Article: Modern Storytellers: Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold

3556c2a21e941c6211196fea40c83737From The Met | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History


The work of these three African-American artists—Romare Bearden (1911–1988), Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000), and Faith Ringgold (born 1930)—speaks to the enduring power of the narrative impulse, and to its endless possibilities for reinvention. Whether the subject is historical, political, religious, fantastical, or in celebration of the rituals of everyday life, these artists have significant messages to communicate—and aesthetic approaches that tend toward bold, clear, and exuberant formal expression. In 1951, Lawrence made a statement about his work that could hold true in reflecting on each of these modern storytellers: “For me, a painting should have three things: universality, clarity, and strength. Universality so that it may be understood by all men. Clarity and strength so that it may be aesthetically good.” In each case, the artists’ African-American heritage and the expression of black identity is fundamental to their artistic expression. All three grew up or trained or lived at various points in their lives in Harlem, and participated in the community in important ways. And all three—whatever the subject of each individual work of art—convey an underlying social commentary about human identity seen through the prism of race and class. Again, Lawrence sums up a more global expression in commenting that: “Most of my work depicts events from the many Harlems that exist throughout the United States. This is my genre. My surroundings. The people I know … the happiness, tragedies, and the sorrows of mankind … I am part of the Black community, so I am the Black community speaking.”

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Citation: Paul, Stella. “Modern Storytellers: Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)

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