Art Term

The black aesthetic

The black aesthetic is a cultural ideology that developed in America alongside the civil rights movement in the 1960s and promoted black separatism in the arts

The theorist Larry Neal proclaimed in 1968, that the Black arts were the ‘aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept’, and argued that young writers and artists should confront the contradictions arising out of the African-American’s experience of racism and marginalisation in the West.

The development of a Black Aesthetic was seen as crucial to the development of an African-American identity at this revolutionary moment in American politics. Artists were called upon to seek a new aesthetic in opposition to the white western one, and not to ignore their black communities. Early artworks took the form of murals, that confronted social issues and sought to galvanise local black communities. They were colourful and rich with symbolic imagery, and often depicted members of the black community, from Jazz musicians to politicians.

Artists associated with the Black Aesthetic include the visual arts workshop, Dana Chandler, Gary Rickson, William Walker, Jeff Donaldson, Eugene Wade, Jae Jarrell, Wadsworth Jarell, Barbara Jones-Hogu and Gerald Williams, many of who went on to form AFRI-COBRA.

Related glossary terms

AFRI-COBRA, Black Arts Movement, Spiral, PESTS