Black Arts & Black Aesthetic

Categories: ArtPhilosophy

Larry Neal’s “Black Arts Movements” and Addison Gayle’s “The Black Aesthetic” are two identical mission statements for the black audience: set yourself apart from the white culture and give your culture the recognition it deserves. The two pieces are similar in ideas and purposes. The black communities were tired of always adapting to the ways of the white culture because it was the “right” way to act. The black community wanted to define their own culture and these pieces were words of encouragement for blacks to step outside the white ways of thinking and acting and step into an acceptance of their own urbanity.

Once the differences were accepted that’s when you start seeing the different relationships between whites and blacks. These written pieces were significant changes in thoughts and actions at this time, and they weren’t useless. The blacks were really hoping to set themselves apart from the rest, to have people recognize they were different from the white oppressive mind set, and it worked.

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Larry Neal’s “The Black Arts Movement”, written in 1968, speaks directly to the needs and ambitions of Black America at the time.

The main goal in “The Black Arts Movement” is to emphasize the necessity for black culture to define their world in their own terms. Larry Neal asks the question in his piece, “…whose vision of the world is more meaningful, ours or the white oppressors? ” (Neal page 2040). He is asking his audience to move away from a white oppressor vision of the world and create their own vision of the world: a vision that has their own beliefs, thoughts, and ideas; a vision that stands out from the white patterns that have consisted years prior.

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The Black artists’ primary duty is to express the needs of the Black people.

Neal explains this idea by saying, “…main thrust of his new breed of contemporary writers to confront the contradictions arising out of the Black man’s experience in the raciest West” (Neal page 2039). In other words, the goals of these new artists is to use a concept of “protest literature” (page 2040) and direct this new literature directly towards black people to summon hope and “[awaken] Black people to the meaning of their lives” (Neal page 2042). The Black community had been living in an oppressive society for years prior to this new movement.

Neal believed The Black Aesthetic was the destruction of white ideas, and the destruction of white ways of looking at their world. Addison Gayle Jr. was another of these contemporary artists who encouraged a new way of life to the black community in his piece, “The Black Aesthetic”. The Black Aesthetic movement was the practice that helped those seeking to navigate and understand the experiences of black peoples. Gayle explains the Black Aesthetic movement: “The question for the black critic today is not how beautiful is a melody, a play, a poem, a novel, but how much more beautiful has the poem…made the life of a single black man?...

The Black Aesthetic, then, as conceived by this writer…is a means of helping black people out of the polluted mainstream of Americanism…” (Gayle 1916). This is a significant quote because Gayle, and many of the Black Aesthetic artists at the time, really believe that these works of art are not for the critics’ entertainment. Instead they are gritty stories of these Black Peoples’ experiences and they are intended to free the Black Man of an oppressive white America. They are to encourage these black men and women to stop conforming to the white culture and instead embrace their own.

The black aesthetic period is so significant because it was a time where the artists made a significant shift in the opinions of the white culture towards the black culture, and even more, it gave a chance to the Black community to find their voice in the madness and be able to stand out amongst the white, oppressive view points of the society they were living in at the time. These two pieces of work connect really well with each other. Essentially I could connect Gayle’s piece to almost any Black Aesthetic piece just because they all have similar viewpoints in regards to the freedom of the oppressive white American culture.

However, Larry Neal directly comments on the Black Aesthetics. He describes the Black Arts Movement and the Black Aesthetic as one. Neal says, “Black Art is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept. As such, it envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America” (Neal page 2039). This goes with Gayle’s beliefs that the Black Aesthetic is directly made for the needs of the black peoples. Gayle says, “A critical methodology has no relevance to the black community unless it aids men in becoming better than they are” (page 1917).

Gayle and Neal both have this vision for Black Americans that they be freed from this movement, not pushed further into oppression, and they believe the arts can advocate them into being better. The encouragement the artists have for the rest of their brothers and sisters is what makes these two pieces so important, especially when they’re being compared. The black people, whether they are the creators or just regular middle-class folks, share visions of positivity during hardships. They want their brothers to come out and top, so they fight together.

The Black Aesthetic movement was a time period where the black Americans, whom had the privilege to create and share poems, stories, and plays, were able to share their creations with the rest of the population to motivate them. Gayle and Neal’s goals are the same: they want the blacks to find their own identity, present themselves differently, and stop following in the footsteps of the whites. They believe that these works of art really can do wonders of change for their brothers and sisters. These stories and creations, poem and plays, aren’t just useless, fictional words that these artist create out of air.

They are real life accounts of the battles the black culture have fought in hopes that the oppressive layer of the white America finally comes off their backs. In the following quote, Neal demonstrates how the arts can really be significant. Neal says, “Poetry is a concrete function, actions…Poems are physical entities: fists, daggers, airplane poems, and poems that shoot guns. Poems are transformed... into personal forces…” (Page 2041). In relationship to Neal, Gayle compares the oppression to war. These two works are compatible to each other. Gayle believes the two cultures are at war, while Neal has the perfect weapon: works of art.

Gayle explains the society’s conditions by saying, “The serious black artist of today is at war with the American society as few have been throughout American history” (Gayle page 1914). Gayle and Neal agree upon this. The Black American culture was at a war with the white American culture and the black artists were doing everything in their power to free themselves of this war using the one weapon they were best at using: words. Using these words of hope and encouragement, and visions of freedom and opportunities, the artists created possibilities. Neal and Gayle had similar visions for the future, as well.

They both believed this movement was growing and they believed that growth had been evident in white peoples’ eyes already. Gayle states this growth by saying, “The white academician…calls upon a black man to write the introduction. The editor then declares that his anthology ‘represents the best black literature’ or that he has chosen these works which rank the best in American artistic production. ”” (Gayle page 1918). In saying that a black man can write an introduction and rank the best in production is a significant amount of change for the Black community.

The white editors are accepting of the different writing styles and topics, and still finding that it’s quality literature even when it’s unlike theirs; a goal the black aesthetic writers have worked to achieve. Neal has a similar idea on hope, but he also adds his beliefs on the growth of this movement by saying, “Afro-American life and history is full of creative possibilities, and the movement is just beginning to perceive them. Just beginning to understand that the most meaningful statements…must come from the Third World of which Black America is a part” (Neal page 2050).

This statement is quite similar to Gayle’s in that the white society in America is starting to recognize the importance in black arts which is a significant change because it’s one that they worked towards for many years. At the time, progress was still being made, but some progress had been made and it was enough to make them feel happy and even more hopeful for the future of the movement. The significance in the pieces is that they set their black community apart from the rest of America. Years prior the whites oppressed the blacks and so at this point in time, the black people were trying desperately to free themselves.

In comparing these two pieces you really start to see the similar ideas the black people had about their community. These ideas weren’t just small things a few people decided to write about. They were words of hope for the future. A mission statement to set themselves apart from the rest, testimonies of what the artists have been through, and explanations of why they’re different and why they should be recognized as that. The incredible thing about it: it worked. Gayle, Addison, Jr. , and Larry Neal. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. New York [u. a. : Norton, 2004. Print. ]

Updated: Apr 12, 2021
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Black Arts & Black Aesthetic. (2016, Dec 23). Retrieved from

Black Arts & Black Aesthetic essay
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