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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution

Artist in an age of revolution: a symposium,   pp. [219]-[243] PDF (25.6 MB)

Page 224

224      Although I respect the Negro writer,
I have yet to observe any concern on his
part for Negro involvement in the other
arts. (The exception may be in the
musical or performing arts.) But he is
a purveyor of the culture, the problem.
His work, at present, seems to serve
more of a social than an artistic purpose.
He probably comes closest to
communicating the real so-called social
(racial) issues of our day with his media.
Does this split described above
necessarily imply an irreconcilable
option or is there a tenable position
which lies somewhere between?
What is a "tenable position?" Do
you mean to ask if a Negro artist
accepts a position of compromise?
I venture to answer no. He creates
as he wills. And whatever he produces
has to do with American society,
with all that this implies.
Do you think there is a special relationship
that the Negro artist has to
American society?
Everything the Negro artist does has
to do with his image of himself and his
aspirations. It involves human as well
as racial fulfillment. The Negro artist
faces all the "artistic," hence,
economic and cultural problems all
artists face. But for the Negro artist
these problems are aggravated by the
fact that the "power structure" of the
art world is not altogether prepared
to accept him as "just another artist,"
particularly in the visual arts. They
still desire, seemingly, a non-white
quality (not to say "Negroness") which
presents the Negro artist as being
unique and therefore different from
other artists. Let's not fool ourselves-
it is difficult, almost impossible, in
our day and time, to separate artistic
or creative power from material or
political power - at least from an
implementary point of view. All history
bears this out. Destroy the arts
of a people and you destroy the
embodiment of his gods and his spirit.
The Spaniards in South America knew
this. The European who came face to
face with the Indian knew it, as well as the
European who colonized Asia, Africa
and the Middle East. The Indian in
America and his art are finished.
The Asian artist is on the "bandwagon"
(though tenuously) of Western art.
The African artist is at a crossroad
of artistic expression. He is "up a tree."
As for the present-day American Negro
artist, his plight is no less confusing,
but his outlook seems more realistic.
Karl Shapiro, the poet, has said:
"It is not a coherent picture, but one
thing is true: the urge is downward, not
up. Not up to the elites. The gravity
of American creativity is downwards,
toward 'the darker bloods,' as Lawrence
would put it. Maybe the pale white
Anglo-Saxon elite has had it."
Do you think this is to any degree true?
Please comment.
Perhaps Mr. Shapiro is right, but much
more is involved. The artist of color
in America is an American. He has dark
blood, but is also exposed to the
artistic culture of the West. This is
the problem. It is not really a question
of "dark blood" in art; it is a matter
of the power structure of art and its
relation to the material, political and
social power structure. Who knows
the answer?

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