Negro Modernism through Art
Despite the advancement of America in ways that were extraordinary, Negros were still being treated harshly and considered the inferior race. However, during this period of constant discrimination through stereotypical accusations, undermining, and prejudice, the New Negro arose and revolutionized society as a whole. Through reading the works of prominent social activists Langston Hughes and Alain Locke; it can be understood that the concept of the New Negro was a promising aspect during the Harlem Renaissance. The “New Negro”, coined by Alain Locke, is described as being a modernist – an independent and self-guided individual who would go against longstanding white supremacy and prove his equality and noncompliance to unreasonable white assumptions and demands. Langston Hughes and Alain Locke both pushed for the acknowledgement of the American Negro’s part in society as the emanating New Negro sought social compensation for the misjudgment and inequality they faced. The impression Langston Hughes and Alain Locke made, and the message they brought through their works, can be appreciated through Aaron Douglas’s “Building More Stately Mansions” where Douglas shows the journey of the Negro, Hale Woodruff’s “African Headdress” where Woodruff touches past African culture, and James Wells “Mask Compilation” where Wells shows how the New Negro embraces his true color.
The idea of the New Negro was initially brought up by Alain Locke as an innovative persona in society who is concealed by the burden of the stereotypical Old Negro. Locke argues that the New Negro brought forth a significant mission: to reinstate the black race’s prestige and esteem. Alain Locke describes this regeneration as ‘Negro Zionism’. It cannot be discounted that the Old Negro has contributed vastly to American society through art, music, and other ways that shaped America into being what it is today. Being the balance of society, the Old Negro contributed in ways such as labor and spirituality. Locke argues that it is with this sudden contribution that the New Negro is able to be the beneficiary of the significant efforts by the Old Negro.
Perhaps most powerful of all was the notion that the Negro’s contributions to the future were to be more significant by aiding to create a new American culture, rather than being a beneficiary to the Old Negro. Locke’s final, yet perhaps his most important argument that he mentioned, is the importance of American Negros and their reconnection with Africa. Locke argues this because he assumed that this would create a noticeable group effort that would increase the prestige of blacks throughout America (Locke).
Much like Alain Locke, Langston Hughes discusses the significance of black culture. However, unlike Locke, Hughes was more astound to talk about Negro art and the struggle of Negro artists rather than the entire Negro race. In “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”, Langston Hughes exposes the reality of Negros and their interpretations of their own race. The mountain Hughes refers to in the title of his work is the black artist’s effort towards becoming white. Hughes claimed the issue with the modern black society was that the black race was leaving their Negro culture behind and letting, American culture grasp them.
Hughes argues his viewpoint by comparing the middle and upper class Negro’s to the blacks from the “mountain” that the Negro artist faces. He accuses the middle and upper class for letting go of their cultural roots and wanting to be part of white America. The example that he gives in his work was a young middle classed black child who aspires to become a poet. The issue is that this young boy wants to be a normal poet, rather than a black poet. Hughes uses this example to represent the betrayal of race by criticizing the boy for wanting to be white. The issue with the middle and upper class is that any artist...
Cited: Douglas, Aaron. Building More Stately Mansions. 1944. Photograph. Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill.
Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” in The Portable Harlem
Renaissance Reader, edited by David Levering Lewis, 91-95. New York: Viking, 1994.
Locke, Alain. “The New Negro,” in The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader, edited by David
Levering Lewis, 46-51. New York: Viking, 1994.
White, Charles. Bearded Man. 1949. Photograph. Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill.
Wells, James. Mask Compisition.. n.d. photograph. Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill.
Woodruff, Hale. African Headdress. 1935. Photograph. Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill.
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