One of the downsides of meta-lists is that they tend to be conservative. To a certain extent, they confirm the conventional wisdom and perpetuate the status quo. “Best of” meta-lists, which combine the results of multiple lists from different sources, focus on the consensus: what most people can agree on, not the controversial, the outliers, those that push the envelope. In the case of the lists of best artists and best artworks, the meta-lists tend to confirm the stereotype that nearly all the great artists were male and white.
But these lists don’t tell the whole story. Great artists come from all backgrounds, ethnicities and genders. And every artist tells a different story, presents an individual viewpoint, even as they (as all artists) absorb or react to their culture, environment and historical context. By ignoring these voices, the standard “best of” lists tend to marginalize the marginalized, and oppress the oppressed.
I recently created a new meta-list of the best African-American artists: Best African-American Artists of All Time. The 23 artists on at least three of the original source lists are featured, along with images of their work. These men and women range throughout the entire history of the United States – the earliest was born in the 1760s and the youngest was born in 1977. They provide an important counterbalance to the narratives and visual styles of white artists. You may recognize some of the names on the list, but some of them may be new to you. Most of them were new to me. In order to make a better world, we need to listen to each other’s voices, as expressed in words, music, and, here, in the visual arts.
If you want to go even deeper into the story of African-American art, check out these other names of artists who were listed on two of the original source lists:
– Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968)
– Sargent Claude Johnson (1888-1967)
– Beauford Delaney (1901- 1979)
– Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998)
– Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012)
– Roy DeCarava (1919-2009)
– Betye Saar (1926- )
– Bob Thompson (1937-1966)
– Martin Puryear (1941- )
– Howardena Pindell (1943- )
– Barkley Hendricks (1945-2017)
– Glenn Ligon (1960- )