Black Creativity: on the Cutting Edge

African-American art has had a long history, but its latest flowering may be the most promising of all

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Today's black arts scene is characterized by an awareness of previous black traditions that the new artists self-consciously echo, imitate, parody and revise in acts of "riffing" or "signifying" or even "sampling." It's a movement that has come to define itself by its openness -- a cultural glasnost. Hence a zest for parodies and an impatience with sacred cows, as with George Wolfe's play The Colored Museum, or Rusty Cundieff's movie Fear of a Black Hat, a satire of hip-hop posturing.

This is an art that thrives on uncertainty, like much work of our Postmodernist times, but it also displays confidence in the legitimacy of black experiences as artistic material. Black artists seem to have become more conscious of their cultural traditions even as they have met with unprecedented mainstream success. Discarding the anxieties of a bygone era, these artists presume the universality of the black experience.

They also know, however, that the facts of race don't exhaust anybody's human complexity. And that seems to be the enviable privilege of the new black artists -- today's Post-Mod Squad. In its openness, its variety, its playfulness with forms, its refusal to follow preordained ideological line, its sustained engagements with the black artistic past, today's artistic upwelling is nourished by the black cultural milieu, but isn't confined to it.

If the mission of these black artists succeeds, the very need to declare a "renaissance" -- an always anxious act of avowal -- may be unnecessary. , Which means that today's may truly be the renaissance to end all renaissances.

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