Artistic Contributions of the Harlem Renaissance

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The Harlem Renaissance was caused by the migration of African Americans, their search for identity, and talent. After the abolition of slavery many blacks moved toward industrialized cities. There, they hoped to find success and be identified as common people. After World War I, people began to recognize the African American identity and saw their work as more than an object but rather a piece of art. The art works blacks created were due to their progression in literature and visual arts (Blackman).

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Therefore, several artistic contributions were made by African Americans during the time period of the Harlem Renaissance; thus, the art works demonstrate their culture, struggles and feelings caused by racism.

African Americans faced prejudices in the visual arts. However, for that reason, they focused more and created “realistic paintings of landscapes, historical scenes, and portraits of famous people and prominent or wealthy families.” (The Beauty). Though strenuous work and determination blacks got the appreciation they deserved and “… felt freer to learn, experiment, and generally practice their art” (The Beauty). Several famous white artists were interested in the African Americans way of creating art, thus they began including aspects of African American art into their own pieces of art. For those reason blacks began to create new forms of art which included images being based on African American masks and other aspects of their culture, such as tribal traditions and dances. With more aspects of their culture in their works, whites would include it in their own and spread the African American culture as well, helping identify blacks as common people. Moreover, another person interested in African visual arts was a real-estate developer and philanthropist called William E. Harmon. Harmon created exhibitions for African American art which “provided an opportunity and showcase for black artists to gain national and international recognition that otherwise would not have been available to them” (Hammond). One of the most well-known artists from the time period of the Harlem Renaissance was Aaron Douglas. Douglass is known for “his murals, paintings, book designs, and periodical illustrations” (Hammond). Douglas’ artistic contributions displayed African American culture as he created “scenes fusing jungle drums, rhythms, and dances with the music and dance of Jazz Age Harlem” (Nieman). Thus, the artistic contributions made by African Americans during the time period of the Harlem Renaissance demonstrate their culture.

Furthermore, African Americans expressed their pain, and culture through music and literature. Blacks began to make music called blues and jazz in which the topic of the songs were often the oppression blacks endured during the times of slavery and racism. In addition, “many African American authors [were] influenced by the blues…” (Griffler). With emotional songs, the literature was often also emotional and one well known book is called The Narrows (1953), by Ann Lane Petry. Other prominent and influential writers during the Harlem Renaissance were W.E.B Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston. Du Bois was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people, and wrote several books on race issues. His main contribution however, was “the phrase ‘talented tenth’ to denote the group of highly educated, culturally adept, and politically astute blacks who would lead the rest of the race into better lives” (Harlem). Meanwhile, Hughes was known for depicting the black “life as he saw it, [and did not write in order to] impress the critics who believed that he should present black life in the best possible light to help improve the plight of African Americans” (Harlem). Similarly, Hurston “fought against the belief that the poverty often associated with black American culture made it less valuable. She continually encouraged blacks… to recognize their rural cultural heritage… [and through her own writing, she offered readers a] positive self-affirmation for African Americans” (Harlem). The artistic contributions made during the Harlem Renaissance by W.E.B Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston were clearly demonstrative of black culture, history, and struggle. Along with their own contributions, they also influenced other to further their own ideas on black culture, struggles, and feelings caused by racism.

Not to mention, During the Harlem Renaissance African Americans experienced a new form of freedom through their talents. For example, African Americans were able to appear in theatres and express themselves. However, there was still discrimination against blacks at the time and blackface did occur. Blackface was most commonly done by whites in order to portray stereotypes of African Americans. However, African Americans also put on blackface to please the white crowd as they expected them to be darker than they actually were. In addition, Shuffle Along created by Langston Hughes became one of the most important black theatrical production. People flocked to go see the Broadway show due to its music and dancing.

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Artistic Contributions of the Harlem Renaissance. (2021, Mar 20). Retrieved from