W.E.B. DuBois, “Criteria of Negro Art” for January 27, 2009


W.E.B. DuBois

W.E.B. DuBois

In his essay “Criteria of Negro Art” (1926), W.E.B. DuBois is concerned with three main ideas.


He is first concerned with the idea of Beauty, not as that which is in the eye of the beholder, but as that which is considered to be classical, universal, and transhistorical.  Primarily, his question is “After all, who shall describe Beauty?”  He suggests that African Americans are in a particularly good position to do this work because as he says, “pushed aside as we have been in America, there has come to us not only a certain distaste for the tawdry and flamboyant but a vision of what the world could be if it were really a beautiful world.” 

Secondly, he emphasizes his belief that art’s purpose is propaganda.  He says that “I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda.”  His feelings are that art, as well as reflecting Beauty, should serve the purpose of securing people’s rights.

Finally, he is concerned with the ways in which African Americans and the art that they contribute to society will be judged.  He knows that similarities will exist between art that is produced by African Americans and that which is produced by other non-Black people in America, but he is interested in the ways in which the distinction of African-American art can be recognized, and how that recognition carries with it not only a recognition of the weight of African-American art itself, but also of the humanity of the artists who created it.  “I do not doubt that the ultimate art coming from black folk is going to be just as beautiful, and beautiful largely in the same ways, as the art that comes from white folk, or yellow, or red; but the point today is that until the art of the black folk compells [sic] recognition they will not be rated as human.”



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5 responses to “W.E.B. DuBois, “Criteria of Negro Art” for January 27, 2009

  1. Resa I.

    W.E.B. DuBois talks about the differences between white and black artists. Society has obviously changed since 1926 yet there is still controversy over who writes what. There are questions over whether something written is a good or bad piece of work for a black writer as opposed to simply what is good or bad. What would society be like if writers had pseudonyms and were never physically revealed?

  2. Marissa M.

    Thinking back to the discussion about the literary canon, some argue that the canon is limited in the choices it makes. What I mean to say is that not all voices and perspectives are included in the literary depiction of what American culture is actually like. In his writing DuBois appears to agree with this notion and thus raises the question of Beauty and who is qualified to discern what is beautiful and what is not. In stating four things that he finds beautiful, Dubois demonstrates that Beauty is not defined by certain objects, but appears in a variety of ways. Do you think that his suggestions of Beauty apply to the criticism of the American canon? Does his argument for variety in Beauty apply to the literature produced by African Americans? And why might DuBois suggest that African American are better equipped to discern possibly even depict Beauty than white Americans?

  3. kristina long

    There are many ideas to consider when being questioned if color faded and power was somehow put upon you, as to what you would do and how you would feel. Whatever decisions you make will that make you happy? Is there a way that the world can be “right”? Can you imagine a world without race? Is change possible after all that has been done over the years? It has been said that history repeates itself. Where do you see rasicm or the idea of race in 20…30..40 years? Do you think it will still be such a rough subject and a hard issue to define?

  4. Arie Henry

    In the beginning of DuBois’ essay, he makes note that African Americans have a sort of advantage in recognizing what defines “beauty”. He suggests that white Americans have a “tawdry and flamboyant” taste and that African Americans can transcend that notion in their perception and even conception of a beautiful world, especially through art. Rewinding back to Schuyler’s essay, there can be a stark contrast between the two viewpoints. How and to what extent do the stances of DuBois and Schuyler differ? And since Schuyler is himself an African American, what does this rift say about how true art is regarded in the African American community?

  5. eirvin

    I took a good understanding from this essay, being that at the end stating, “until the art of the black folk compells [sic] recognition they will not be rated as human.” Being African American and searching for beauty in life really puts the emphasis on change and wanting to see the whole world as a beautiful place. How can this happen if African American culture and history is not embraced? The art work and written word has a meaning and story just like any other that produces this talent. A lot has changed over time, but as African Americans Strive to climb to the top there are stereotypes when examining work from African Americans. Why are African Americans held to a higher standard but seen as lower? When will all accomplishments be equal and seen as equal.

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