“I am not a black artist, I am an artist”.
Was Jean – Michel Basquiat the messenger of the sacred and profane?
Black Identities in American Art an exhibition at Yale University Art Gallery
presents an opportunity to contemplate the question that seemed to plaque Jean – Michel Basquiat regarding Art and Black identities in American Art. With our American history in skin color being a object of oppression we are compelled to ask, can any artist of color exist in America, as Jean – Michel was quoted as saying, “I am not a black artist, I am an artist“. Can one be one without the other? Some might say, why is this a question of relevance? Well the truth is it isn’t, however in America one can’t have skin color like Jean – Michel and not be Black Identified. What is Black Identified? I would venture to say, an identity linked to a history of American Black Slavery. With that said, Jean – Michel could have identified more with the universal soul of the sacred. Or was he just high on some combination of drugs that takes one to a place of profane illusion? Our questions could go on and on, however the fact is Jean – Michel’s massive body of Art works is compelling to say the least.
Most often, the mention of Jean – Michel’s name compels us to contemplate the word – tragedy. Is it tragedy that accompanies greatness in Art or greatness in Art that accompanies tragedy. Either way most would not want to go to a tragic level for the sake of being great. However, how is it that so many of our great Artist are paired with what we most often think of as tragedy. Is it the tragedy that aides their mystique? Is it the tragedy that drives up the prices?
Joseph Osborne Social Curator