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African American Art: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

African-Americans have contributed amazing works of art to communities all over the country. In this lesson, learn about the history of African-American art, how it has changed over time, and different ways African-American artists express themselves.

Early Inspiration

African-American artists have created many significant pieces throughout history. All artists find inspiration in different things, but African-Americans have had significant parts of history that have motivated their artistic expressions.

Sadly, at the start of the nation, African-Americans were not considered equal to others. Many were slaves who had no freedom and were often mistreated. This poor treatment inspired much of the early artwork created by African-Americans.

Because African-Americans were not treated as equals, they did not have access to resources like training and materials to make complex art pieces. So most pieces of the time were simple and useful, like quilts and drums. They often created works that were functional and could serve a purpose, like ceramic jars and pots.

This Bible quilt contains squares that depict different stories and events in the Bible.
Bible quilt

As a result of living without freedoms and basic rights, African-Americans were very spiritual. This meant that they thought religion was very important, and they found comfort in reading passages in the Bible. The importance of religion inspired many early African-American artists, and they created pieces that often reflected biblical stories and ideas.

Historical Changes

The country went through a very tough time during the Civil War. Americans strongly disagreed over slavery, and the country was divided. After the war ended, there were still extreme racial tensions, and this was reflected in the artwork produced by African-Americans.

Many artists wanted to have hope and strength in their pieces, so African-Americans were depicted as heroes. Some pieces of the time were more peaceful, and artists like Robert S. Duncanson painted calm and tranquil pictures of landscapes. Landscapes are paintings that include things found in nature, like mountains or rivers.

This tranquil landscape painting is by Robert S. Duncanson.
painting

Harlem Renaissance

If you know anything about history, you know that it is constantly changing, and African-American artwork continued to change as well. After World War I, an area of New York City called Harlem experienced a huge movement of cultural and artistic development. Most people who lived in Harlem at the time were African-American, and some had moved there from the South to escape rough treatment.

This artistic period was called the Harlem Renaissance. During this time, many authors like Zora Neale Hurston wrote novels and poems about the struggle of being African-American in a country that was racially divided. Jazz and blues music were extremely popular, and many would gather at jazz clubs to enjoy the music and dance.

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