Jacob Lawrence & the Angular Aesthetic

One of the key aesthetic themes of the 20th century is angularity, introduced most powerfully into the visual arts by the Cubists around 1910. In his great "migration series" of paintings, which depicts the lives of the millions of African-Americans who migrated from the American South to the North from about 1910 to 1930, the painter Jacob Lawrence gave the aesthetics of angularity a real immediacy, since it was deployed in the interest of an emotional narrative, full of the triumphs and tragedies of that period. Lawrence painted the series of 60 plates in 1940 - 41, just when African-American music was being advanced by figures such as Thelonious Monk, whose work might be called the apotheosis of accessible angularity. I would also describe Lawrence as a neo-Mannerist, with the stretching of forms for psychological impact. Lawrence is in the news these days because MOMA is doing a big show of the complete migration series. It's a great achievement in American art.


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