Navigators: African American Musicians, Dancers, and Visual Artists in Academe

By Ellerson, Beti | The Journal of Negro Education, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Navigators: African American Musicians, Dancers, and Visual Artists in Academe


Ellerson, Beti, The Journal of Negro Education


Navigators: African American Musicians, Dancers, and Visual Artists in Academe, by Theresa Jenoure. New York: State University of New York Press, 1999. 225 pp. $17.95, paper.

Reviewed by Beti Ellerson, Howard University.

What are the influences and experiences that have shaped Black artists? How are these experiences reflected in their work, classrooms, and studios? What are the advantages or obstacles to being an African American artist/teacher? These are some of the questions that Theresa Jenoure explores in Navigators: African American Musicians, Dancers, and Visual Artists in Academe.

Although the artists/teachers profiled in this book are each based at TWIs (traditionally White institutions) serving predominantly White student populations, Jenoure posits that the dual role of the Black artist/teacher may be traced to the first art programs, schools, and institutions established for Black people interested in studying art. As she maintains, the pioneer Black artists/teachers of the first half of the 20th century mainly served the artistic needs and interests of Black students. Names such as Augusta Savage, Lois Mailou Jones, James A. Porter, Alma Woodsley Thomas, and Hilda Wilkinson Brown are on her extensive list of pioneering Black art educators who taught and founded these early art spaces. Navigators does not reveal Jenoure's reason for choosing only teachers from TWIs, but each of the artists/educators who are the focus of this work impart stirring experiences about the frustrations and pleasures of teaching at their respective institutions.

Navigators combines first-person narratives, stories about the artists, imaginary group conversations (called "riffs") conjured from individual interviews, and the author's own analyses and explications of the artists and their work with paradigms she has developed over time to understand and interpret Black creative expression. The uniqueness of the book lies in the way Jenoure brings together the distinctive voices of the artists and intertwines their experiences in different modes of creative expression with the teaching lessons they have each gained from their respective art forms. In the Preface, for example, she shares a short recollection of her own evolution as artist and scholar before moving on to the riffs and artists' stories and concluding with a proposal for a "creation pedagogy" that can guide further study of African American art and artists.

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