Black Art Matters Scholarship Update

We recently announced our Black Art Matters Scholarship and wanted to share some of the entries.  To be eligible for the $500 scholarship you have to submit a 400 word essay on how the Empire TV show has contributed to today’s society.  This post offers submissions from three contestants.  Please use the poll below to let us know which essay is your favorite.  Thank You!

If you submitted an essay and do not see it in below, do not panic, there will be another post with additional essays.

Thank You!

Empire Fox Thirsty Rawlings
Empire Fox Thirsty Rawlings

Contestant #1

My name is XXXXX and I am an aspiring visual artist from Chicago IL. I attended South Shore International College Prep and during that time I was known as XXXXX. My peers would come to me to ask if I could help them with their art related class assignments, but one condition. If I help them, they must learn to appreciate art on their own and not for easy passing. I’m here to help, not to be taken advantage of. I enjoyed teaching those who were interested in learning how to draw, so that they can eventually find their own styles and techniques as they continued to practice. 
My senior year of high school I attended Gallery 37’s AP Drawing and Painting class. It challenged me, but also helped me discover my personal style while illustrating my story for my submission portfolio. While at Gallery, Empire just débuted season one, and while watching it, I jumped and screamed when I noticed Kehinde Wiley’s latest paintings throughout multiple scenes of the show. One particular piece that caught my attention was “Naomi and her Daughters”, In relation to Cookie and her sons. I took this piece from a personal perspective comparing it to the relationship between my mother, sister and I. The daughter on the left of the painting is myself “present but not as close” compared to the daughter on the right clench on to the mother figure in the center. 
Choosing an institution was difficult. I knew I wanted to go to school for art, but I also thought about the stereotypes as an artist not making it in society. My parents also didn’t have the additional funding to send me to an art school. I graduated and attended college at Dominican University. While I was there, my set goal was to continue art, along with a double major in Black World Studies. The first couple of months I began to drift from art to subjects that has nothing to do with my future goals. It wasn’t until the last week of school I knew what exactly I want to do with my life.
 I am an entrepreneur and an artist and my dream is to create a non-profit organization for visual and performing arts in the Black community. I know that there are plenty around the city of Chicago, but not too many people know about them. In the black community there is talent everywhere, and I want to help teach the youth that their mind is powerful and their imagination is the key to their craft. To always remind them that art isn’t force, it comes naturally. I want to be there to support them and to inform that that the stereotypes of an artist in today’s society doesn’t compare to the past. We are here and we need to support one another through our talents, businesses and organizations!  Through my past I didn’t have an art center to go to, if there was one my parents couldn’t afford to register me for classes and provide supplies.
 The Chicago Public School system is rapidly cutting the arts programs due to the low budget crisis and pushing towards standardized testing and general education courses for college preparation. The education stand point is good, but without the extracurricular activities and electives in the arts, how will students function without a creative standpoint? This is the question I continue to ask educators.
 By providing this center to the youth, it will be a learning experience for them. To educate them about the worth of their work and to provide them with professional skills and higher education options for the future. I believe an art student shouldn’t have to pay for anything while they’re young and learning, when you can provide what they need to exceed their goals for free. Also you shouldn’t turn away an artist just because they lack skills in a certain area. Teach them and help them. These things are what I wanted while growing up and because I experienced having nothing, I want to provide the aspiring youth with something great.  
The show Empire is very inspirational to the Black arts community. It not only does it engage the viewers to a personal perspective of a black family overcoming their struggles to be known as a successful music label, but it gives an insight of how the hip hop music industry is vaguely handled in today’s society. Upcoming artist are generally discovered through social media and the internet, by promoting themselves through videos or links to their EP’s and mixtapes.  To be discovered by word of mouth and meeting in person are also ways Empire has shown how talent is discover. To showcase the paintings of various black artist is also a way Empire contributes to society. To show viewers that people in higher places are willing to purchase and display an artist creations for the comfort of their homes, so that they and their guest can enjoy someone’s beautiful hard work.   

Contestant #2

Empire, an American TV show created by producer Lee Daniels, is a thrilling masterpiece that sends its viewers on a roller coaster of emotions as each twist and turn keeps them on the edge of their seats, eager to see how the story unfolds. With an amazing cast of complex characters there is no shortage of entertainment as we witness how each individual develops, and how their relationships with each other constantly changes throughout the show. 
Even though the overall plot is one of struggle and betrayal, the show constantly displays positive messages that reflect societies most relevant issues. For example, the LGBT has constantly fought to aid homosexuals in achieving rights to things such as marriage and to not be discriminated because of their sexual preference. Empire spearheaded this initiative by making one of the leading characters, Jamal Lyon, gay and thus allows its viewers to see his struggles to support gay pride and how he becomes a spokesperson for the LGBT through his music. In fact, at the 2016 BET awards Jussie Smollett (Jamal Lyon) celebrated the Supreme Courts ruling in favor of gay marriage onstage during his performance, further making empire seem rooted in reality as it tackles contemporary social issues. 
Another man making waves in society through his talent is an African-American artist named Kehinde Wiley. He is an ingenious painter who takes famous works of old and gives them a more, let us say contemporary, twist. For example, in his painting titled “The Virgin Martyr Saint Cecilia “he takes a sculpture of the virgin martyr and paints a beautiful oil painting that greatly resembles it, the only difference is that the “ Virgin Martyr “ isn’t saint Cecilia but a black woman with braids and adorned in street clothes. This gives a powerful message both of a social and a psychological nature. what makes this Socially powerful is that when the original artist made the sculpture it was to commemorate a woman who was pure and innocent and yet was killed for her faith. The fact that Mr. Wiley replaced saint Cecilia with a young black woman brings to mind the death of young black people for seemingly no reason. These young people become martyrs of the struggle the same where their ancestors where before them, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a struggle against racism it could very well also be the struggle in the streets of the ghetto, but despite the type of struggle the overall message is the same, the young and innocent are dying. Psychologically this painting is very intriguing because it forces the viewer into cognitive dissonance. First when one first lays their eyes on this images it is so beautiful that you can’t help but marvel at the sight of it. It looks as though Michelangelo or even Leonardo Da Vinci could have made it, yet when we see the black woman our minds begin to have a sort of “What? “moment due to the fact that most of the time we don’t associate black with beautiful. We have been conditioned to think this because most of the time when we see a painting of this quality most of the time there is a person of European descent depicted. Mr. Wiley kicks that door wide open and forces us to see that black can indeed be beautiful and that is the aspect I admire most about this painting. 
When I see men like Lee Daniels and Kehinde Wiley making a difference for the black community it inspires me to get up and do the same. Not just by rapping on a microphone or shooting a basketball, but I can push past the stereotypes of society and use my intelligence as a vehicle to success and then when I reach my goal I will remember to look back from where I came and be a mentor to someone else. You see, in the black community we often have the “I got mine, you better get yours!” attitude when we should be supporting one another in our endeavors. For example, one day I want to own my own self sufficient music business (with my own studio, label, and radio companies) and through it give others opportunities and jobs, then when I become successful I want to help fund other black owned businesses financially so they don’t have to go to banks for loans that will ultimately leave them bankrupt. I want to give the black community a jump-start in restoring the glory it once had and not the constant state of turmoil and self-propelled hatred that It currently is in. 

Contestant #3

“It’s beauty in the struggle… ugliness in the success” (Jermaine Lamarr Cole). This quote, I believe, is the number one message that the hit show Empire sends to its many viewers. This is a personal motto of mine and has been since I have matured and gotten closer to adulthood and independence. The show shows how the main characters, Lucious and Cookie Lyon, struggled to make it to the top. It showed their time as drug dealers and the sacrifices both of them had to make that not only affected them but their family and children. The hard decisions they had to make in order to assure their safety and the safety of their loved ones from hiding away, lying, to murder. Lucious and Cookie were going to do whatever it took to make sure their family was comfortable and safe. Which ended up putting Cookie in prison for years and Lucious to run his empire while she served her time. With all the income coming their way it may seem like it was all worth it to the both of them and their children. But as the seasons go on you see the regret and the guilt as their past continues to come back and haunt them. The money they are making doesn’t seem to make them as happy as it did in the very beginning. Family becomes a way bigger value than the value of a dollar which was not the case in some episodes where the family seemed to be divided often because of money of disagreements and betrayals due to power (ugliness in the success). Almost as if when there was a major issue like a family member being in danger they finally came together (the beauty in the struggle). With this being said in a real life scenario I am most certain that the parents in this case would definitely have wanted to take a different route on their journey to the top. Going to a very diverse school and having met many people all from different backgrounds I have seen this how different people handle struggle and success. I have been around children of muli- millionaires and children whose only meals are the free breakfasts and lunches that the school has to offer. 27% of all African American men, women and children live below the poverty level or 11% of all African Americans (2014 U.S. census). With that being said I wanted to say that I am very well aware of the financial burden putting a child through college is on the entire family. Of course, parents want their kids to further their education but sometimes if there isn’t enough financial aid then college isn’t much of an option. I was supposed to attend The University of New Orleans this fall semester of 2016 to major in psychology but due to last minute medical bills for my parents I was unable to pay my tuition. Luckily I was able to enroll in a community college in my home town which was dramatically cheaper than the institution I wanted to go to. Others do not even have that option. Some of my old classmates are examples and it makes me sad because I’ve seen their potential hands on. Some of these classmates didn’t even attempt to further their education rather got into doing things that would give them “quick money”. These activities have gotten some of them arrested, hurt, or killed. This is not the path they wanted to take at all but they felt trapped. Because these kids had no knowledge of the many scholarships and legal ways to earn money they felt as if going to college was just a dream they would never be able to live. Some of these classmates just felt like it was close to impossible, which I am aware it seems that way sometimes as fees start to add up event to apply to an institution. It is easier to make excuses and blame your background and how, where, and who you were raised by for the fact that you are not able to just breeze through college without having to worry about paying that high tuition bill. Empire for me showed me that no matter how crazy, hard, or dark your past was you cannot let that define how your future is going to turn out. You have to break that cycle for your own sake and the sake of your future children. Obviously I am not condoning drug dealing as a way to reach financial stability, this is just the way Lucious got to where he wanted to be. Because of the many scholarships and programs provided for students now to help low income families with continuing their education it is indeed possible for students who are less fortunate financially to go to college without the illegal activity. I want to raise awareness to these programs and help students stay on the right track to doing what they love whether that be in the medical field, engineering, performing arts, or liberal arts. Education is key to success and everyone deserves that chance. Some might have to struggle a little more (if you count hours of researching, writing essays, filling out applications, and trial and error a struggle) than others. In my opinion is worth it in the end when these poverty rates go down and more students are getting a greater education. Since after college I plan on getting a PhD in psychology to become a forensic psychologist to work with the juvenile justice system to help the youth who have taken the wrong turn in life get back on the right track, helping students further their education is something I am very passionate about. And appreciate the very real and raw lessons that empire has to offer to its viewers.  One of which is to find the good in the hard times and to remember to humble yourself when all of that hard work finally pays off.

Contestant #4

Fox’s popular television show, “Empire” is a growing controversial topic. Why does the audience that watch it continue to watch it? Empire has not only brought happiness to those who watch it regularly, but it brings up the topic of diversity. The show is about an all-black empire who’s successful instead based on an all-white one. Empire brings motivation to those who believe they can’t do anything due to racism and discrimination. Instead of the usual “normal” black family, it shows a stereotypical black family that makes it from the bottom. 
This painting by Kehinde Wiley is of an African American family. In the painting, I see a broken family that is holding on by a thread. I see a single mother who has two daughters that both have their own path. One blames the mother for her mistakes and hates her for it, while the other loves her mother. The one who remains with her mother is always in the streets, but sneaks back in the house before the break of dawn. The other one with the longer hair is the oldest daughter and she basically is out on her own, but her mother wants what’s best for her. She’s been through a lot of pain and her eyes has seen so much. Let’s say her name is LaToya, she seen her mom make dumb mistakes and tried to help, but didn’t care to listen. LaToya and her mom have a love-hate relationship. The youngest daughter, Tina, can’t help, but try to get LaToya to come back. She wants to be a happy family, but with little guidance she makes the wrong choices. The mother, Monique, lays alone at night and has different men in her bed. She was once a drug addict and the men she dealt with have done some undesirable things to her daughters when she would be strung out.
What Will I Do?
The question is, “what will you do to improve the African American art community?” I believe that I as an African American will speak my mind. The art from expressionism is greatly appreciated. I can always bring the “fire.” I am a speaker; my voice should be heard. I could see myself even criticizing art for the better. Everyone can bring their own contributions to the art world and I think I have flavor. 

Contestant #5

I think the TV contributes to everyday society due to the fact I am a African American growing up in an all black community were I see everyday people hustle to live ghetto fabulous the biggest cars, flashy jewelry and for what just to make in the world today. Everyone has a hustle to survive today weather its cut throat or honest. In todays society  its no loyalty everything is about a dollar and a gain. There’s no trust that has been going. Instead of helping each other grow everyone has there own game plan survive that the crazy part.  If they all just thought about it in this TV show instead of always fighting an stealing each others members they may have achieved more and would have less stress. Same thing that’s goes on in the neighborhood I live in currently that’s why I need out when I graduate school to move on to bigger and better things so that I wont get caught up in that keep  up world. I need to see what else the world has to offer my with educating myself and furthering my career. I also, have looked at Kehinde Wiley’s art work very inspiring to see a African American from New York do so well with this painting.  I think they are contemporary works of art and they look youthful. They also have a great vibe of todays society with a street sense to it. We need to see more of this in our communities for everyone to enjoy them.  If I am successful enough when I finish school I will come back to my community and try to organize my own company to try and educate youth and teach them honor and respect as I was taught. Just to love, care and pray more than anything.  Now days teenagers have no one to look up to. I want to be that person to help with that. 

Contestant #6

How has the Empire TV show contributed to today’s society?
“What do you mean by ‘you people’? You black like me!” Cookie, Season 1 Episode 5 of Empire. This line is one of many mannerisms that the show portrays through boisterous characters like Cookie Lyon. There has been a lot of discussion about the representation of minorities through media, such as books, t.v., film, and online. Most recent there has been a divide between what is good representation, bad representation, and the line that divides the two. Many people believe that televised shows like Empire “… does nothing to advance the perception of blacks or alter how [they] are viewed by [non people of color] across the world.” While a small few believe that “No one cares about [an] over analytical take on Empire.” Thus, continuing the black and white stance. But, how does a show like Empire bring out people’s opposing viewpoints? Well, there are many reasons and explanations. To begin, let’s start with when show aired.
“A month prior to the premiere episode of ‘Empire’, protests against police brutality and racial profiling were active in nearly every major city in North America.” claims Laina Dawes, writer at AlterNet. This is very true. Since 2013 there has been numerous protests and rallies following the unfortunate deaths of poc in the grip of police brutality. Also, there has been movements, such as Black Lives Matter, that campaign against violence and systematic racism towards black people. “Political pundits, journalists and even a few celebrities critiqued the public perception of African Americans and urged people to look beyond media portrayals that present [poc] as one dimensional … “ Like I had said before, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the topic of the portrayal of minorities in media. While there are average people who may have a standpoint on this topic there are also a lot of  celebrities who “claim” to have a standpoint, but don’t use their platforms to bring awareness to the situation … I digress. 
Now, let’s take a look at where it’s airing. “The executives at FOX knew exactly how to capture the attention of of most [poc] viewers, and it worked with flying colors … This IS FOX, a mainstream channel after all.” claims anonymous, blogger for Classy Black Lady.  FOX is a broadcast station that is infamous for being one of many stations that let’s their bias and corporate higher levels manipulate what is, well, broadcasted. While claiming to be ‘fair and balanced’, there is a cynical concept in place. By saying one thing while behaving clearly and completely opposite of the stated goal, they have been able to undermine even the notion of facts, and have burned cynicism into many people’s notion of media. Yet, even this does not deter millions of viewers seasonally. Why? It’s because a show like Empire is centered around the entertainment industry it appeals to a wider audience than other poc centered shows such as “Scandal” or “How To Get Away With Murder”. “While the show’s glossiness is alluring [the first episode produced around 9.9 million viewers], it’s also filled with badly written dialogue and ham fisted racial and sexual stereotypes.” This brings me to my next point.
Empire centers around “ … Lyon, the former drug dealer who is now CEO of Empire Entertainment, and his wife, Cookie, who has just come home after serving 17 years in prison and wants her stake in the booming business she helped start. In the center of the power struggle between the former lovers are their three sons, Andre, Jamal, and Hakeem. The three sons are all battling for their father’s respect and his company, oblivious to the fact that Lucious has been diagnosed with ALS and given three years to live.” While Empire caters to some people’s need to see drama and conflict there are some instances in the show where said drama and conflict comes off as misdirected. An example of this would be Cookie Lyon’s relationship between her three sons. Throughout the show, Cookie not only pits her sons against one another, constantly taunt Jamal because of his sexuality, but it’s also shown (through flashbacks) that she used to protect their “sensitivity” before she went to jail. Lee Daniels, show director of Empire, suggests that it was necessary to show how deeply ingrained homophobia is in within black communities. “What we’re really trying to do … is give people an opportunity to see what they’re doing is painful,” said Daniels at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in January of 2015.  The problem with this statement being that homophobia is a problem within many ethnic (and non ethnic) communities. Understanding that this is a poc centered show and that you shouldn’t force your opinion on anyone, homophobia isn’t just a problem within the black community. You can claim that it is strongly held within the community, but it’s not the only community with this problem.
In conclusion, I agree that “Empire doesn’t try to be the defining portrayal of of black people … [and that] black art and entertainment shouldn’t exist solely to promote the most spotless representations of black people.”  Empire is one of those shows where despite being “pervasive”, “melodramatic”, “embarrassing”, amongst other things, there will always be another season and more people there to view it. It’s one of those shows where no matter the decade it will always be a certain amount of truth underneath all of the “glossiness”. Whether the truth lies within the show or it’s viewers depends on your viewpoint. In this case, the truth is no form of anything is pristine, especially not art. Empire has contributed to society by being a show that opens people to an idea (that has been done before) that contributes to them being able to conjure thoughts and concepts about what is truly important and what impact they have on others.
An Economy of Grace, Kehinde Wiley’s debut exhibition at Sean Kelly gallery, marked his first ever series dedicated to female subjects. For the past decade or so, Kehinde Wiley has been making evocative, questioning and powerful portraits of men of color from around the world. Beginning with portraits of young African American men from New York City and growing into an ongoing series known as “The World Stage,” featuring men from China, Dakar, Lagos, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka and Israel. The same formula he used in those paintings he uses again in “An Economy of Grace” — photorealist portraiture of models in classical, art-historical poses, set against decorative and colorful backdrops. The defining difference here comes in his choice of subject, all African American women from New York City. Other than that, very little has changed. Should it?
Wiley himself emphasizes the never-ending tension in the paintings between their male and female aspects. “It’s about a figure in the landscape,” he said of his output, adding that the backdrops symbolize the land. “For me the landscape is the irrational. Nature is the woman. Nature is the black, the brown, the other.” He added, “That’s the logic behind it, but everyone has their own sort of reading.”
At a glance – grand, striking, and celebratory — the portraits featured in An Economy of Grace seem to transcend socio political commentary, inviting the viewer to simply bask in the singular and unassailable beauty of the portraits, to get lost in the luminosity the artist achieves in rendering the rich brown skin of his subjects, the vibrancy and precision of the graphic patterns that envelope their figures, but, on closer examination, it becomes clear: in the world Wiley is creating, beauty is only the vessel.
Each portrait explores ideals of feminine beauty, the concept of grace and upon whom in society it is bestowed, and ultimately gives status to the beauty and valor of black women, a subject historically marginalized in society, the arts, and the making of western aesthetics.
Wiley’s portraits are highly stylized and staged, and draw attention to the debate between a history of aristocratic representation and the portrait as a statement of power and the individual’s sense of empowerment.
Since ancient times the portrait has been tied to the representation of power, and in European courts and churches, artists and their patrons developed a complex repository of postures and poses and refined a symbolic language. This language, woven into all aspects of a portrait, described the sitter’s influence and power, virtue and character, or profession.
Wiley warned of the danger of assuming that art tells us universal, cultural, or autobiographical truths. He has pointed out the limitations we impose by expecting art to be a political statement, a social commentary, or a catalyst for change. “I have a cold atheist sensibility when it comes to art,” Kehinde told Alissa Guzman, writer for Hyperallergic, during the Brooklyn Museum’s Multimedia Artist Talk. “Painting shouldn’t be preachy and portraits don’t tell us the truth about the people in them,” he said, and confessed that for him his paintings are all self-portraits. As Wiley himself pointed out, the “art industrial complex” is an unfair and hierarchical place.
Artistic practice is usually understood as being individual and personal. But what does the individual or personal actually mean? The individual is often understood as being different from the others. The point is not so much one’s difference from others but one’s difference from oneself—the refusal to be identified according to the general criteria of identification. Indeed, the parameters that define our identity are foreign to us. We were not consciously present at the date and place of our birth, we did not choose our parents, our nationality, and so forth. All these external factors of our personality do not correlate to any intuitive evidence that we may have. They indicate only how others see us.
Already a long time ago modern artists practiced a revolt against the identities which were imposed on them by others, society, the state, schools, and parents. They affirmed the right of self-identification. They defied expectations related to the social role of art, artistic professionalism, and aesthetic quality. They undermined the national and cultural identities that were ascribed to them. Modern art was understood as a search for the “true self.” Here the question is not whether the true self is real or merely a metaphysical fiction. The question of identity is not a question of truth but a question of power: Who has the power over my own identity—I myself or society? And, more generally: Who exercises control over the social mechanisms of identification—state institutions or I myself?
What will you do to improve the African art community?
What will it take to finally put an end to sexism in art?
“Counting,” the editors of the London Review of Books declared, “is a feminist weapon.”
They were responding to the latest numbers by the advocacy organization VIDA, which conducts an annual count of the number of women published in popular and literary magazines. LBR’s response was meant to be as dismissive at it sounds — after all, the magazine had one of the worse male-to-female ratios in the publishing industry. But scoffing aside, counting has become a tool in the feminist arsenal. Every year VIDA, unsurprisingly, reveals a sizable gender gap in the publishing industry — and their methods are being adopted in other fields, as well.
Things are a lot better than in the mid-80s, when the Guerrilla Girls formed to picket a Museum of Modern Art survey that contained just 13 women in a show of 169 artists. Indeed, the last ten years have seen more women take on positions of power in the art world, whether at museums or in galleries.
Currently this subject is back at center stage, thanks to the Maura Reilly guest-edited June issue of ARTnews which collates the dispiriting statistics, and elicits responses from art stars ranging from Cindy Sherman to Jamian Juliano-Villani.
Reilly , a member of the Guerrilla Girls, reports: “The good news is that, while in 2005 women ran 32 percent of the museums in the United States, they now run 42.6 percent—albeit mainly the ones with the smallest budgets. But they are still not great: of all artists represented by galleries in the United States today, just 30 percent are female, according to the stats from Micol Hebron‘s “Gallery Tally” project, cited by Reilly. And that total seems to have been stuck more or less in place for some time.
You could rephrase her argument like this: Simply counting the number of “great” female artists then comparing it to the number of “great” male artists didn’t by itself explain anything, and left room to smuggle in all kinds of erroneous assumptions, unless the source of the discrepancy was adequately explained.
It’s not just museums that are shunning women artists—it’s the entire market, from gallerists to collectors and critics.
Jamian Juliano-Villani, the 29-year-old painter, writes that the more we call attention to sexism in the art world, “the longer it continues to be an issue.” Her strategy is to keep her head down, “to ignore that shit and keep going forward and make it work in my favor.”
Among older artists, Betty Tompkins feels “appreciated for what I do and what I’ve done, but when I look at the big picture I still see a lot of tokenism.”
Tokenism is a problem for women across industries, whether it’s a token female role in Hollywood or the token woman hired at a male-dominated tech company.
Because feminism is an increasingly popular—and increasingly fraught—issue today, women are often perceived as either undervalued (and underpaid) or overvalued in a token female-filling role. The media is flooded with women’s issues, and some are more deserving of attention than others.
ArtNews editor-in-chief Sarah Douglas was wary that their women’s issue would be perceived as a form of tokenism.
“It gave me pause, but in the end I think it’s important to do these things just to keep the conversation going,” she says. “But that conversation should be substantive and interesting and entertaining.”
Reilly is less wary.
“My theory is that we need women-only exhibitions, museums and galleries because there is no parity, and there’s no excuse for people to say ‘I don’t know any good women artists’ or ‘I can’t include them in shows,’” she says. “Until there’s at least a modicum of equality in representation—galleries, museums, etc.— we still need to have these ‘tokenism’ events.” 
When Hebron challenged individual gallery owners — often those with the worst gender ratios — they provided stock defensive answers. Some of the choice responses include: “Women do not have the same drive or passion for their art as men do — they are not willing to die for their passions” and “Women are not as prominent in the art world because they become mothers.” If these excuses seem familiar, it’s because they are. After the London Review of Books ridiculed counting, they when on to suggest that women’s omission from the magazine was their own fault: “[Women] prefer not to write critically about other women” and “…women find it difficult to do their own jobs, look after their children, cook dinner, and write pieces. They just can’t get it all done.”
Those answers are frustrating because they’re deflective. It’s difficult to imagine that editors, curators, or gallery owners are consciously excluding women, but both Gallery Talley and VIDA’s counts show gender discrimination is as present as ever. There is an important discussion to be had about inequality in the culture industry and the industry should welcome it rather than defensively stick their heads in the sand. It is hard here not to think about the famous line in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse: “Women can’t paint, women can’t write.” Woolf wrote the words to demonstrate just how destructive sexism (institutional and social) can be on the creativity of women. Perhaps, in light of Gallery Tally and VIDA’s counts, Woolf’s words are worth revisiting. The numbers are indisputable, now it’s time understand why the numbers are as they are and try to fix them.
Art brings out feelings and emotions at times repressed deep under the many layers of our skin and this holds true for arts of all mediums. still, art from minorities, seems to come from someplace more sobering. whether it is a painting or a play, a mask or a scarf, there is always a story just waiting to be told. sometimes that story is eulogising ancestors and at other times it is praising rivers and mountains. however, the undertone often carries a yearning for a better life. and it is this ‘yearning for a better life’, which makes minorities’ artworks, a sui generis, a class of their own.
Sadly, the art world is still waking up to the intensity and soul these unique artworks carry. hence more often than not, ethnic minority art remains under-appreciated.
According to prospect magazine, ‘people from various ethnic minorities make up approximately 7.9% of the population in uk, yet only 4% of the arts workforce.’ and spread the word, ‘less than 1% of poetry books that are published in uk are by either a black or an asian poet.’
It is not just the majority of population that is not interested in ethnic minorities’ art, the ethnic minority population too has kept a distance from the arts that the majority of population follow. according to a study by museums association uk in 2008, ‘only 7% of the people working in museums come from a minority ethnic background.’
Minorities can only feel welcomed in the current global art scene when their diversities are recognised and their history cherished. ‘arts’ should feel relatable to them. efforts should be taken where they can encounter the arts specific to their own life and experience. 
It is not just the exposure of the minority population to the arts that should be promoted, so should be the exposure of the non-minority population to minority arts.
“Progressive art can assist people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in which they live, but also about the intensity social character of their interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social emancipation.” – Angela Davis

Contestant #7

The television series Empire has been a big hit for the African American community in general. Watching this show allows the viewer to see the complex life of an African American. One can see the powerful group in which Cookie and Lucious Lyon builds together. As well, one can also see that nothing good comes easy. When the show started, Cookie was getting out of jail and serving years in prison for previous mistakes she made in the past. Even so, Lucious has plenty of enemies in town for treacherous business decisions he had to make. One thing the show exemplifies is family. Thus marrying Aneeka who had a baby with Lucious’s son, the owners and family of empire are always able to reconcile and come together for a common goal which is their music label. All in all, the show empathizes on the ladder of success in which us African Americans have to climb in order to get what we want in life. The end result of a bumpy road will always be success which is shown through the complex family of Andre, Luscious, Cookie, Jamal and Hakeem.
The painting titled “Place Soweto National Assembly” by Kehinde Wiley is all about coming together as a nation. One can infer that the meaning of the painting is foreshadowed in the title. A national assembly is an elected legislature from various countries. In the painting there are two different countries uniting. I am able to see this because the two African men in the picture are both wearing different sports jerseys to represent their land. The men are joining forces and holding a rag together in each of their hands. This picture shows unity. In the picture the men are next to each other standing side by side. Going even deeper, one can assume that they are fighting for the same rights. Their faces look very fierce and serious like they are getting ready to fight a battle mentally and physically. The two alliances have their hands overlapping one another in the bottom half of the photo. This also shows unity. The two forces themselves would not be as close in the picture if they were not getting along. This whole photo itself along with the T.V. show empire conveys the art of unity in the African American community. 
To improve the African American art culture I myself will write plays in college based on real life experiences we endure as African Americans. I feel that the best way for people to empathize with African Americans is through art. Using emotional scenes in movies and plays creates a very powerful image in America’s head which will then be used to help everyone get an understanding of where we are coming from as a race. Once my plays become universal this will help open the door for more African American actors and enhance the art world as a whole.

Contestant #8

Living in a one-bedroom apartment with my one-year old son, I anxiously prepared two bowls of spaghetti and placed it on my bed. I poured two cups of juice and grabbed a few napkins. There was never a predominately black show on regular television, that I could remember. My son was excited mostly because I was running around the house grabbing anything that he would possibly want throughout the show. Little did I know, he would also be mesmerized by the hip-hop beats and the characters too. 
Empire has brought black people on television again. This show has given black people someone to look up to, has given our culture a voice, and has given us an outlet to relate to. People in our culture has characters and actors to relate to now, stories to sympathize and empathize with, and the show shares these issues not only with other black people but other cultures who are watching as well. 
Not every black person is a part of a family who runs a major hip-hop label, but they still cover similar issues that black people face in their daily lives. When the show shared clips from Cookie’s stint in prison, black men and women could empathize with the experience of being prison or jail. Others could empathize with the various family members who had an incarcerated parent and the struggles that come along with this particular issue. 
Every year, I struggle to look for people to be for Halloween. I don’t have a lot of well know black characters to choose from. Empire has opened more doors for that. Teenagers can dress up as their favorite version of Cookie, Hakeem, or even the infamous Lucious Lyons. We have people (actors and characters) to look up to now, and stories to compare our own lives to. Not only do we have these characters but we have the actors who have played many other roles that some people may not have noticed until this show. 
Our culture now has a voice. Empire has gone over various issues, such as mental illness, incarceration, sexuality, the loss of a loved one, and even running a business. Not only are black people watching but other cultures as well. This show is on regular television; we have a chance to show how African Americans shine. 
The Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, painting is a modern representation. The artwork is created in 2013, by the artist Kehinde Wiley. Wiley produced this painting from oil on canvas with measurements of 48” x 36.” Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness displays a young woman standing in front of red and blue flowers. The young woman is standing and holding a staff with her left hand and appears to be holding her chest with her right hand. This particular stance symbolizes St. John the Baptist. 
She is standing as St. John the Baptist and holding a male stance to show her dominance and importance. Black women have more dominant personality types that can sometimes be viewed as masculine. She embodies St. John the Baptist and is placed directly in the center of the canvas, to show how important she is. St, John the Baptist was an important religious prophet who wasn’t respected by everyone. The flowers behind her and the colors in her attire, represent African culture. 
Having the opportunity to take African American art this semester has greatly prepared me for my future. I have already fallen in love with the Sankofa bird meaning, “return to your roots.” Constantly being mindful of my own culture and how much I need to succeed in order to be that figure for every young black child who wants to be a young Lucious or Cookie Lyons and own their own businesses, or to be the next Kehinde Wiley and wishes to create beautiful works of art that depicts black people as important figures. 
Becoming a therapist for troubled youth, gives me an opportunity to help aid a young black child in coping well with their current life struggles, aiding them into following their dreams and instilling a positive attitude toward their future. Thank you. 

Contestant #9

Empire shows a perfect example of how a family goes through problems but at the end of the day they stick by each other’s side no matter what the circumstance is. For example Lucious and Jamal Lion were fighting for the Aces award. Jamal and Lucious were both bashing each other in public and telling each other’s business to the press.Yes, it was wrong but it was only just a little competition besides at the end of the day no matter who got the Aces award they still love each other because they’re family. Empire helps families today know that there is going to problems but at the end of the day you have to put that aside because love is really all you have. It also shows families that not even money could make a family perfect. I have six sisters and we fight ALOT but we know that family is all you really have and we have to stick together. Empire has showed us that it is absolutely normal for a family to fight but you eventually have to bounce back and put your differences aside.
One of my favorite of Kehinde Wiley’s painting that stood out to me is Judith and Holofernes. Judith and Holofernes was created in 2012. On this painting it has a strong, sophisticated, and beautiful African American woman holding a white woman’s head. When I look at this painting I think of dominance. I see a African American that is dominant but I also that a woman is dominant which isn’t popular in today’s society. When today’s society sees a African American they see trouble, ghetto, poor, uneducated, etc. When today’s society see a woman they think house wife, gold digger, weak or not as strong as men. But I KNOW that each one of those titles do not describe a African American nor a woman. The woman in this painting looks like she had enough whether it could be having enough of African Americans getting discriminated or tired of always getting treated inferior to whites like she is not good enough. Also another great quality in this painting is the differentiation of the black and the white womans hair. In the painting the black womans hair is thick, natural, and beautiful. The white woman’s hair is America’s outlook on how hair is “supposed” to look like. Which is straight, easy to comb, and long. For example everybody at my school always wonders and questions why does my hair looks so thick or “nappy”, or they wonder why my hair is isn’t easy to comb. This painting truly has inspire me that I can be ANYTHING I want no matter how I look on the outside.
Ever since 7th grade the flute has always been one of my greatest passions. I want to become a memorable flute player. I also want to teach young African Americans around the world to be better musicians and teach them tips on how to be a better flute player. I would like  to set an example for African American musicians that you could be anything you want, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise; and NEVER take no for an answer because all it takes for you to be successful is your dedication.

Contestant #10

Prior to 2015, when was the last time that you saw a mainstream television drama focusing on African-Americans? When was the last time that you saw one that captured the attention of millions of people while addressing LGBT issues, mental illness, and ALS awareness, while simultaneously supporting real-life African-American musicians?  

Prior to the television show Empire, these things were almost unheard of, and that’s why the show has become so important.
For the first time in years, black actors and actresses have been allowed to explore deeper subjects and given more serious roles rather than being minor side characters in cheesy sitcoms. Since Empire’s premiere in early 2015, shows focusing on minorities have greatly increased. Television dramas such as How to Get Away with Murder, Rosewood, Minority Report, Atlanta, and Pitch are just a few that feature black leads.   Empire has contributed to society by using pop culture and media to remind everyone that, if given the same opportunities as white actors, minority actors can be just as successful and create powerful content.
Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley’s art is bold and unique.  His combination of cultural influences with classical art and techniques creates a highly individualized style.
This style is especially apparent in a portrait of rapper Ice T.  This painting is based on Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s 1806 portrait of Napoleon.  In Ingres’s original artwork, Napoleon is depicted as a supernal ruler rather than as his notable historical role as a military leader. The gold detailing on his throne and outfit, combined with his vehement post, gives him the presence of a Greek god.
Wiley’s portrait maintains all of the same details of the background, giving Ice T a regal and formidable air, however Ice T’s stance is very different.  Napoleon appears to be almost stiff and makes direct eye contact with the viewer, showing that he is unafraid.  Ice T is more relaxed and looks down at the viewer, showing that not only is he undaunted, but that the viewer is physically
and metaphorically beneath him.
Wiley’s style is distinctive, as he successfully combines knowledge of classical art with modern day influences. His art proudly features black people, depicting them as strong or beautiful.  Historically, art has used darker people as a means of displaying exotic fetishism or as a way to show these people as subservient to their white counterparts.  Wiley’s art retains the classical feel while making darker subjects the central figures of power.
My Plans
I currently go to the University of Utah, where I am studying video game design with concentration on art. Video games are a multi-billion-dollar industry.  In 2015 alone, the industry generated $23.5 billion in revenue, a 5% increase from the previous year.  
There is, however, a severe lack of diversity in the industry. Just a few years ago, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) reported a rise in black developers, from .5 to 2.5 percent. This is a problem. As a result of a lack of black developers, black characters in video games are non-existent or horrendously stereotypical.  They usually consist of the overtly muscular, angry black men.   Black consumers are also stereotyped.  Marketing companies usually don’t focus on African-Americans when advertising, and if they do, it’s usually for games related to sports like football or basketball. The industry creates the illusion that African-Americans don’t play video games, and most people don’t consider this to be a problem.
I want to improve the African-American art community by increasing the diversity in the video game industry and help to show that video games aren’t just for white men.  Video games have amazing potential in terms of art, storytelling and pop culture influence.   If changes aren’t made in the industry, however, games will continue to marginalize the role and contributions of African-Americans.