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Aaron Douglas Essay, Research Paper

Aaron Douglas was born on May 26, 1899 in Topeka, Kansas. He was the son of a baker and his mother was from Alabama. He had several brothers and sisters. Douglas’s family struggled financially all through his childhood. But insisted that their children educated themselves. He was encouraged at an early age by his mother to continue his creative interest in art. His drawings and paintings were welcomed on the walls of the Douglas’ home. His decision in becoming an artist came from his exposure to the African American printer, Henry Ossawa Tanner, and his Christ and Nicodemus painting done in 1899. “He was optimistic, adventurous and self-confident, he was determined to become an artist, determined to receive the best training possible, and convinced that he should play a ole role in the changing fortunes and fate of his race.” This was Aaron Douglas’s view and his desire in life, which would proof to be a success.

Douglas worked little odd jobs in different states after high school to save up for college. This also proved to be a positive experience as well as learning for Douglas, it inspired him to want to learn more. He enrolled at the University of Nebraska and attended until 1922, when he received a bachelor in fine arts. He would also later get another bachelor’s in arts from the University of Kansas.

During the Harlem Renaissance, the name of Aaron Douglas was preeminent as an artist among his colleagues and the leading writers and leading intellectuals of the day. Because he was able to reproduce illustrations for books and magazines, his services were in high demand. Important figures such as W.E.B. DuBois called upon Douglas to put pictures to his thoughts and writings about topics such as lynching and segregation. He was to give a visual image to the issues that were affecting black people. And also a way to portray images of the new emerging black writers and musicians.

Douglas was also asked by Alain Locke, said to have been the architect of the Harlem Renaissance, to be the illustrator for his new book, The New Negro, which was published in 1925. Locke encouraged black artist as well as writers to “express their Africanism in their art form”. Alain Locke believed that they should link themselves to their African heritage in order to explain their culture better and to show the link between Africa and blacks in America In this book Douglas did some of the greatest work of the time. His drawings in this book were a major success for him and a beginning of one of the greatest artist of the time.

Douglas’ talents also enabled him to become a successful muralist. He was asked to do the murals for the 1920 opening in the Club Ebony in Harlem. In 1929, he traveled to Chicago to create a mural for the Sherman Hotel’s College Inn Ballroom. At the end of 1930, Douglas created another mural for FISK UNIVERSITY in Nashville, Tennessee. With the handsome fees for his murals, Douglas and his wife, Alta, went to PARIS, France, where he expanded his knowledge of painting and sculpture. There he also met many important people in the art world and even some who he had admired for years.

When he returned to the United States in 1928, Douglas became the first president of the Harlem Artists Guild. The Guild was successful in helping to get African-American artists the necessary acceptance into the arts project under the U.S. Government’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). For his efforts, Douglas became known as the “DEAN” among his fellow artists. From 1939 to 1966, Douglas took on a position as a professor of art at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He later became department head before he retired in 1966. Aaron Douglas wanted to infuse his ideas and Afro centric expressions into his creations. Before Douglas died in 1979, he was recognized for making it acceptable for future African-American artists to express in their creations movements and depictions from their experiences as African-Americans.

Aaron Douglas was a great symbol of his times; he opened the doors for all

the African American artist, to come. He was a vile part of the Harlem Renaissance and true pioneer for blacks in America. This is a quote from his autobiography that gives better understanding of Aaron Douglas “…Our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era. Not white art painting black…let’s bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let’s sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let’s do the impossible. Let’s create something transcendentally material, mystically objective. Earthy. Spiritually earthy. Dynamic.” He became a leading force in African American culture and history. He was a great inspiration to African Americans in the Harlem Renaissance years and was the portrayer of Africanism in great paintings. He wasn’t the voice of blackness but yet he was something greater, the man who painted the image of the black struggle.

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