posted by Allison Walters — Jan 13, 2021
Usually when I sit down to write the introduction to a forthcoming issue of Art Journal, I am pleasantly surprised to find intrinsicconnections between the work we do as artists, historians, and critics. In past issues we have learned to look differently, to take matters personally, and to think in the present tense. And somehow we have done all this against an evolving (and often terrifying) backdrop of political, economic, social, environmental, and health crises. As I write this essay in early October, the pressure of reality—including the upcoming US presidential election—has made it difficult for many of us to orient ourselves to our research and creative practices. But, at the same time, the urgency of this work has never seemed more real.
In 2015 Toni Morrison wrote an essay for The Nation that, in part, framed her own feelings of helplessness in times of political and social turmoil. These days I find myself turning to these words again and again:
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.
And so we must keep writing, making, and teaching. We must try to cultivate wisdom instead of succumbing to despair.
With Morrison’s mandate in mind I introduce this special edition of Art Journal: an issue centered on Blackness. The ideas represented here have been carefully brought into an intentional conversation around the experiences, expressions, and theorizations of Blackness. We have artist projects by two Black women—Allison Janae Hamilton and Chanell Stone—and all the book and exhibition reviews center on works by and about Black artists (thanks to the tireless effort of our reviews editor, Mechtild Widrich). The feature essays reorient our attention to artists—Mark Bradford, Samuel Levi Jones, Glenn Ligon, Howardena Pindell, Jack Whitten—who explore the histories, sensations, and consequences of Blackness in their work.
As argued so compellingly by Leigh Raiford in her essay, “Our work is to recognize how white supremacy functions as a way of seeing that any person of any race or positionally can work to undo.” I hope that in editing the first issue of Art Journal to focus exclusively on Blackness, I have provided a counterweight to the ideology of white supremacy that has infected our political landscape in the United States and (in so many ways) the history of art itself. As we mourn the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd and the deaths of thousands from COVID-19, let us also work toward the new future and find meaning in the chaos.
– Jordana Moore Saggese
The entire issue of Art Journal Winter 2020 is free to read through March 31, 2021.