My Creative Rights As A Black Artist?

View More: enjoy being a writer, researcher, cultural historian, educator, and I am also a visual artist.  I use my art, most of the times, as featured images here in my blog. For more of my art, please see it at, or on facebook, brianragsdalestudio.


Art has been a consistent theme in my life, and I am so grateful for having this blessing and curse.  I say curse because people always wanted me to draw pictures of them when I was growing up, and people always ask me if my work is in a gallery.  My work is not in a gallery and I do not like drawing on request.  When people ask me about gallery representation, it sort of makes me feel that I am not good enough as an artist.  I feel blessed because whatever talent I have, I love to see the warmth and connection that exists between my creation and the viewer.  Something is holy and sacred in the acts of viewing and in the act of creating. Art has held me in ways that no person ever really could.

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The life of a creative and sensitive person is very challenging at times. The world, always seems to come rushing in, and if I could I would live in a fabric store.  So many wonderful colors, textures, and historical images are there.  Creating art can become quite painful particularly in times of racial disharmony or distress, the past couple of years, Trayvon, Renisha, Eric, Michael, and on and on and on have shaken parts of me, quite deeply. I know that life is precious, and something has to be done about the eradication of black life, killing poor folks, by police lethal force and extrajudicial murders.

I never know if my work is good enough–which I think all artists feel–and there is so much to still learn, even after doing this for 40 years off and on, about light, shadow, composition, meaning, and letting go in the creative process.  I go through creative spurts, sometimes it is art, other times it is writing, and other times it is, research. I have learned to live with these creative cycles, going with the flow so to speak.  Although I must say that my creative output in the first two years living in a new environment have been really productive.Three Women in Spring

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I have found few creative support systems in my professional life as a psychologist, my colleagues barely mention my artistic endeavors, and most likely treat it more like a hobby (if they think of it at all).  I have also sensed, a form of reluctance, caution, or perhaps racial undertones, that this lack of support also has to do with me not being White.  I know I can’t change that but I raise this because even in Art –I confront discrimination, prejudice, and racism.  Or perhaps it is for some other reason that I can’t put my finger on, but there is something about people who work in career silos and those who become competitive in those silos; so in the art world it may be gallery representation or number of sales, and in the writing world it is haven written a book, and in the research world it is publishing papers and getting grants.  In each field there are hoops and metrics that determine success, but these are just not worth the time to really focus on them.  Awards and recognition are good, but nothing beats the work for the work’s sake. It is what it is.  And I no longer feel like a hamster on someone else’s hamster wheel.  Take me as I am or nothing at all–I think this is how Lisa Fisher sang it in “How Can I Ease The Pain”.


Some people used to say that “I was a jack of all trades, but master of none” or something like this.  I had to get used to some remark that illustrated a non-spirited response, a backhanded dig, or confusing complimentary statement.  I spent many years hiding all of these parts of myself because people react all kinds of way once they learn you have (or think you have) creative talent.  But, for the most part, many people like my art and they seem to think of me, or look at me with compassionate eyes once I share my art with them.

I have a partner who supports my creative life, and never once ever tried to stop me from creating.  Our relationship has had highs and lows but whatever you may think about us, we survived many challenges.  My partner routinely hangs my art in his office, and he has done this over the past 20 years. He has spent many nights reassuring me and helping me to get over my creative slumps, hurdles, and always offering his encouragement.  He has held me in my tears and wanting.
The best advice I can give any artist is find one person who supports your creative life, and thank them in your dreams, when sipping tea, and when you feel lost and lonely.  Art only requires you and another loving heart.  That is what will sustain you.

2014_10_20 Brian  RagsdalePaintings-0014I obtained my degree in art in 1985 from Morgan State University, but completed all of my coursework in 1981.  I only needed  one credit (a dag gone swimming class) in order to get my B.S. in Fine Arts/Graphic Design, which is why my full degree was awarded in 1985.  I received the “Outstanding Student in Art” award, voted by the art faculty for the student who showed great promise.  I have been an artist, since I was 15, and so that means I marked my 40th year as an artist.

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One of the questions posed to me as an artist is whether or not I, as a Black artist, should use the subject of my art to primarily uplift the lives of African Americans.  I balked at this idea, when the question was first posed to me in the early 80’s….I believed that my art did not have to express themes related to Black people, and I most certainly did not want the burden of sociopolitical representations to be at the center of my creative work. I wanted my creativity to be mine and not in, always, furthering Black causes.  But without the black causes and struggle I would probably not been inspired to be an artist.  Chicken or egg problem, and so the chicken and the egg must stay. I do portray Whites and Latinos, and so forth, but have gravitated to bringing more images of African Americans into art.

As I have matured as an artist, most of my subjects are African American topic themed.  I love representing black life.  My work will always represent black struggle, black joy, black questioning, even when I paint in abstract forms.  I have never talked to a White person about their artistic subject matter choice, so I don’t know if a White artist has ever been asked to represent his or her people in their art.  Though I am not burdened or confounded by subject choice anymore, and do feel ease in representing White subjects.

Slide5One day I will have a one-person show, and will be picked up by an art gallery.  If not, say-lah-vee.  In any event, all of my paintings, drawings, etc, and my collection of computer art, will go to my life partner.  I will also ask that some of my work be donated to Morgan State University, whose professors instilled in me such great hope and admiration for the creation of art, Pat McGuire, Kenneth (blanking on his last name, now), James Jones, and Lewis, and so many others whose names I have left off. Through their teachings and care, their belief in my abilities, the hope that their caring and teaching bought to me, continues to sustain.

Thank you, Morgan professors.

2014_10_20 Brian  RagsdalePaintings-0001

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