Mercy, Mercy Me: African-American Culture and the American Sixties

By James C. Hall | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
THE PREVALENCE OF RITUAL
IN AN AGE OF CHANGE

ROMARE BEARDEN

Such devices … as distortion of scale and proportion, and abstract
coloration, are the very means through which I try to achieve a more
personal expression…. It is not my aim to paint about the Negro in
America in terms of propaganda. It is precisely my awareness of the
distortions required of the polemicist that has caused me to paint
the life of my people as I know it—as passionately and dispassion-
ately as Brueghel painted the life of the Flemish people of his day.

ROMARE BEARDEN, “Rectangular Structure in
My Montage Paintings” (1969)1

One suspects that as an artist possessing a marked gift for peda-
gogy, [Bearden] has sought here to reveal a world long hidden by the
clichés of sociology and rendered cloudy by the distortions of news-
print and the false continuity imposed upon our conception of
Negro life by television and much documentary photography.
Therefore, as he delights us with the magic of design and teaches us
the ambiguity of vision, Bearden insists that we see and that we see
in depth and by the fresh light of the creative vision. Bearden knows
that the true complexity of the slum dweller and the tenant farmer
requires a release from the prison of our media-dulled perception
and a reassembling in forms which would convey something of the
depth and wonder of the Negro American's stubborn humanity.

RALPH ELLISON, “The Art of Romare Bearden” (1970)2

One could ask for no more compelling example of the paradox of continuity and change in American culture than that presented by the career of Romare Bearden.3 His “Two Women in a Landscape” (1941; see figure 2) is regarded by most art historians as a work derivative of the end of American social realist and regionalist painting, of an artist not yet aware of the

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