Art: Stories with Impact

Jacob Lawrence, 35, is the nation's (and probably the world's) foremost Negro painter. Yet his draftsmanship would hardly earn passing grades at an academic art school; his painting technique is dry, flat, hesitant; his colors are sometimes dirty, sometimes neon-bright, always arbitrary.

What makes Lawrence so good is the simple fact that he is his own man—a rare thing for an artist, even in the U.S. and in the 20th century. His painting ideas are fresh-minted, borrowed from nobody (with the possible and rare exception of Orozco). He never tries to buy attention with smooth-rubbed clichés. He suppresses every detail...

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