black on black: 35 artists on who inspires them

March 20, 2020
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In celebration of how big of a role Black art has had in shaping the 21st Century, The New York Times  spoke to a group of renowned African American artists about the artists that inspire them most. It is evident that as one artist evolves it inspires a band of others. As Wesley Morris of The New York Times explains, Barack Obama’s presidency inspired Black Panther and Black Lives Matter inspired Beyoncé, and so it goes. 35 artists spoke about the work that moved them.

Though artists in different mediums all chose different people, there were commonalities in all the choices: vulnerable work that leads to social change. It is work that is intentional in creation but egoless enough to give the world space to decide what it means to them. It looks into the complexities of situations as opposed to closing off interpretation or approaching topics from a binary perspective. The art that inspires is the one that is so personal to the creator that it has no choice but to reflect real life. 

This is what Kerry Washington sees in Beyoncé, who she says “shifted culture forever” with Lemonade. Washington was moved by Beyoncé’s honesty about being a confident, powerful career woman, mother and womanist who decided to stay and work things out with a husband who cheated, despite the opinion of the masses — a scary thing to do. That bravery helped eliminate stigma and through empowerment redefined a whole wave of women.

It’s also what Ta-Nehisi Coates saw in Kendrick Lamar, a young man who he could relate to through their shared struggles about being “quite conflicted about the environment they were born into” on his album good kid, m.A.A.d city. Surely, not an easy thing to admit to a world of listeners before it is a popular thing to say. 

For Desus Nice, Black social media and the community it brought allowed him to realize that all he had to do was be himself for the world to listen. Of Black Twitter, he says, “I would even say it made Black culture more singular; before everything was more regional. New Yorkers had their own slang. But now you can have a meme and every Black person in the United States — or in the world — can understand it, because of social media.”

Barry Jenkins credits Solange and A Seat At The Table for giving him the power he needed to get through the long, emotional journey that surrounded his film Moonlight. 

Inspiring work needs inspiration, too. Black artists and creators have always been a tight community who have needed each other. It is so beautiful to see it in print. Check out the full piece HERE.