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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts of activism

Cunningham, James
Part V: Writers and the black revolution: [getting on with the get on: old conflicts and new artists],   pp. [385]-391 PDF (6.1 MB)

Page 388

consists of is simply the liberation of black people from the power of whites.
It was
this active sense of duty that the black fires burning that night in Detroit
blazing the way towards.
The green thinking towards which those flames were heading that night was
laid out and exhibited and examined and attacked the following week when
I re-entered
that room with my position paper. It focused on two questions: individualism
craftsmanship. The first was spelled out in terms of individual freedom of
To this was added the freedom of an artist to determine his own purpose.
matter of craftsmanship was a partly cold and a partly hot affair for it
involved a
cool, exacting, single-minded concern for perfecting an adequate technique
on the one
hand, and on the other, sheer delight in possessing talent as well as sheer
in possessing a medium in which one's talents were most at home. Thus, the
notion of perfection in art emphasized, for me, the sheer effort of the will,
at one
moment, and the effortlessness of love the next. And like the proverbial
the work in which an artist was automaticly involved was painfully (sometimes
so) intensely, automatic by solitary. And further, since an artist's work
was at bottom a
labor of love, a creative love of effort, the artist could be justly accused
of possessing
and harboring a very specialized and even joyous appetite for the suffering
his work  T
involved as well as the suffering his work involved him in.
In my opening remarks I did some attacking of my own. And my main target
was the
notion of black consciousness. From what I understood from Don's account
previous week this meant, above all, an active involvement for the artist
in a Black
liberation movement; for the black awareness he spoke of clearly led to the
making  T
of nationalists and the new sense of national consciousness that this led
in turn, led to a sense of purpose that spelled REVOLUTION.
What stood between me and Don's black revolutionary artist also stood between
388        our separate notions of being men, and that was nothing more,
nothing less
than a definition of art. For me, a man, like an artist, stood alone and
aloof, going  X
about his Father's business which "art in heaven" - which meant
doing his own
thing: whatever he wanted to do towards cultivating whatever he wanted to
For Don, on the other hand, a man stood united with other black men to deal
with a
common enemy. But all of my enemies were general ones like ignorance and
fear,   L
lack of energy or will power or just poor imagination; and such brothers
of the  T
spirit as I had were like myself: self-sufficient spirits struggling mightily
and sternly,
and even blissfully, but alone. A man really worth his spirit thrived on
And the only community worth living in or for was one composed of people
strong and
imaginative enough to be alone.
The final element in Don's black nationalist concept of the artist with which
my  T
individualist notions collided concerned the question of the artist's public.
Though this
matter had never been a conscious issue for me, I still had some very definite
about it. Stated very briefly, but not unfairly to myself, they come to this:
the artist has his imagination to offer. People can take it or leave it.
Far from
implying that an artist does not need a public, these words simply specify
the type
of audience in mind: anybody who could read, hear and use what I wrote- 
black. white, or blue. There is no end to the number of artists in the world;
if one
didn't please, another would. Our ancestors have a briefer way of putting
There's a drummer for every type of dancer. A further implication of these
is that individual people have different needs.
This simple, matter of fact picture of the artist and his public is not only
not especially
black, but actually goes counter to one of the most firmly established achievements
of the black world of aesthetics, of the Black Arts movement: the destruction
of the
Divided Black Intellectual, the black creative mind torn by the tensions
of a
conflicting sense of self-consciousness, Du Bois' creative waste of "double
aims." One

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