Saturday, September 19, 2015

"The Black Aesthetic" and "The Black Arts Movement"

More than a decade ago when I first began studying African American artistic culture of the 1960s and 1970s, I would mistakenly use the "Black Arts Movement" and "Black Aesthetic" interchangeably. The former in fact referred to an overall movement, the latter related to a critical and theoretical concept. Of course, both appeared throughout African American arts discourse of the era.

As I looked back over issues of Negro Digest/Black World, particularly while utilizing the search function on Google, I have a better understanding about why I perhaps made the mistake. The phrase "black aesthetic" appears far more frequently than "Black Arts Movement." It's possible, while reading through issues, to think far more about black aesthetics, as poets, editors, playwright, and scholars regularly discussed and disagreed about the concept in the pages of Negro Digest/Black World.
Google Ngram Viewer

Much later, as the scholarly discourse on 1960s and 1970s African American literary art took shape over the last 10 or so years, the phrase "the Black Arts Movement" overtook "Black Aesthetic." A comparison on Google's Ngram Viewer seems to confirm my sense about the rise of "Black Arts Movement" and decline of "black aesthetics."  

Over the last several years, we've seen articles, books, conferences, and anthologies focusing on "Black Arts." There have been far fewer treatments on the "Black Aesthetic." But reading through issues of Negro Digest/Black World gives us a different impression.

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