Exploring the World of African American Art

Art is famously subjective and a universal endeavor across the globe. Art has long since predated the written word, and all cultures create art for all sorts of reasons. It can take the form of music, dance, body paint or tattoos, painting on canvases, poetry and literature, sculpture, drawing, and so much more. Often, in the past, art was used to uphold religious beliefs or demonstrate a person’s social standing, or even to intimidate enemies in battle. Today, art of all kinds can be found in galleries, museums, and exhibits just about everywhere, and some cities are renowned for their many high-quality museums. Paris and the Louvre may come to mind, but in the U.S., New York City and Miami also have a strong art culture. American art is quite broad, due to the many ethnic backgrounds and experiences of Americans, and this has made American art an entire world in and of itself. Often, such art is used to express a particular heritage, such as Native American tribes, Hispanics, and African Americans. Their art is a window into the past and present experiences, values, and imagination of these groups.

Art as a Business

For many art lovers, their favorite works of art can be considered priceless. Still, even something as subjective and infinitely varied as art can be described in numbers, and form a substantial industry around the world. Statistics say that around 53% of all art collections around the globe contain more than 500 individual pieces, and American art in particular is quite popular (it appears in 40% of all worldwide collections). It may also be noted that among all types of art, paintings are among the most popular, appearing in 83% of collections. This compares favorably to collages and sketches, which appear in around 15% of all collections. This is a multi-billion dollar industry, and in the U.S. alone, around 113,000 nonprofit organizations patronize artists of all kinds. Just over 2.2 million artists are employed this way across the U.S., and these artists can express an astoundingly wide variety of perspectives and ideas when they are supported like this.

Art as a Science

Not only is art a matter of business, but it even plays a role in the human mind and body. After all, art is a product of the human mind, and on some level or other, it will always appeal to a viewer (though tastes vary widely, of course). Nature, by contrast, is often perceived as beautiful, but it never transmits a message or “speaks” to a viewer. Being products of nature, human beings often feel more relaxed and at ease when they are surrounded by nature (the Japanese even have the term “forest bathing” to describe this), but art shares that power.

There is a good reason art museums get a lot of guests, and why art can be found in public venues such as coffee shops, restaurants, dentist’s offices, libraries, and even the workplace. Studies have been done to see how art affects the human mind and body, and surveys show that after a person has viewed attractive art for at least half an hour at a museum, their stress levels are lower and they feel happier and more creative. Their physical stress symptoms may be lower, too. Similarly, viewing attractive art affects blood flow in the brain in a similar manner as when viewing a loved one.

This is why art consultants can and often are hired to choose art pieces to display in a client’s space, such as offices, eateries, doctor’s offices, and of course, hotels. Most guests in these places will expect to see art so the place has a more welcoming and homey feel, and art can help the guests feel more at ease and give them something to see while they wait. Such art can help them feel at ease, and that may be wonderful for someone anxiously waiting in a doctor’s office. In fact, a guest may find it odd if art is not anywhere to be found in such a place.

This applies to workplaces, too. Managers are always looking for new ways to make their employees more productive, focused, and creative, and art can do its part. Studies show that physically creative displays can make an employee also feel more creative and inspired, which ranges from innovative arrangements of tables and desks to the addition of potted plants to adding art. Art consultants may add framed photos and prints to the office space, and this may be a fine chance for amateur local artists to get some exposure. This may also act as a form of interior landscaping since guests will feel more welcome and at ease when they see attractive art on the walls of the office or similar workspace. More concretely, a study showed that people working in spaces enriched with art and potted plants are 17% more creative than if they worked in more sparse environments.

Ethnic Art and Expression

Meanwhile, when someone visits a museum or gallery in a city like Miami or New York, what are they going to see? Museums often have a combination of permanent exhibits and rotating ones, and this helps keep the museum’s contents fresh and interesting. Some museums focus mainly on contemporary art, and others tend to have historic and older art (some items dating back millennia, such as pottery and statues). And of course, for modern and some historic art, exhibits can be designed around a theme, such as ethnic art. This may often be done in a city that has a strong ethnic presence, such as Hispanic populations in Miami and plenty of areas in New York City. Sometimes, an exhibit like this may be designed and set up to coincide with certain holidays or times of the year, such as February for Black History Month.

Many black poets, photographers, painters, sculptors, novelists, and more have made a name for themselves since the early 1900s, if not earlier, and that trend continues today. What sort of topics tend to appear in African American art? Ultimately, each artist will create content that suits their own preference and interests, but in general, African American art often expresses historic American events and major time periods. Such art depicts African Americans’ overall role in history and society, often as a form of protest against inequality, celebrating the achievements and accomplishments of the African American community, and honoring their heritage.

African American art sometimes portrays ordinary life among black Americans from the late 1800s to today, as well. Other artworks may depict dramatic and critical moments during historic periods, such as the Civil Rights movement. Some such art may depict particular figures, ranging from Rosa Parks to Malcolm X to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but that is only scratching the surface. Many other works may depict ordinary, anonymous African Americans, so a viewer can see themselves in the piece or realize that the ordinary people represent the whole of African American society. African American art may be divided into further sub-topics, as well, such as African American women, who may depict their lives in all sorts of ways, from glamorous imagery to simple realism to protesting injustices and challenges that they face. It may also be possible for some African American art to draw parallels from previous decades to the present, to send a message such as “our struggle continues.” Or, they may send an optimistic message such as “we continue the legacy of these historic African American leaders.”

Art, artists, and creative thinkers will always be around — and it will be wonderful to see all the new and exciting pieces of art created in the future!