"Art or Propaganda?" - a comparison between Alain Locke and W.E.B.Dubois

Essay by cdromy October 2005

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1. Introduction.

W.E.B. Dubois and Alain Locke were important contributors to the epoch called "Harlem Renaissance". With their writings atrists wanted to do something against racism, they wanted to show that the African - Americans don't have to feel inferior.

Writing in the April, 1915, issue of Crisis, DuBois said: "In art and literature we should try to loose the tremendous emotional wealth of the Negro and the dramatic strength of his problems through writing ... and other forms of art. We should resurrect forgotten ancient Negro art and history, and we should set the black man before the world as both a creative artist and a strong subject for artistic treatment."

DuBois stated what were to be recurrent themes of the decade of the twenties: the Negro as a producer and a subject of art, and the Negro's artistic output as indices of his contribution to American life. (Linnemann R.J.

p 79)

In essense, both Locke and DuBois agreed about what constituted good art. It was the function of art on which they did not agree. DuBois doubted if one could really have a disembodied art or beauty; but Locke was not seeking for the Negro writer a disembodied beauty. (Linnemann, R.J. p 92)

DuBois strongly disagreed with Locke's view that "Beauty rather than Propaganda should be the object of Negro literature and art. ...If Mr. Locke's thesis is insisted upon too much is going to turn the Negro Renaissance into decadence." (Marable, M.. p 130)

First I will give some basical facts about the Harlem Renaissance. In the main part I will show the opinions of A. Locke, who preferred arts, and W.E.B. DuBois, who was for propaganda. In point three I will write about DuBois's life. After that I will show what he wanted in general. The...