Abstractionist Aesthetics: Artistic Form and Social Critique by Phillip Brian Harper

March 9, 2017 | African American Studies | By admin | 0 Comments

By Phillip Brian Harper

In an immense reassessment of African American tradition, Phillip Brian Harper intervenes within the ongoing debate in regards to the “proper” depiction of black humans. He advocates for African American aesthetic abstractionism—a representational mode wherein an paintings, instead of striving for realist verisimilitude, vigorously asserts its basically synthetic personality. preserving that realist illustration reaffirms the very social proof that it could were understood to problem, Harper contends that abstractionism exhibits up the particular constructedness of these evidence, thereby subjecting them to serious scrutiny and making them amenable to transformation.

Arguing opposed to the necessity for “positive” representations, Abstractionist Aesthetics displaces realism because the basic mode of African American representational aesthetics, re-centers literature as a valuable website of African American cultural politics, and elevates experimental prose in the area of African American literature. Drawing on examples throughout numerous creative creation, together with the visible paintings of Fred Wilson and Kara Walker, the track of Billie vacation and Cecil Taylor, and the prose and verse writings of Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, and John Keene, this publication poses pressing questions on how racial blackness is made to imagine convinced social meanings. within the strategy, African American aesthetics are upended, rendering abstractionism because the strongest modality for Black illustration.

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In unabashedly asserting its artifactual character in the manner we have noted, however, Walker’s work does attain to the aesthetic mode that I designate as abstractionism, and this significantly complicates the import of its real-­world reference, forcing the question of exactly in what way the work is “about” the historical phenomena it evidently engages. As is made clear by the tableaux themselves—­or, if not, then at least by the foregoing discussion—­Walker’s work by no means depicts historical reality “as it is,” in the form in which it is empirically observed.

43 Hyperbolic though this characterization may seem, it is in fact borne out by the United States’ own political-­geographical history, with Congress having just two years after the Revolution decreed that unsurveyed land to the north and west of the Ohio River and the Appalachian Mountains should be apportioned into regularized “townships” of six miles square, each one subdivided into thirty-­six one-­square-­mile “sections” (fig. S. 46 For the grid powerfully signals nullity in two mutually reinforcing ways: Abstractively devoid of any other clear denotative reference, it pointedly (and exclusively) symbolizes the peculiar nothingness of its own representational import.

Context, it does so only to reaffirm identity in broader and more socially significant terms than are represented by the individual per se. S. mass culture in general. ’ I’m not saying that couldn’t happen if the reader is white and the model is black. ”68 Clearly evincing the (perhaps not wholly illogical) industry assumption that majority-­racial-­group readers are the sine qua non of maximized market share, this statement additionally—­and more significantly—­betrays the imaginative poverty of those readers’ supposed aesthetic “aspiration,” which evidently depends on their already looking like any given cover model, at least with respect to racialized skin color.

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