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The African American Art Expression


It is well-known that contemporary literature and art contain works of authors of different skin colors and origins. However, in 1926 the issue of diversity of art creators was put a little rough due to the emergence of the Harlem Renaissance. We’ve only been living in these ghettos for 75 years or so, but the other 300 years–I think is worth writing about (Draper 842). It has to be noticed here that hundreds of writers and artists living in the 1920s and 1930s took part in the Harlem movement as a sign of the utmost desire for equality and self-expression. Hundreds of artists created their masterpieces that reflected the world of African Americans. Of course, nowadays the existence of art is completely independent and democratic throughout the world unlike America’s twentieth-century battles for African Americans’ art implementation the way they saw it.

Schuyler vs. Hughes Arguments

One of the oppositionists to ‘black art’ being a separate dimension was George Schuyler who claimed that the subject matters touched upon in the African American art was the same as supporting racial discrimination. Also, he was the one who called such cultural embodiment “The Negro Art Hokum” denying that there did not exist anything like black sensibility or ‘black art’. To his point of view “The Negro Art Hokum” separated whites from black Americans that lead to racial discrimination only, whereas ‘black art’ founders wanted to make their art stand out and show their talents.

In contrast to George Schuyler’s The Negro-Art Hokum Langston Hughes published the response article in the same exact magazine except for a week later called The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. Both of them were published in the Nation in the same year as 1926. Magnificently, both of the articles are interdependent stressing the importance of each other’s arguments. Of course, it is hard to define whether George Schuyler or Langston Hughes was right in the utmost desire to stand for their own views. However, now it is absolutely clear that in response to Schuyler Hughes said that the desire of African Americans to race towards whiteness is nothing more than a wish to blend with the standardized art of America. Hughes claimed such desire to entail African Americans losing their identity and culture.

The Significance of Black Art to Schuyler

However, the first writer under consideration – George Schuyler – made it clear that there was no particularly different specificity of African American art. Of course, there is no doubt that African American culture differed by its origin, however, in terms of talking about art in general, African American way of art expression could not be considered to be a separate branch of it. Therefore, according to Schuyler ‘hokum’ art is nonsense, for him, there is no such meaning as African American art. Unfortunately, there is a lot of meaning in his words. Being an African American himself, he understood the importance of being who you are. Therefore, to my mind, he objected the ‘black art’ emergence because it was hard to realize that African Americans wanted to separate themselves from the white Americans which for Schuyler meant the same as to admit their Negro belonging. Therefore, the article gains a powerful sense as per the African American being among middle and lower-class whites – Schuyler did his utmost to say that the entire art is hokum because he didn’t want his brothers to disgrace themselves.

The Negro-Art Hokum is to some extent Schuyler’s feeling for sociology. It seems like he was analyzing the art production of the middle and upper classes of African Americans and whites only. However, he neglected the disproportionate numbers of those classes. Besides, a great role in this issue might have played the fact that he actually avoided taking into consideration the lower African American class.

One more issue that needs to be stressed within the analysis of The Negro-Art Hokum is the actual fact of denoting African American art as hokum. As per Schuyler, the separation of African American art from the white one only reinforced the racial issues in the country. Besides, he proclaims the black art to not actually exist as it wanted it to be. Moreover, the artists were doing what a black person was expected to do from the point of view of whites. Namely, he proposes to consider the ‘black art’ to be the instance that emerged under the influence of white model art. As such, he prolongs that African American – even after a three hundred years’ history in America – was still considered “just plain American”.

Hughes Definition of African American Art

It has to be said that Hughes unlike Schuyler defines race differently. …Hughes’s early work was roundly criticized by many black intellectuals for portraying what they thought to be an unattractive view of black life (PF, 2010). It is obvious that he agrees with Schuyler On some points. However, we can clearly see that Hughes appraises the African American artistic heritage. His way of talking about the black race differs a lot from Schuyler’s one. Hughes expresses his utmost belief that the ‘black art’ would be accepted as a full-grown art disregarding who has created it. The main idea he was trying to pursue in his article The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain is that the Negro middle class considered whites to be unconsciously a symbol of all virtues. This explicitly highlights the attempts of the author to agree with Schuyler in terms of blacks following the white art subconsciously.


For the sake of justice, it has to be said that Schuyler did a great job in laying the issue bare. Though unlike Schuyler Hughes demanded respective attitudes towards ‘black art’ as it did exist separately and – being a racial world – completely differed due to racial individuality and historical background, still The Negro Art Hokum represented the clearest view of the Harlem Art expression of those days. The counterarguments of Hughes and Schuyler force us to understand that the question of African American art expression was put point-black. On the one hand, it meant total contraposition to the white race and their arts, on the other – blacks wanted to keep abreast of the art disregarding the skin color and historical background. The beginning of the twentieth century was significant for the breakthrough of African Americans’ self-expression so that it can prosper, develop, improve and be presented the way we see it today.

Works Cited

Draper, James P, ed. Black Literature Criticism: Excerpts From Criticism of the Most Significant Works of Black Authors Over the Past 200 Years. Vol. 2. Detroit, London: Gale, 1992.

Poetry Foundation. Biography of Langston Hughes from Poetry Foundation. Web.


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