The Glow Up of Fine Black Art

It’s a new day for art and artists in America, and the tv/film industry is using its voice to highlight their work. With global technology and social media landscape, artists are now afforded even more chances for promotion and communication with audiences. This crossover of art into visual media is a byproduct of our information-rich times, that makes this an especially sweet moment for the Black Art Community.

In 2021, HBO celebrated the documentary called “Black Art: The Absence of Light”. Centering around the perspective of a 1976 art show “Two Centuries of American Black Art”, this illuminating documentary focused on some of Black America’s most famous contemporary artists like powerhouses Theaster Gates, Kerry James Marshall, Faith Ringgold, and Carrie Mae Weems.

While we are used to seeing art discussed in documentaries, we are now also excited to see Black art and artists have found their way in the scripts and into our hearts. Here, we will explore how a couple of shows have done just that.

Photo Credit: Black Art in America

From Painter to Collector

We first saw Black art being featured in Good Times and centered around Black art with JJ Evans being a painter and placing his art in a gallery. Then the paradigm shifted. The Cosby show debuted in the 90’s where the Huxtables were collectors. They showed us in progressive middle class to high middle-class roles and more importantly showed us we could too own art.

Photo Credit: Peacock TV

Peacock’s “Bel-Air”, a dramatic reimagination of the beloved 1990s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In this updated version of the old story, Aunt Viv is an art Teacher and well-known visual artist, ranked alongside contemporary art greats like Mickalene Thomas, who painted the first portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama.

Since the new Aunt Viv was once an art world darling and is vying to reclaim that status, the writers ensured the Banks’ Bel-Air mansion is filled with contemporary art. The mansion incorporates Harold Smith, Alloyius McIlwaine, and Nile Livingston throughout the home and they go as far as to mention artists by name, like Kara Walker.

One fun fact, one artist not mentioned by name is Jason Wilcox—but with good reason. Wilcox was originally commissioned to create work for set design, but ended up serving as a stand-in for Vivian’s work. The pieces Aunt Viv creates in the series are Wilcox’s real work.

And Just Like That

In the fourth episode entitled “Some of My Best Friends,” Charlotte and her husband Harry attended a dinner party at the Wexleys’ Park Avenue apartment, and from the moment they enter the home it is like we’re in an art show. They walk past an original of Gordon Parks’ ‘Department Store’, one of his most famous photographs.

At the dinner table, when Lisa’s mother-in-law laments the expense of the Wexleys’ art collection, Charlotte, an art curator, and historian who sits on the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, points out the worth of their collection by calling out the artists in their collection by name: Mickalene Thomas, Deborah Roberts, Barkley Hendricks, and Derrick Adams—the latter of which Charlotte compares to “owning early sheet music by Beethoven”.

With the talents of Keli Goff, an Emmy nominated producer, playwright, screenwriter, and journalist wrote and produced for the show. Goff also ensured that the production included an authentic Black space for the Wexley Family. And when viewing the show, one can tell she went to great lengths to find an art curator who could help the team select the most appropriate and impactful pieces for the Wexley’s space.

We applaud how the Black Media and Entertianment Industry is showing up for the Black Fine Art Community. We look forward to seeing more of these smart integrations that provoke interesting high-quality conversations. And we also see how this trend will motivate a new generation of artists.

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Ashleigh is a writer, creative strategist, and tech founder with concentrations in sexual & reproductive health and women-focused consumer branding. An alum of The George Washington University, she also holds executive education from UCLA and Columbia Business School. She currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.