Coloring inside the lines with new shades of brown crayons
Vincent van Gogh was one of the first artists I remember learning about in elementary school. The explanation regarding his chopped left ear was also the first time I heard a story that made me question artists’ mental health. I thought about him recently while watching VH1’s “Family Hustle.” One of rapper T.I.’s youngest sons King asked his little brother who is his favorite artist. Major, being snarky as usual, said van Gogh’s name. King pondered on it for a minute and said he didn’t know who that was. When Major explained the joke to him, knowing full well King was asking about a rap artist, it was yet another reason I agree with Tip about King staying in school. Although I can’t say van Gogh influenced me in any way, shape or form as an adult, I think fondly of the painter because I recall the teacher who taught me about him.
She also came to mind last week when I read about Crayola’s new “24 colors of the world” crayons. My skin color is somewhere between Deep Golden and Extra Deep Golden, but my art teacher — a black woman — long ago showed me how to use traditional crayons to create my actual complexion with a mix of several colors. In her class, I learned about van Gogh and making papier-mâché dogs. But I also was introduced to the kinds of artists that were featured in various episodes of “The Cosby Show,” including that main painting — “Funeral Procession” by Ellis Wilson. I admired colorful art I could relate to, like Marvin Gaye’s cover of the “I Want You” album — “The Sugar Shack” painting from Ernie Barnes. It was impossible for me to not see how these artists colored black people in their own work. I took notes.
In college, I had to take an art course in order to get my undergraduate degree. I was bored out of my mind sitting in a Victorian Arts class, looking at a bunch of people who looked nothing like me. I daydreamed of my second-grade days when my art teacher showed me how to color people of all skin shades.
Anyone entering my home will see black art — or influential African-Americans — all over my walls, from the living room to the hallway to the bedroom. When my grandfather asked me what I wanted from his home before he passed away, I stared admiringly at “Pretty Eyes” by Thomas A. McKinney. I knew it would fit in well near my framed picture of “The Black Hills” by Jason Hunt. For the longest time, I held onto clipped calendar pieces from painter S. Whittaker of Reign Entertainment Co.
I think about these artists and a flood of others I’ve supported over the years. As a ceramics artist who has sold far more work than I’ve held onto from high school to adulthood, the written word is important to me. But everything from blog post images to what decorates my own walls is extremely significant, too. Even when I’m on an Uber Conference or Zoom call, I purposely sit in a spot where viewers can see the hat-wearing couple I painted, one of my first ceramics pieces in high school. My mother, who is also a ceramics painter, also influences my creative eye. Both of us were especially fond of painting African-American figurines, both kids and adults.
Is it nice to see that Crayola has more brown crayons in the box? Sure. But without black teachers to teach them about black artists, too, it won’t do much good for anything but making a coloring book a little more diverse. Support black artists. Support black teachers. Support black art teachers, too.
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