cover of book

Distinction and Denial: Race, Nation, and the Critical Construction of the African American Artist, 1920-40
by Mary Ann Calo
University of Michigan Press, 2007
Cloth: 978-0-472-11468-9 | Paper: 978-0-472-03230-3
Library of Congress Classification N6538.N5C35 2007
Dewey Decimal Classification 704.0396073


Distinctionand Denial challenges conventional theories of race and art by examining the role early twentieth-century art critics played in marginalizing African American artists. Mary Ann Calo dispels the myth of a unified African American artistic tradition through an engaging study of the germinal writing of Alain Locke and other significant critics of the era, who argued that African American artists were both a diverse group and a constituent element of America’s cultural center. By documenting the effects of the “Negro aesthetic” on African American artists working in the interwar years, Distinctionand Denial shows that black artistic production existed between the claims of a distinctly African American tradition and full inclusion into American modernist culture—never fully inside or outside the mainstream.

“A major contribution to the scholarship of African American artists in the inter-war period. With scrupulous research and probing analyses, Calo’s study enables scholars, students, and those interested in the Harlem Renaissance to grasp the intellectual debates, institutional support, and art world promotion that advanced an emerging cohort of African American artists.”

—Patricia Hills, Boston University

“A careful, thorough, historically grounded study that builds a new and significant argument challenging conventional histories of African American art. Sure to become indispensable to any scholarly discussion of American art or African American cultural studies.”

—Helen Langa, American University

Mary Ann Calo is Professor of Art History and Director of the Institute for the Creative and Performing Arts at Colgate University. She is author of Bernard Berenson and the Twentieth Century and editor of Critical Issues in American Art: A Book of Readings.

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