In the visual arts, early 20th cen. African American artists were able to draw upon an enormous and quite unique wealth of multicultural influences, from ancient Egypt (see, e.g., Meta Warrick Fuller’s The Awakening of Ethiopia, 1914), to traditional African motifs (Alfred Janniot’s sculptural relief for the façade of the Museum of African and Oceanic Arts in Paris, in 1933; Richmond Barthé’s African Dancer, 1933; or Augusta Savage’s Lift Every Voice and Sing [The Harp], 1939), to the important and pervasive influence of European Modernism on the Harlem Renaissance – including, for example, the influence of the French landscape painters of the Barbizon School (1850-1870) on the works of Edward Mitchell Bannister (d. 1901); the influence of Matisse and the colorists of the Fauve School on Beauford Delaney (1901-1979); the impact of Picasso, Vorticism, and other modernist trends on the so-called “Dynamic Cubism” of the highly eclectic Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) or on William Johnson (1901-1970; see, e.g., his famous Self-Portrait, c. 1930-1935, now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum); and, finally, Aaron Douglas, whose work, developed in the 1920’s, is thought to have synthesized aspects of European Modernism, ancient Egyptian, and West African art.
Students interested in this topic of early 20th cen. African American visual arts will be uniquely positioned to study it in depth through Interdisciplinary Humanities. In addition to the formalist and thematic approaches already adopted by traditional departments in art history, students will now be able to draw on the wealth of historical and cultural influences that were available to these artists by studying these influences directly through departments that specialize in these very areas, often with methodologies of their own. So, in addition to the required survey course on Ancient Egypt and the Ancient Near East (AFRO), this student will be able to take various other courses on ancient art (both African and European), such as Black Aesthetics (AFRO 199), Survey of Visual Art (ARTH 164), West African Art (ARTH 172-173), Ancient Rome/Modern America (CLAS 090), Classical Art (CLAS 103), Blacks in Antiquity (CLAS 110), Egyptian Archaeology (CLAS 119), as well as numerous courses on modern art, again from multiple departments, such as The Harlem Renaissance (AFRO 192), African Languages and Cultures (AFST 105), Topics in Art Criticism (ARTH 167), African American Art I-II (ARTH 178-179), Trends and Ideas in African American Art (ARTH 189), Heritage: Art of Romare Bearden (ARTH 196). Then, relying on these courses, plus further classwork on the vibrant literary activities of this period offered by the Department of English, and along with specialized readings (such as Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson, A History of African American Artists from 1792 to the Present ; Albert Boime, The Art of Exclusion: Representing Blacks in the Nineteenth Century ; R.J. Powell, Black Art: A Cultural History ; and Frank M. Snowden, Jr., Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience , whose work includes many reproductions of Greco-Roman sculpture and statuary), the student will be able to put together as a Capstone Project a rich cultural study of the multiple streams of influences that flowed into the visual arts of the Harlem Renaissance. Thus enriched by the topics and methodologies of several departments, the student will be able to produce a lengthy, well-researched, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research paper, or the student could develop any number of multimedia presentations, including an Exhibition on, for example, Style and Influence (Ancient and Modern) of the Visual Arts in the Harlem Renaissance.