young, African American girl.

Image credit: Shutterstock

“I think it’s going to take about 30 years, maybe 40, before people stop caring whether I’m black and just pay attention to the work,” said painter Norman Lewis in 1979. At the time, he was talking to his daughter while dying of cancer. And he was right.

His paintings are finally attracting the attention of museums from all over the U.S., from New York to Boston to Philadelphia He has also been credited with being a key player in the Abstract Expressionist Movement, without having been previously recognized. He was also one of the first black artists to verbalize the institutional neglect that black artists everywhere are feeling.

Better late than never? Many American art museums are reexamining 20th century art to give black artists the credit and recognition that they deserve. The New York Times said it best:

“After decades of spotty acquisitions, undernourished scholarship and token exhibitions, American museums are rewriting the history of 20th-century art to include black artists in a more visible and meaningful way than ever before, playing historical catch-up at full tilt, followed by collectors who are rushing to find the most significant works before they are out of reach.”

It’s important to recognize and support black artists for a variety of reasons. First of all, they deserve just as much credit and acclaim as any other artist does. But secondly, museums ought to serve the needs of the general public. It is unacceptable to walk into a museum and not get a diverse range of artwork. Inclusiveness is important for the next generation of artists and the general public.

Aspiring black artists should have easy access to role models and inspiration. Museums need to move away from a male Euro-centric focus and support minorities in all areas.

Curators need to realize that by ignoring the impact and importance of minority artists, they are leaving their collections simple and one-dimensional. After all, how can one examine or display a part of American history while ignoring the contributions of minorities?

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