Contemporary Black Art and Aesthetics: an Introduction
How can we think about the variety and diversity of Black art and aesthetics in the aftermath of Civil Rights? If the Civil Rights Movement, in its fight for basic recognition, put forth a unitary image of blackness, Black identity is now fractured into countless pieces. B-boy, militant, bohemian, queer, bourgeoise: all exist and flourish in a context riven by contradiction. African-Americans are more free, their art and style predominates mainstream culture; yet racism, structural and personal, continues to oppress and warp Black lives. For contemporary Black artists—“divorced,” as Bertram Ashe puts it, “from the nostalgia” associated with Civil Rights—a principal question seems to be: How do we deal with and represent the multiplicity of Black experience in conditions of freedom and stigma, wealth and poverty, assimilation and outsidership? Who is Black art for? What kind of subject do Black artists seek to represent? How can we, if at all, theorize the contemporary Black aesthetic?
In this course, we will survey contemporary Black art and aesthetics across film, music, literature, and criticism (with a focus on the 21st century), as we attempt to understand the conditions of Black creative possibility and what it reveals about contemporary African-American life. With readings from Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Mark Anthony Neal, Simone White, Kiese Laymon, Alexander Weheliye, Kathrine McKitrick, Jonah Mixon-Webster, and others, we will ask: How do contemporary Black artists treat with the histories and legacies of Civil Rights and the 1970s Black Arts Movement? How have they responded to intraracial class division, the mass commercialization of Black popular culture, and the fracturing of Black identity? How can we understand the variety of “posts” that theorists have used to describe the condition and sensibilities of Black post-modernity: post-liberation, post-black, post-soul? And, what can a study of contemporary Black art and aesthetics teach us about historical rupture and social change, particularly in relation to 21st-century African-American life?
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 12 — October 03, 2022