1 March 2018
The Harlem Renaissance Was A Period Of Literary And Intellectually Flowering That
Fostered A New Black Cultural Identity In The 1920's And 1930's.
Arts in Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance is considered to be one of the most phenomenon periods in the
history of African Americans in America. This was a period that was characterized by a
blossoming of a wide range of creative arts depicting various aspects of the African
Americans and greatly facilitated in defining of their cultural identity. Specifically, there was
a noticeable increase in the utilization of creative arts through painting, music, and literature.
Further, one could also see a notable transformation in the fashion that brought a change to
how African Americans dressed. Exploration of different arts that emerged in the course of
Harlem renaissance is a common academic exercise for students in various disciplines such
as those of arts, literature, and history among others. In this perspective, this correspondent
seeks to evaluate and report on the variety of arts and notable personalities that were involved
in the Harlem Renaissance and also discuss some of the reasons the renaissance could not
have happened during any other time.
The Harlem Renaissance is considerably referred to as the hub of the African
Americans culture in the larger American society. It was an unprecedented phase of rekindled
vitality in the American arts in different aspects ranging from music, literature, paintings, and
fashion. The Harlem Renaissance is a distinct period that is believed to have lasted between
1910 and 1927 (Krasner 1). One of the areas of art that were significantly utilized in the
course of the Harlem Renaissance was that of literature. As reported by Krasner, it was
during the Harlem Renaissance that African Americans were involved in the writing and
publication of a wide range of books and poems. Some of the most renowned prolific writers
and poets that characterized the Harlem Renaissance period included those of Langston
Hughes, Zora Neale, Joseph Seamon, and Claude McKay among many others (Wright 253).
There was a notable similarity in all of the books, poems, and stories produced during this
period with regard to the themes that were explored. Some of the major themes that were
explored by the African American writers included assimilation, democracy, American
Dream, and alienation among others.
With regard to the area of the literature, Langston Hughes became famous for his
poems that explored some of the challenges that were affecting the larger American society.
For instance, a notable poem by Hughes entitled, Democracy appeared to demand an equal
treatment and freedom on the side of the African Americans. The last lines of the poem
indicated, “I live here too and I want freedom just as you.” (Hughes 1). One of the novels that
became popular during Harlem Renaissance was that by Zora Neale entitled Their Eyes Were
Watching God. The novel explored the life of Zora Neale with regard to her experience with
different forms of loves from her family and loved ones. The novel attracted a wide audience
from both the whites and the blacks because of the mastery of language she demonstrated in
her writing. Joseph Seamon, on the other hand, was widely involved in the writing of a wide
range of poems and essays that reflected the status of the African Americans in the American
society (Hatch 1).
Paintings were another form of art that was greatly utilized and also became popular
in the Harlem Renaissance. However, most of the paintings reflected the evolution and the
transformation that was happening to the African American culture. For instance, most of the
paintings captured and depicted jazz performers on stage or the flapper's women performing
and dancing to the jazz music tunes. A renowned African American artist and painter that
became popular during this period was Aaron Douglas. The artworks of Douglas were
changed the moment he relocated to the Harlem City and this facilitated in him changing
from landscape painting to capturing elements of the Harlem Renaissance (Kirschke 1).
Aaron Douglas was a renowned visual artist in the Harlem Renaissance that facilitated the
transition from traditional painting to modern painting.
Another form of art that was utilized in the course of Harlem Renaissance was the
music. A famous genre of music that received a considerable amount of attention was that of
jazz music. It has been cited and documented that the jazz music evolved to become a critical
and an integral component of the larger American culture. Interestingly, Jazz music
influenced fashion as another form of art. This was so as jazz music demanded the performers
to be in a new and distinct outfit. This outfit later became adopted by people as a way of life.
Women involved in the jazz music were identified as “flappers” and would wear the latest
dressing code to match their performances (Park 1). Most of the scholars indicate that jazz
music was a notable product of the Harlem Renaissance and served to symbolize the
rekindling of hope in African Americans and became highly popular in the course of 1920s
(Stairs 37). Some of the most notable jazz music composers included those of Bessie Smith
and his counterpart Billie Holiday. These two composers became famous because of the way
popularized the fusion of the jazz music and blues.
There are some of the reasons that can explain why the Harlem Renaissance could not
have taken place at any other time. As indicated West, Harlem Renaissance took place when
there was notable demographic shifts and transformation in the larger American society.
Notably, there was a massive rural to urban migration that was being facilitated by the
industrialization boom in America. Industrialists started encouraging relocation of people
from rural to urban centres to come and work in the industries that were being established
therein. Having more people in the cities facilitated interactions and created a platform for the
exchange of ideas, and therefore resulted in the blossoming of different forms of arts.
Additionally, another closely related phenomenon that is worthy of consideration included
that of the Great Migration. In the Great Migration, most of the African Americans migrated
from the south to north mainly to look for hope in the north and also escape the harsh reality
of racial segregation caused after the Jim Crow laws were imposed and implemented (Tolnay
One of the areas that African Americans came together was in the New York City and
particularly the Harlem City. Specifically, Harlem City was one of the most defining
geographic locations for the African Americans as it is here that the blacks came together and
started forging their political and social identity. It is here that Harlem Renaissance was
engineered and spread across the city of New York and to the rest of the country. Therefore,
it can be stated that the massive urbanization that was happening across the country
facilitated in bringing notable African American personalities together and they saw it as an
opportunity of rekindling an ethnic consciousness of the African Americans. It has also been
documented that the Harlem Renaissance saw an accelerated funding of the Africans
Americans in the area of art. Specifically, Krasner asserts that there was an increase in the
number of patrons drawn from both black and white communities. Most of the black people
received a significant level of financial assistance from white and black patrons in order to
increase production and composition of music, publication of books, and make more
paintings. Hutchinson asserts that all the aspects and variety of art played a critical role in the
creation of what was known as the “Negro identity.”
Given these points, it is clear that Harlem Renaissance was a defining moment and
played a critical role in the cultural landscape in America. The most forms of arts that were
explored during this period included those of music, literature, fashion, and painting. In
literature, a wide range of novelists and poets emerged and were involved in the production
of different novels and poems. Further, the jazz music became popular during this time and
was identified as one of the major cultural signatures of the African Americans. Notably, the
jazz music performance facilitated and influenced fashion as another form of art especially in
women as it facilitated the emergence of flappers. Some of the factors that facilitated the
emergence and the development of the Harlem Renaissance included the massive
urbanization that was happening during that time and the Great Migration of the blacks from
the south to the north after the imposition of the Jim Crow laws.
Hatch, James V. Lost Plays of the Harlem Renaissance, 1920-1940. Wayne State
University Press, 1996. Print.
Hutchinson, George. The Harlem Renaissance in black and white. Harvard University
Press, 1995. Print.
Krasner, David. A beautiful pageant: African American theatre, drama, and
performance in the Harlem Renaissance, 1910-1927. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
Park, Soo Hyun. "Flapper Fashion In the Context of Cultural Changes of America in
the 1920s." (2014). Print.
Stairs, Andrea J. "Culturally responsive teaching: The Harlem Renaissance in an
urban English class." English Journal (2007): 37-42. Print.
Tolnay, Stewart E. "The African American “great migration” and beyond." Annual
Review of Sociology 29.1 (2003): 209-232. Print.
Wright, George C. "Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America." (1990): 253-261.