Romare Bearden: More Than Collages in February

Article excerpt

Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1911. When he was a young boy, his family moved north, first to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, then on to Harlem in New York City. Bearden graduated with a bachelor's degree in education from New York University. He also studied at the Art Students League and the Sorbonne in Paris. He worked as a caseworker for the New York City Department of Welfare and served in an African-American Division in the United States Army. Beginning in 1940, Bearden exhibited his art in galleries, and in museums by the 1960s. He created editorial drawings for well-known magazines and journals including the Saturday Evening Post. Bearden also published articles, lectured on "Negro Art," and was one of the founders of Spiral, a group of African-American artists who felt that art could help the cause of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He suggested that the members of Spiral create a mural together using only black-and-white images. This mural never came to fruition, but the experience motivated Bearden to create his own collages.

Bearden's art centers on events in the lives of African Americans: Southern church gatherings, time spent playing music, work on the railroads, the civil rights movement and life in Harlem.

All too often, African-American artists are relegated to waiting until February (Black History Month) to be recognized. To foster an authentic rather than an occasional understanding of the American culture, educators need to integrate art of Native Americans, African Americans, women, and elders into the daily curriculum. The art of these groups can be taught to meet many of the current standards and competencies in art education.

The collage and photomontage techniques of the African-American artist Romare Bearden can be a valuable resource in developing lessons about principles of design, the elements of art, awareness of colors, and spatial relationships. Additionally his art is a catalyst toward an understanding of issues in social justice and an awareness of our own heritage as Americans.

Elementary/Middle School

Bearden's collage was presented to elementary and middle school students in several different venues: a second grade class in a city, an after-school art program in a small city in a semi-rural area, and a drop-in art class in an inner-city region. These three groups of children studied Bearden's art as an opportunity to increase their awareness of multicultural artists, and to explore the medium of collage.

The art activity in each of the settings consisted of three components. First, the children listened to a short lecture/slide discussion on Bearden's art and life.

The second component was the art activity. Students had a box of magazine pictures from which to select several different faces. They cut out the facial features--eyes, mouths, noses, ears, eyebrows, etc.--and put these images in a box along with other imagery such as legs, feet, hands, and torsos precut by the teachers. …