Aaron Douglas Essay

This essay has a total of 1155 words and 6 pages.

Aaron Douglas



Aaron Douglas



People may ask, what other than a tornado can come out of Kansas? Well, Aaron Douglas was
born of May 26, 1899 in Topeka, Kansas. Aaron Douglas was a "Pioneering Africanist" artist
who led the way in using African- oriented imagery in visual art during the Harlem
Renaissance of 1919- 1929. His work has been credited as the catalyst for the genre
incorporating themes in form and style that affirm the validity of the black consciousness
and experience in America.

His parents were Aaron and Elizabeth Douglas. In 1922, he graduated from the University of
Nebraska School of Fine Arts in Lincoln. Who thought that this man would rise to meet
W.E.B. Du Bois's 1921 challenge, calling for the transforming hand and seeing eye of the
artist to lead the way in the search for the African American identity. Yet, after a year
of teaching art in Kansas City, Missouri, Douglas moved to New York City's Harlem
neighborhood in 1924 and began studying under German artist Winold Reiss. His mentor
discouraged Douglas's penchant for traditional realist painting and encouraged him to
explore African art for design elements would express racial commitment in his art. The
young painter embraced the teachings of Reiss to develop a unique style incorporating
African- American and black American subject matter. He soon had captured the attention of
the leading black scholars and activists.

About the time of his marriage on June 18, 1924, to Alta Sawyer, Douglas began to create
illustrations for the periodicals. Early the following year, one of his illustrations
appeared on the front cover of Opportunity magazine, which awarded Douglas its first prize
for drawing. Also, in 1925, Douglas's illustrations were published in Alain Looke's survey
of the Harlem Renaissance, The New Negro. Publisher Looke called Douglas a "pioneering
Africanist," and that stamp of praise and approval for the artist influenced future
historians to describe Douglas as "the father of Black American art." His fame quickly
spread beyond Harlem, and began to mount painting exhibitions in Chicago and Nashville,
among the numerous other cities, and to paint murals and historical narratives
interpreting black history and racial pride.

During the mid- 1920's, Douglas was an important illustrator for Crisis, Vanity Fair,
Opportunity, Theatre Arts Monthly, Fire and Harlem. In 1927, after illustrating an
anthology of verse by black poets, Caroling Dusk, Douglas completed a series of paintings
for poet James Weldon Johnson's book of poems, God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in
Verse. Douglas's images for the book were inspired by Negro Spirituals, customs of
Africans and black history. The series soon to became among the most celebrated of
Douglas's work. It defined figures with the language of Synthetic Cubism and borrowed from
the lyrical style of Reiss and the forms of African sculpture. Through his drawings for
the series, Douglas came close to inventing his own painting style by this combination of
elements in his work.

During this time, Douglas collaborated with various poets. It was also his desire to
capture the black expression through the use of paint. He spent a lot of time watching
patrons of area nightclubs in Harlem. Douglas said that most of his paintings that were
captured in these particular nightclubs were mainly inspired through music that was
played. According to Douglas, the sounds of the music was heard everywhere and were
created mostly during the Harlem Renaissance by well-trained artists. Douglas's work was
looked upon by most critics as a breath of fresh air. His work symbolized geometric
formulas, circles, triangles, rectangles, and squares became the dominant design motifs
for Douglas. It was in Douglas's series of paintings called God Trombones that Douglas
first expressed his commitment through the use of geometric shapes for Black artists. The
faces and limbs in these series of paintings are carefully drawn to reveal African
features and recognizable Black poses.

In God's Trombones, Douglas achieved his mastery of hard- edge painting using symbolized
features and lines. Through his use of these things he was able to bring to life the
stiffness in the figures which symbolized Art Deco. But, unlike the decorative programs
that exist in Art Deco, most of Douglas's work capitalized on the movement that was
influenced by the rhythms of Art Nouveau. Each of the paintings in the God's Trombone
Continues for 3 more pages >>