Response One to “Criteria of Negro Art”

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Response One to “Criteria of Negro Art”
W. E. B. Dubois’s Criteria of Negro art leaves me with mixed feelings. At times I find his arguments compelling, at others bitter, dichotomous, and overly idealistic, yet throughout I find oftentimes found his prose refreshingly clear and at times even beautiful. In addition, the essay seems to have a sense of urgency to achieve a purity of expression, an external form to manifest the internal latent “Beauty in Black,” an ideal to my mind at least, reminiscent of the ancient Greeks who sought to emulate the metaphysical archetypes of truth, beauty, and goodness. Nevertheless, then as now, art is also business, fraught with financial constraints and racial biases to this day. While Dubois applauded the artistic achievements of African-American artists in his day, he deplored the infrastructure upon which it was dependent, and he despaired its sensibilities to which African American artists often pandered--whether consciously or not. While Dubois’ desire for purity of expression is laudable, his seeming demand for such artistic purity and perfection seems at odds not only with the social and economic constraints of his day, but the very existential nature of human existence itself. Change has to start, however slowly, minutely and imperfectly at the beginning, for as history has shown, time and time again, while art can be a point of departure for social change, like the proverbial Zen river, true art cannot be pushed, but must meander in its own time and way. Else, it is simply crass ideology misrepresenting itself as art, being jammed down our throats by self-righteous ideologues. I’ve never found that appealing from conservative or liberals. Indeed, in order for art to work, art must be subtle as well as authentic. Nevertheless, Dubois seems to argue for the very opposite, yet he seems a man divided here. Case in point, he states that “all Art is propaganda and ever must be…,” yet this notion seems utterly at odds to...
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