John Biggers concept of African American art aesthetic

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The African American art is one of the important aspects of the diverse collection of the American art because of its own sense of aesthetic, which was largely created, shaped and influenced by the works of many different African American artists. These artists contributed immensely to African American art through the display of skill and talent through works that are characterized by its high level of aesthetics and artistic style and value. John Biggers is one of the many different African American artists whose works are highly recognized and appreciated by the artistic elite today, especially since Biggers works radiate with quality originating from both its aesthetic value and because of the social relevance of the meaning that emanates from the works of art of Biggers.

John Thomas Biggers, was born in 1924 and passed away just seven years ago in 2001. A native of North Carolina, Biggers was a very well educated artist who studied in different prominent schools like Lincoln Academy, the Hampton Institute, and then Pennsylvania State University. But most importantly, he was one of the most popular muralists in the history of the African American art. Biggers was an important inspiration to other later artists because of his art and what he depicts in his art. Rick Lowe’s “work took the form of architectural sculpture, incorporating the themes from African American experience. He was inspired by the work of John Biggers, an older African American artist, whose work often employs the image of the row house in the depiction of African American life (Finkelpearl 235).”

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Thesis Statement

The thesis of this paper is the identification and establishing of the concept of African American aesthetic and how John Biggers as an artist reflect the African American art aesthetic.

Body of the paper

In the pursuit of the identification of the answer to the thesis question identified earlier in the paper, there are some important things that need to be discussed to be able to fully establish Biggers’ contribution to the African American art collection and how his works and his artistic style is proof of the African American art aesthetic.

  • Discuss the analysis of Biggers works through review of related literature
  • Discuss the criticisms made about Biggers and his works and how this affect his art and how it is appraised and appreciated, so that arguments and counter arguments about Biggers’ significance in the field of African American art is established and justified with proofs and validations.
  • Discuss the influence of Biggers as an artist and the influence made by Biggers as well as his works not just in the field of arts but as well as in socio-political sphere

Even though the African-American artists were gaining respect in Europe, they also longed for a better connection to their works and experiences as American artists. That break came in the early 1920’s. The movement was called the NEGRO or HARLEM RENAISSANCE. This resurgence of literature, knowledge, and the arts coming out of New York was powerful. A fertile and acceptable door had been opened to African-American musicians, writers, poets, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and VISUAL ARTISTS. The opportunity was now available to grow and show off their best talents. From 1919 to about 1929, HARLEM, NEW YORK became the capitol of cultural activity for African-Americans. This period in American history was extremely uplifting to African-Americans as a people. Personalities and individuals connected their expressions in writings, music, and visual artworks as they related to the political, social, and economic conditions of being black in America. (liunet, 2008)

Analysis of Biggers Work

An artist whose work needs more recognition than he already has is an African-American, John T. Biggers. Shows of paintings, sculptures and drawings from the 1940s and ’50s was a step in the right direction, presenting powerfully graphic images of everyday black life, and its closeness to poverty and suffering, both physical and metaphysical. Biggers’s style is somewhat in the tradition of Thomas Hart Benton–he makes big, powerful realist pictures that communicate the facts of threadbare lives. (findarticles, 2008)

In The Garbage Man (1944), a midsize oil on board, he offers us a man in a ragged yellow shirt, torn blue pants and shoes without laces pushing a cart in an alley covered with litter. The cart holds a box of fruit and vegetables, a heap of fish, a container of corn and another of melons. All the details in this crowded, precisely painted composition combine to convey an urgent sense of poverty. The man is hunched over, bent by the difficulties in his life, but his expression is resolute to the point of defiance. The Garbage Man is an honest expression of hardship, but also a proclamation of survival–the portrait emphasizes the will to live, no matter how harsh the circumstances. (findarticles, 2008)

John Biggers was not much influenced by modernity and the changing ideas. Instead he created his own distinctive and realistic style, a clear depiction of the struggle of Black Americans. He was a true representative of the Black people. His paintings and sculptures and murals reflected the hardships and destituteness of his people. But with all this he also celebrated and emphasized the Black beauty and the beauty of Black life. He was offered to make the mural on a building going to serve Black women for their betterment. The artist, however, felt it more fitting to focus directly upon black women, since the mural was commissioned in honor of a black woman and because the building was expressly built to serve black women of all ages within the Third Ward community.(Virginia, 2008) This mural is “contribution of negro women” and he refused to make all the other options of making Joan of arc or Florence Nightingale.

Contribution of Negro Women 1953

To a great extent making this mural was his identification in a true sense. He was familiar with his mother’s struggle, the pattern of endurance and patience going from generation to generation of salves. The mural represents in bold terms the battle which blacks waged daily against the destructive forces of slavery. The women possess a deep spiritual beauty; their enduring strength and indefatigable spirit have been made visually moving in Biggers’ mural concept. Forms loom out at the viewer from the wall almost as if they are about to break forth and walk out into the reality of our lives. (Virginia, 2008)  From his paintings we can see that he was a very self-assured, honest and determined top do something useful for his people. There is also vividness in his color schemes. He leads us into powerful imagery, his creations, his energy and belief in human community and in his people. He augmented the complexity, hardships and emotions of his people by using thick, rich colors. All of John Biggers’ subject matter was drawn from the urban realm of streets and ghettos as well as the poverty stricken areas of rural America, conveying the tragedy experienced by underprivileged blacks in the highly segregated US, and highlighting the problems of his contemporary society.(Mac, 2008)

Influence of Biggers on Art

As an art educator, John Biggers was especially aware of the potential possessed by works of art to become forceful vehicles of self-identity. Thus, as an artist, he seized upon the commission not simply as an opportunity to display his expertise as a painter but, more importantly to him, as a means to incorporate within the building itself a visual statement which would become an enriching spiritual encounter for all those who saw it. To Biggers, only the mural with its characteristic vastness in scope and scale could adequately accommodate the myriad visions which he wished to share with the people of his community.

Established Art Department at TSU

After graduating, Biggers taught briefly at Penn State and then Alabama State University. The following year, 1949, he was asked to establish an art department at Texas Southern University, a black college that had been founded just two years earlier. Biggers accepted the position as head of the art department, and taught at Texas Southern for more than 30 years. As an art professor, Biggers followed Lowenfeld’s example, encouraging his students to look to their own communities and their African heritage for artistic inspiration. (Answer, 2008)


 John Biggers has shown the public through his works, his vision, and ideas, his own understanding of the world, the society and the important social and personal issues that he chose to talk about in his art. Biggers influenced individuals through aesthetic appeal; they saw depth and substance in Biggers and in his works that made him one of the artists that defined and redefined African American art aesthetic. Clearly, the African American art aesthetic is about the important artistic qualities and characteristics that make African American art different from the rest of the other art works produced by man since art as a form of expression has been established.

The African American art aesthetic is that which binds the works of African American artists under one category. This is simply because the aesthetics is grounded mainly on the ethos of the African American culture and way of life emanating from the works of life; qualities that make it beautiful and at the same time the vessel by which what is admirable in the African American art culture is preserved and showcased to the world.  Biggers contributed significantly in this particular endeavor because he believed in it. “Biggers saw this persistence, strength, and independence of the African cultural tradition in African American artists (Benjamin 199).”

Works Cited

  1. Benjamin, Lois. Three Black Generations at the Crossroads: Community, Culture, and Consciousness. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., December 2007.
  2. Finkelpearl, Tom. Dialogues in Public Art. Universal Music International, October 2001. “John Biggers.” 6 October 2008
  3. Retrieved on Wednesday, October 29, 2008
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  8. Lewis, Samella S. 2003. African American Art Artists. University of California
  9. Tanzer, Kim. Longoria,Rafael. 2007. The Green Braid. Routledge.


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John Biggers concept of African American art aesthetic. (2016, Nov 03). Retrieved from

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