Designing a New Tradition

Loïs Mailou Jones and the Aesthetics of Blackness

By (author) Rebecca VanDiver

Hardback - £47.95

Publication date:

09 October 2020

Length of book:

256 pages

Publisher

Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271086040

In Designing a New Tradition, Rebecca VanDiver presents a fresh perspective on the art and career of Loïs Mailou Jones. Considering the importance of Africa for Jones’s work and examining the broader roles played by class, gender, and politics in constructions of African American art histories as a whole, VanDiver makes a convincing case for Jones’s lasting place in American art history.

VanDiver repositions Jones’s work within the canon of American art, situating the artist’s production within the larger cultural and aesthetic debates of the twentieth century, including modernism, abstraction, the Harlem Renaissance, feminism, Négritude, and Pan-Africanism. In doing so, VanDiver reveals one of Jones’s most significant contributions to American art: the development of a composite black aesthetic that negotiates African, American, and European artistic traditions to reflect the increasingly fragmented nature of twentieth-century black identity and diasporic experiences. Tracing Jones’s aesthetic transformations along a biographical arc, VanDiver offers a new framework for thinking about the connection between America and Africa and the role of the African diaspora in the creation of African American artistic identity.

Accessibly written and filled with fascinating anecdotes about Jones’s life and career, her many acquaintances, and the challenges she faced as a black woman artist working in the twentieth century, this book makes a singular contribution to a new and expanded art-historical canon.

“VanDiver’s ambitious volume certainly deserves a place among scholarly books about ‘New Negro’ artists, such as Renée Ater’s Remaking Race and History and Theresa A. Leininger-Miller’s New Negro Artists in Paris. As these authors did, VanDiver has excavated facts on an artist’s life and work, filling in the substantial gaps in the record about her training and exhibition history.”

—Jacqueline Francis, author of Making Race: Modernism and “Racial Art” in America