Documents from the Black Arts Movement
“On Black Art”
by Ron Karenga
Black Art must be for the people, by the people and from the people. That is to say, it must be functional, collective
Soul is extra-scientific, that is to say, outside of science; therefore we will allow no scientific disproof of it.
All that we do and create is based on tradition and reason, that is to say, foundation and movement. We began to
build on a traditional [sic], but it is out of movement that we complete our creation.
Art for art’s sake is an invalid concept, all art reflects the value system from which it comes.
We say inspiration is the real basis of education. In a word, images inspire us, academic assertions bore us.
Our art is both form and feeling but more feeling than form.
Our creative motif must be revolution; all art that does not discuss or contribute to revolutionary change is invalid.
That is […] why the “blues” are invalid, they teach resignation, in a word, acceptance of reality–and we have come
to change reality.
There is no better subject for Black artists than Black people, and the Black artist who doesn’t choose and develop
his subject will find himself unproductive.
All art is collective and reflects the values of the people. Therefore what makes us able to identify an artist’s work
is not individuality, but personality, which is an expression of the different personal experiences of the artist within
the Black framework.
Suppose Ray Charles had to sing Beethoven or Bach’s Carols, or Miles Davis had to play in the Philharmonic; it
wouldn’t go off at all. That’s why we have to have a pattern of development that is suited to our own needs.
The truth is that which needs to be told, and true creation is that which needs to be created and what we need to
create is Black images which speak to and inspire Black people.
We need a new language to break the linguistic straight [sic] jacket of our masters, who taught us his language so
he could understand us, although we could hardly understand ourselves.
In terms of history, all we need at this point is heroic images; white people have enough dates for everybody.
All education and creation is invalid unless it can benefit the maximum amount of Blacks.
Art is an expression of soul and creativity, sensitivity, and impulse is the basis.
Sensitivity, creativity and impulse are abstract to those who don’t have them. There is no art in the world you
should have to go to school to appreciate.
Borrowing does not mean you become what others are. What is important here is the choice of what one borrows
and how he shapes it in his own images. Whites are no less white by borrowing from Black and vice versa.
There is no such thing as art for art’s sake. If that’s so, why don’t you lock yourself up somewhere and paint or
write and keep it only to yourself.
The white boy’s classical music is static. He values the form rather than the soul force behind the creation. That is
why he still plays tunes written two or three hundred years ago.
All art should be the product of a creative need and desire in terms of Black people.
In Africa you won’t find artists of great name because art is done by all for all.
There is no premium on art in Africa just as there is no premium on dancing in the ghetto. All Blacks can dance.
In African art, the object was not as important as the soul force behind the creation of the object.
All art must be revolutionary and in being revolutionary it must be collective, committing, and functional.
Whites can imitate or copy soul, but they can’t create out of that context.
All nationalists believe in creativity as opposed to destruction and a nationalist must create for the Black nation.
Black art initiates, supports and promotes change. It refuses to accept values laid down by dead white men. It sets
its own values and re-enforces them with hard and/or soft words and sounds.
All art consciously or unconsciously represents and promotes the values of its culture.
Language and imagery must come from the peopl and be returned to the people in a beautiful language which
everybody can easily understand.
Soul is a combination of sensitivity, creativity and impulse. It is feeling and form, body and soul, rhythm and
movement, in a word, the essence of Blackness.
Muddy Waters and those in the same school are very deep, and so when bourgeois Negroes say that Muddy
Waters is too deep for them, they are saying, in a word, that Muddy Waters is more down to earth.
Reprinted from Black Theater 3, pp. 9-10.
Online Source: http://www.umich.edu/~eng499/documents/karenga1.html