Abstractionist Aesthetics: Artistic Form and Social Critique by Phillip Brian Harper

By Phillip Brian Harper

An inventive dialogue at the serious capability of African American expressive culture
 
In a tremendous reassessment of African American tradition, Phillip Brian Harper intervenes within the ongoing debate in regards to the “proper” depiction of black humans. He advocates for African American aesthetic abstractionism—a representational mode wherein an art, instead of striving for realist verisimilitude, vigorously asserts its primarily synthetic personality.  Maintaining that realist illustration reaffirms the very social evidence that it may were understood to problem, Harper contends that abstractionism exhibits up the particular constructedness of these evidence, thereby subjecting them to severe scrutiny and making them amenable to transformation.
 
Arguing opposed to the necessity for “positive” representations, Abstractionist Aesthetics displaces realism because the fundamental mode of African American representational aesthetics, re-centers literature as a imperative web site of African American cultural politics, and elevates experimental prose in the area of African American literature. Drawing on examples throughout quite a few creative construction, together with the visible paintings of Fred Wilson and Kara Walker, the tune of Billie vacation and Cecil Taylor, and the prose and verse writings of Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, and John Keene, this booklet poses pressing questions on how racial blackness is made to imagine convinced social meanings. within the approach, African American aesthetics are upended, rendering abstractionism because the strongest modality for Black representation. 

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Extra resources for Abstractionist Aesthetics: Artistic Form and Social Critique in African American Culture (NYU Series in Social and Cultural Analysis)

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32 32 ||| Black Personhood in the Maw of Abstraction 6  Benjamin Franklin, sample table from the plan for moral perfection, as presented in the Autobiography. 7 Emblem of the perfected Franklinian subject. Notwithstanding his ultimate disappointment on this score (in particular, he discovered himself to be “incorrigible with respect to Order,” the third of his designated virtues), Franklin does give us a distinct form for the “clean book” he theoretically might have achieved, which figures nothing so much as the perfected Enlightenment subject who would later be posited as the ideal republican citizen (fig.

This mode of abstract personhood, which effectively comprises a platonic ideal, can even be said to have its own graphic emblem, conceived by one of the very founders of the republic and promulgated to this day in his autobiography. Having decided to pursue “the bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection,” Benjamin Franklin in 1733 famously devised a repeatable thirteen-­week course for “acquir[ing] the Habitude” of the thirteen specific “virtues” of which he understood that perfection to consist: I made a little Book in which I allotted a Page for each of the Virtues.

38 Here, of course, is the pattern for the celebrated “Vitruvian Man,” most famously rendered by Leonardo da Vinci (though by no means only by him), in a drawing completed around 1490 (fig. 10). Of greatest interest for our immediate purpose, however, is not the specific description of that figure that the foregoing excerpt provides but the unqualified manner in which it registers its assertion. Rather than invoking the “well shaped man” that the earlier paragraph explicitly adduces, this passage instead declares simply that the appropriately arrayed body of “a man”—­that is, of any man—­would describe either a true circle or a “perfect” square.

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