African American art is a broad term which can be used to describe the visual arts of the African American community. It was influenced by many diverse cultural traditions, including those of Africa, Europe and the Americas. Traditional African American art forms include basket weaving, pottery and quilting to woodcarving and painting. Many slaves arrived from Africa as skilled artisans. The earliest recorded African American artists were actually slaves who worked as potters, blacksmiths, cabinetmakers, quilters, basket makers and silversmiths.
With the passing of the Civil War, it became more acceptable for African American created works to be exhibited in museums, thus artists steadily produced works for this purpose. Such works mostly followed the trend of European romantic and classical traditions of landscapes and portraits. Of this time, the most popular were: Edward Mitchell Bannister, Henry Ossawa Tanner and Edmonia Lewis. However within the states of America, African American art was subject to discriminatory limitations. However, overseas the artworks of African Americans were much better received. In Europe, especially in Paris, these artists could express much more freedom in experimentation and education concerning techniques that stretched beyond traditional western art. Freedom of expression was much more prevalent in Paris as well as Munich and Rome to a lesser extent.
Perhaps The Harlem Renaissance was one of the most notable movements in African American art. Concepts of freedom and liberty ideas that were already widespread in many parts of the world had begun to seep into the artistic communities of the United States during the 1920s. Famous artists at this time period included photographer James Van Der Zee, painter Palmer Hayden, Aaron Douglas, Richmond Barthé, Archibald Motley, William H. Johnson, Sargent Johnson, Malvin Gray Johnson, and Hale Woodruff.
With the advent of African American Art and Postmodernism by the mid to late 1980s earlier definitions of African American art would be replaced with postmodernist concepts of cultural relativity, art-as-performance, critical inquiries of art and society through one’s work, and interrogations of identity, geography, and history.