Last Updated 09 Jan 2023

The Significance of the Harlem Renaissance in Evolution of Art in African Americans

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Modernism describes the style, era, and theory of art from the 1860s through the 1970s. The term refers to a broad development in Western art, which rejected tradition and made an apparent break from the conservative values of realism in the previous era. The African Americans were exploring the idea of modernism in the Harlem Renaissance, by taking advantage of the opportunities of the new tolerance and the idea of openness present in this new age. This new modernist attitude gave aid to the theme of rejection of the norms in society. People became motivated to new things and went out of their comfort zone with a lessened fear of being judged, which helped further the era of modernism in the south. Black Americans took on a great role in the modernist society.

People like Zora Neale Hurston, a great author and anthropologist, Carl Van Vechten, an advocate of the New Negro Movement in the Harlem renaissance, Duke Ellington a jazz legend, and Reverend George Lee a civil rights leader minister, and entrepreneur. Their advances in society parallel those of Mattie Ross in Charles Portis’ True Grit, The Gettysburg Address, by Abraham Lincoln, particularly that “all men are created equal”, and The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne to show that when ideals change, or people reject the normality’s of the society, that things don’t always go as well as planned. The Harlem Renaissance was a period of great achievement in African American art and literature. During this time, women as a culture were trying to reconnect to their roots while also trying to fit into the American society, but by trying to fit in they were rejecting the norms of society. A key feminist writer, who challenged the boundaries of this modernist era, was Zora Neale Hurston. She like the character Mattie Ross in Charles Portis’ True Grit took on more than a woman would have been thought too accomplish in both of their respective time periods. “Your mother will make no decision without you, nor will she sign anything, not even common receipts; hence nothing can move forward until you are here. You are her strong right arm now, Mattie, and you are a pearl of great price to me, but there are times when you are an almighty trial to those who love you. Hurry home.” (Portis ) Mattie’s mother is complying to the norms of society, staying at home and trying to take care of her family affairs in a discreet manner, while Mattie s out trying to avenge her fathers death and do what she believes is right.

Hurston also lost a parent at a young age, and she like Mattie persevered and came out the other side a stronger woman, in Hurston’s specifically she became an anthropologist and well-known author. The Harlem Renaissance also referred to as the New Negro Movement, spawned in the Modernism Era. It entailed a blatant disregard of the practices and laws of Jim Crow, or “separate but equal” laws and supported the idea that African Americans have the right to human dignity as much as any other man. Carl Van Vechten was a white man with a passion for equal rights for the black culture. He played a crucial role in helping the Harlem Renaissance, come to stand alone and also be understood by the nation as a valid movement (Bernard). Van Vechten was brought up with a respectful and compassionate position on the black community. There was a great controversy most of which was about the title about of his novel Nigger Heaven, which he defended by saying “it was an ironic reference to the segregated balconies of movie theaters where black people were forced to sit.” Much of the black culture was greatly offended at his use of the racial slur.

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With his novel in an attempt to further the equal rights movement, he was actually an immense detriment to it. While some were against it, many still supported his novel and its accurate depiction of Harlem in that time period. While some were against it, many still supported his novel and its accurate depiction of Harlem in that time period. Being as it may Carl Van Vechten was a true supporter of equal rights for black Americans much in accord with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address being that “all men are created equal.” Although all quarrels over equal rights were not as harmonious as his. Modernism, and its changing of ideals gave people the courage to come out of their comfort zone and try new things and America developed as a result. . The African Americans took advantage of the change and explored the idea of modernism in their own way through the Harlem Renaissance, embracing the new tolerance and the idea of openness present in it. This new modernist attitude gave aid to the theme of rejection of the norms in society, which is exactly what they did. Zora Neale Hurston took great steps for the feminism movement as well as the New Negro Movement. A fellow supporter of that movement was Carl Van Vechten, who while the movement was in full swing brought it to a halt as first, then people realized the true meaning behind his completely accurate depiction of the Harlem Renaissance, both the good and bad sides. The modernism era cannot be fully described without the mention of any of these amazing people, the contributions they made, or the impact they made on society specifically in the Harlem Renaissance.

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