Saturday, December 20, 2008

What is the Neo-African American Aesthetic?

Since I have begun tossing this term around as though it was already a part of the literary lexicon, I thought that maybe it would behoove me to formulate an official definition, in order that others might understand what I mean when I say it. First, I should talk about how I came upon it.

Actually, it was a collaboration. A community effort. It was coined in an all black, African American Studies class on the Harlem Renaissance. It evolved.

New Black Renaissance.

New Black Aesthetic.

Neo-Black Aesthetic Movement.

I don’t remember which name came first, but Neo-African American Aesthetic (NAAA) developed from a discussion about what we personally expected from the literature and art of our people in the Age of Obama. It does, in fact, proceed from a combination of the intellectual efforts of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement, in which members sought to create a black identity based on the black experience.

The Harlem Renaissance, which took place roughly from 1919-1940, was divided into two camps which became the primary debate of the movement: Art vs. Propaganda. But generally speaking, black writers during this time “shared common literary experiences,” and Sterling A. Brown lists those as: “(1) a discovery of Africa as a source for race pride, (2) a use of Negro heroes and heroic episodes from American history, (3) propaganda of protest, (4) a treatment of the Negro masses…with more understanding and less apology, and (5) franker and deeper self-revelation”.

The Black Arts Movement of the 60s and 70s, was spawn by young, politically conscious black artists who “proposed as one of its principal aims the grassroots mobilization and politicization of all black-identified people, using literature, music, dance, film and other art forms to achieve both artistic and political autonomy at any price”.

So, may I suggest, that the Neo-African American Aesthetic (NAAA) is a continuation of all these things. It is the best of both, with a 21st century awareness. It is art and propaganda reflecting the experiences of us all, the middle-class and the “low-down folks”. It is our beauty and our ugliness, however, presented in a way that is not always crass, not always proper, but always honest. It is an understanding that we no longer have to prove ourselves to be human and worthy to anyone but, each other. It is, in the Age of Obama, an understanding that “we can disagree without being disagreeable”. It is the profound declaration that who we are artistically is essentially priceless, and that no amount of money is worth selling our souls or the souls of our brothers and sisters. The Neo-African American Aesthetic (NAAA) should reflect our love of and commitment to craft, and it should always represent the apogee of our creativity, spirituality and humanity.

Source: The Handbook of African American Literature by Hazel Arnett Ervin
Artwork: John T. Scott, 1940-2007

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At 6:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Post-Soul is a name that is all ready out there from Mark Anthony terms of art...its been happening.

At 7:51 PM , Blogger persistence said...

Must learn about this Mark Anthony Neal...Thx.


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