Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

William F. Pinar


How students are taught to think about what is considered "art" and who are "artists" contributes to their sense of self within the world. It can confine them to accept a system that devalues and excludes or it can inspire them to explore the political dimensions of art, to recognize social contradictions, and to contribute to cultural dialogue. The purpose of this study is to provide content for an art curriculum that develops the intellectual capabilities and broadens the critical consciousness of students. The study of aesthetics, art history, and art criticism offer possibilities for understanding the multiple social, historical, and cultural meanings of art. This dissertation adopts feminist approaches to the study of art as a means of exploring how the social reality of racial designation influences African American artistic production and meaning. Consideration is given to the cultural values that have influenced the meaning of African American art, a regional history of African American cultural production in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the experiences and artistic production of several regional African American artists. Throughout history, African American aesthetic values have been inseparable from ideological struggles for assimilation and self-determination. In 19th-century New Orleans, the work of slave and free Black artisans and free artists of color met the needs of a society that had developed a distinct Creole identity. Racial barriers limited the artistic productivity of all African Americans including the fine artists who were considered a third racial caste, had white patrons, and sometimes were trained in Paris. Following Reconstruction, legal restrictions and racial violence severely limited artistic opportunities for African Americans in New Orleans. Contemporary artists still face barriers as race relations change in the city. Interviews with five Black artists revealed the importance they attribute to transmitting African American cultural values to young people and the function of art as a means of responding to the social stereotypes that devalue African American people and culture. Conclusions of this study indicate that issues of racial identity and African American cultural values should be included in the art curriculum.