Art with a Boogie-Woogie Beat ; an Exhibition in Boston Highlights How Music, Particularly Jazz, Influenced African-American Art

By Austin, April | The Christian Science Monitor, November 30, 2005 | Go to article overview

Art with a Boogie-Woogie Beat ; an Exhibition in Boston Highlights How Music, Particularly Jazz, Influenced African-American Art


Austin, April, The Christian Science Monitor


Painting and music are kissing cousins, and nowhere is this more evident than in the worlds of African-American art and jazz. Both are indigenous American art forms, both grow from a desire to be heard and to express vitality and strength of purpose. Both depend upon the influences of African rhythms, visual and aural.

Art movements often find parallels in the music of their era, as Kandinsky and others of the Blue Rider movement found in the atonal works of Schoenberg.

African-American artists and musicians of the 20th century tended not to play by the rules of Western art, but followed their own drummer. Their vocabulary was often unorthodox, involving stylistic choices that would've been unfamiliar to mainstream audiences decades ago. Such innovations as syncopation - in which the normally unstressed musical notation is stressed - are now more agreeable to our ears, educated as we are by more than 50 years of blues, jazz, rock, and now hip-hop. It's easy to take such eclecticism for granted, but things weren't always this way.

An exhibition at the Boston University Art Gallery, "Syncopated Rhythms: 20th- Century African American Art From the George and Joyce Wein Collection," makes this case eloquently. The show is composed of 50 works, including paintings, sculpture, and fabric art from well-known African-American artists such as Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000), Elizabeth Catlett (b. 1915), and Faith Ringgold (b. 1930). It also features two paintings by trumpet legend Miles Davis (1926-1991).

The subject matter runs the gamut, from street scenes to a Louis Armstrong portrait, from jam sessions and dance-hall boogie-woogie to the imagery of social protest. But because the Weins' taste in art was informed by a love of jazz (he studied jazz piano and later went on to found the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954; she wrote about jazz in college), the collection is most remarkable for its jazz- inflected art.

As a mixed-race couple in the 1950s (he is white, she African- American), the Weins provided an example of interracial harmony more than a decade before the Civil Rights movement took hold. By the couple's presence, and through George's entrepreneurial skills, the Weins paved the way for better integration of jazz clubs, and George is credited with helping jazz win recognition as a serious art form. (He continues as founder and CEO of Festival Productions; Joyce died in August. …

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