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Places and forms of power : To what extent can art be considered a form of power to make things evolve in the American society during the XXth century?

Dissertation : Places and forms of power : To what extent can art be considered a form of power to make things evolve in the American society during the XXth century?. Recherche parmi 257 000+ dissertations

Par   •  29 Novembre 2017  •  Dissertation  •  1 548 Mots (7 Pages)  •  922 Vues

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        Power defines a person, group, or nation having great influence or control over others and the ability and capacity to exercise control and authority, such as States, governments or political organizations. The United States is a powerful country which has a huge influence towards the rest of the world. A lot of factors explain it such as its economy, its culture and globalized way of life, or its ability to be democratic and respectful of the Human Rights. But the United States have formerly tolerated intolerance. Indeed, Black people were discriminated against from the birth of the country to the second part of the XXth century. But committed people worked together so as to make the situation change. A big part of these people were artists who used their art to awake people’s sensitiveness about this unfair situation. To what extent can art be considered a form of power to make things evolve in the American society during the XXth century? First of all, we will see some examples of artists who managed to cope with the situation, and then we will see that it was nevertheless a very long process and so the power of art has to be toned.

        Since the birth of the country in 1776, Black people have been a non-respected minority. Indeed they have been slaves in the context of the slave trade between powerful countries, they had to struggle in order to have rights and they fought for being considered as human beings deserving respect and equal living conditions with white people. A lot of artists were committed to denounce all the unfair hardships that black people had to cope with. For example, in 1925, the poet Langston Hughes wrote a poem called “I, too, sing America”. The poem is divided in three stanzas and finishes with a line that is visually separated from the rest of the poem. It deals with the African Americans, whose designation in the poem is “the darker brother”, and the Americans, designated by the pronoun “they”, portrayed as brothers, with one dominating the other. The poem is about the unfair treatment of black People by white people and the claim that African Americans are as legitimate as Americans. The character in the poem is an African American who is forced to go eating in the kitchen by Americans when they receive visit, probably because he makes them ashamed. But the day after, he rebels and nobody shoos him away as they understood that he was like them. The poet may use the kitchen to symbolize Harlem: an almost exclusively black ghetto and a place of creativity and cultural growth. He wants to make people aware of the fact that the apparent domination of the whites will only last for a limited period of time. The poet intends to make people understand that hiding away from the problem can’t work because A-Americans know that they too are Americans and deserve recognition. The second document is a painting of William H. Johnson in 1939, untitled “The Chain Gang”. We can see three black prisoners in the middle, wearing black and white striped suits and holding tools as shovels and pickaxes. They are represented in a strange way: their body is out of shape and totally out of proportions. Indeed, they have no chest but only long legs and long arms linked to their head. Their hands and feet are huge compared to the rest of the body, as if the painter wanted to show that black people were considered silly, just good to do exhausting manual work. The artist wants to denounce the humiliating treatment which black prisoners were submitted to. He wants to make people aware of the situation and of the plight of A-Americans, subjected to exclusion and discrimination. With the help of artists, black people could defend their rights. From this context, art can be considered a form of power as it is a way to make a lot of people think. It is less moralizing than a speech and it can lead people to reconsider their mind as some works are quite abstract and implicit, so it requires some reflexion to understand the hidden message.

        However, art is not enough in order to make things evolve: it also demands the good will of the population. Indeed, a lot of black artists were repressed by the American society. The last document deals with the difficulty for black painters to be recognized and to be exhibited in America during the XXth century : “There was a joke for a long time that if you went into a museum, you’d think America had only two black artists — Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden — and even then, you wouldn’t see very much”. We understand why art is not necessarily an efficient way to fight for the cause: as black people’s works were not exhibited, it was extremely difficult for them to protest and to address themselves to a large public. Moreover, this inequality remained for a long time as the article show it is only in 2000 that not seeing works of black artists became a real problem for museums.


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