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.”