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Artists Aaron Douglas
Aaron Douglas Photo

Aaron Douglas

African-American Painter and Graphic Artist

Movement: Harlem Renaissance

Born: May 26, 1899 - Topeka, Kansas

Died: February 2, 1979 - Nashville, Tennessee

Aaron Douglas Timeline

"We can go to African life and get a certain amount of form and color, understanding and using this knowledge in development of an expression that interprets our life."

Quotes
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Summary

In both his style and his subjects, Aaron Douglas revolutionized African-American art. A leader within the Harlem Renaissance, Douglas created a broad range of work that helped to shape this movement and bring it to national prominence. Through his collaborations, illustrations, and public murals, he established a method of combining elements of modern art and African culture to celebrate the African-American experience and call attention to racism and segregation.

Key Ideas

Douglas depicted African subjects in an innovative and bold graphic style that was inspired by modern art, particularly Cubism. His approach elevated both everyday experiences and non-Western history to be part of an international avant-garde. He also integrated the rhythms of jazz into his compositions, adding an additional element of African-American culture to his imagery.
Flattening his figures to two-dimensional silhouettes and generalizing their forms to be generic men and women, Douglas created imagery that celebrated African and African-American themes in terms that were universal and integrative. He employed this style across a range of different media, including painting, illustration, murals, and prints.
Douglas often worked with a narrow range of colors, instead using compositional elements and shapes like concentric circles and radiating beams, to create dramatic focal points and dynamic movement. These abstract elements enhanced the narratives of his paintings to make them more emotionally impactful.
Through his work with the Harlem Artists Guild and as the chair of the art department at Fisk University (a historically black college), Douglas worked to increase educational access and career opportunities for young African-American artists. He was an important mentor for second-generation Harlem Renaissance artists and an inspiration to contemporary artists who deal with race and identity in their work.
Aaron Douglas Photo

Aaron Douglas, the the father of black American art, told his wife in 1925 that through his work he would upend the notion that you have to be white to be truly beautiful. He said: “It takes lots of training or a tremendous effort to down the idea that thin lips and straight nose is the apogee of beauty.” His body of work went some way to realizing this aim and in 1963 president JFK welcomed him into the White House in honor of his achievements.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Aaron Douglas
Interactive chart with Aaron Douglas's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Winold Reiss
Charles Despiau
Othon FrieszOthon Friesz

Personal Contacts

W.E.B. Dubois
Alain Locke
Langston Hughes

Movements

Art DecoArt Deco
CubismCubism
African ArtAfrican Art

Influences on Artist
Aaron Douglas
Aaron Douglas
Years Worked: 1925 - 1979
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Jacob LawrenceJacob Lawrence
Viola Burley Leak
Kara WalkerKara Walker
Uchenna Edeh

Personal Contacts

W.E.B. Dubois
Alain Locke
Langston Hughes

Movements

Identity PoliticsIdentity Politics
Early American ModernismEarly American Modernism

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sarah Archino

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sarah Archino
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