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(1926) George S. Schulyer, “The Negro-Art Hokum”

At the high point of the Harlem Renaissance where many African American artists and a growing number of white art critics were praising the outpouring of racially-influenced novels, poetry, prose, painting, and sculpture, George S. Schuyler published a searing critique rejecting the idea that the race of these artists had any influence over their work.  His critique, which was published in The Nation, on June 16, 1926, appears below.

Negro art “made in America” is as non-existent as the widely-advertised profundity of Cal Coolidge, the “seven years of progress” of Mayor [John Francis] Hylan, or the reported sophistication of New Yorkers. Negro art there has been, is, and will be among the numerous black nations of Africa; but to suggest the possibility of any such development among the ten million colored people in this republic is self-evident foolishness. Eager apostles from Greenwich Village, Harlem, and environs proclaimed a great renaissance of Negro art just around the corner waiting to be ushered on the scene by those whose hobby is taking races, nations, peoples, and movements under their wing. New art forms expressing the “peculiar” psychology of the Negro were about to flood the market. In short, the art of Homo Africanus was about to electrify the waiting world. Skeptics patiently waited. They still wait.

True, from dark-skinned sources have come those slave songs based on Protestant hymns and Biblical texts known as the spirituals, work songs and secular songs of sorrow and tough luck known as the blues, that outgrowth of ragtime known as jazz (in the development of which whites have assisted), and the Charleston, an eccentric dance invented by the gamins around the public market-place in Charleston, S. C. No one can or does deny this. But these are contributions of a caste in a certain section of the country. They are foreign to Northern Negroes, West Indian Negroes, and African Negroes. They are no more expressive or characteristic of the Negro race than the music and dancing of the Appalachian

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