Spotlight Series

Spotlight: ARTS.BLACK

This summer, Daily Serving is highlighting work from a few arts publications that we love, and this week we’re focused on ARTS.BLACK. Reflecting on Kareem Reid’s article, co-editors Taylor Renee and Jessica Lynne write, “This essay remains a cornerstone for ARTS.BLACK. Commissioned as one of the two essays for the launch of the journal, Kareem’s essay poignantly articulates our mission and the importance of publishing young Black critics.” This article was originally published on December 1, 2014.

Kerry James Marshall. Installation view, Mastry at MOCA Grand Avenue. Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photo: Brian Forrest.

Kerry James Marshall. Installation view, Mastry at MOCA Grand Avenue. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photo: Brian Forrest.

The Black perspective is essential to the whole story of contemporary art, otherwise we get locked out of the conversation by the elitist White so-called “avant-garde” thinkers who are narrowly basing their assumptions of progression on the exclusionary theories of post-something—modernism, internet, nothing. Where are all the Black art critics? Do they exist? How does the Black perspective contribute to the contemporary art world? The fact that we have to even ask these important questions in 2014 shows us how much work there is left to do. A whole lot. Without Black art critics, whose function it is to theorize, contextualize, and evaluate the artists’ work (and to bring their own unique contexts to the conversation), how much of contemporary art practice is being erased within the canon of the long-established art institution?

With Black artists finding more “mainstream” attention and success, i.e. Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Kehinde Wiley, Kerry James Marshall, Steve McQueen etc, more Black critics should be actively involved in the conversation surrounding their works, unless being a critically acclaimed Black artist means creating work to be seen and critiqued by a largely White audience. To be an art critic, it is equally important to be critical of preexisting critical frameworks as it is to have an extensive knowledge of the social mechanisms that create “the art world.” It feels redundant to reduce the practice of art to a self-contained “world” when it is painfully, glaringly obvious when we are routinely made to feel unwelcome in their cold, silent spaces. Mausoleums.

I discovered my first taste of Black art criticism through bell hooks’ cutting analysis of Spike Lee’s 1986 debut film She’s Gotta Have It. She introduced me to the foundations of a Black feminist perspective and used it to critique a dominant visual culture. It soon became apparent to me that hooks’ presence in the discourse around Lee’s work was as important as what she had to say about it. “No aesthetic work transcends ideology.”

Read the full essay here.