Distinction and Denial challenges conventional theories of race and art in the period between 1920-40 by shedding light on the role early art critics had in marginalizing African American artists by characterizing them as sharing a primitive, ethnic essence. Mary Ann Calo dispels this myth through an engaging study of the germinal writing of Alain Locke and other significant critics of the era, who argued that African American artists were both a diverse group and a constituent element of America's cultural center. By documenting the effects of the ""Negro aesthetic"" on artists working in the inter-war years, ""Distinction and Denial"" shows that black artistic production existed between the claims of a distinctly African American tradition and full inclusion into American modernist culture. Appealing to a wide range of readers interested in art, history, and African American studies, ""Distinction and Denial"" expands our understanding of an artistic era - focusing on issues of ethnic essentialism and nativism that trouble us to the present day - while also calling into question how we view the intersection of creative production and racial identity in America.
Mary Ann Calo is Professor of Art and Art History and Associate Dean of the Faculty at Colgate University. She is author of Bernard Berenson and the Twentieth Century and editor of Critical Issues in American Art: A Book of Readings.