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One of the most important and underappreciated visual artists of the twentieth century, Romare Bearden started as a cartoonist during his college years and emerged as a painter during the 1930s, at the tail end of the Harlem Renaissance and in time to be part of a significant community of black artists supported by the WPA. Though light-skinned and able to "pass," Bearden embraced his African heritage, choosing to paint social realist canvases of African-American life. After World War II, he became one of a handful of black artists to exhibit in a private gallery-the commercial outlet that would form the core of the American art world's post-war marketplace. Rejecting Abstract Expressionism, he lived briefly in Paris. After he suffered a nervous breakdown, Bearden returned to New York, turning to painting just as the civil rights movement was gaining ground with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education and the Montgomery bus boycott. By the time of the March on Washington in 1963, Bearden had begun to experiment with collage-or Projection, as he called it-the medium for which he would ultimately become famous.
In Romare Bearden: A Reconstructed Life, Mary Schmidt Campbell offers readers an enlightening analysis of Bearden's influences and the thematic focus of his mature work. Bearden's work provides an exquisite portrait of memory and the African American past; according to Campbell, it also offers a record of the narrative impact of visual imagery in the twentieth century, revealing how the emerging popularity of photography, film and television depicted African Americans during their struggle to be recognized as full citizens of the United States.
Mary Schmidt Campbell is dean emerita of Tisch School of the Arts and University Professor in the Department of Art and Public Policy.