Art often serves as a reflection of society, providing a platform for introspection, expression, and social commentary. It can illuminate important aspects of our collective experiences and stimulate discussions on how we can improve as individuals and as a society.
Black History Month 2024 celebrates those whose contributions to the arts ring eternal in American culture and open us to new worlds. We are privileged to have known their works and would like to shed some light on how black excellence permeates the American economy, industry, and society.
In this blog, we tip our hats to six honorable literature, painting, music, sculpture, film, and fashion mentions.
Literature: Toni Morrison
A towering figure in American literature, Toni Morrison’s works consistently examined different aspects of the black American experience. Her books, essays, and plays discussed race relations, identity, class, sex, and love. With each successive piece, the layered and rich black characters with whom she communicated the nuances and idiosyncrasies of African American experiences cemented her as a seminal voice from which other artists and authors could learn, ensuring the stories and perspectives of Black Americans are heard and seen.
Toni Morrison was the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. She is also a recipient of prestigious awards like the Pulitzer Prize, the French Legion of Honor, and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Here’s a memorable quote from her book, ‘Beloved.’
Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all
Painting: Jean-Michel Basquiat
Basquiat’s life as an artist shone brightly and briefly, much like the shooting star he was. He left an oeuvre of 25 sketchbooks, 95 prints, 171 paintings, and 917 drawings. Heralded as the first contemporary black artist, Basquiat’s work embodies the unwieldy fervor of the black struggle and eventual triumph over oppression.
His life as an artist mirrored the motifs in his works, and he was an unapologetic champion for the inclusion of under-represented peoples.
The black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings. I realized that I didn’t see many paintings with black people in them. – Jean-Michel Basquiat
Music: Stevie Wonder
Few artists hold a candle to the enduring legacy of Stevie Wonder. He was a child prodigy who was signed to Motown Records at 11 years old and had his first number-one song at 13. His prolific career earned him an impressive 25 Grammy Awards and an Academy Award. He is also an inductee into the Rock ‘n’ Roll, Song Writers, and the Rhythm and Blues Halls of Fame. He was also an honoree of the Kennedy Center’s Honor and a recipient of the Johnny Mercer Award for a lifetime of outstanding creative works.
Outside his life as an artist, Stevie Wonder has been a relentless activist for many humanitarian causes and a supporter of charities that focus on issues like cancer, diabetes, hunger, domestic abuse, and disabilities. He led the campaign that made Martin Luther King Day a federally recognized holiday and played a pivotal role in aiding the end of Apartheid in South Africa.
This quote from his song ‘As’ captures his spirit.
Just as hate knows love’s the cure, You can rest your mind assure, That I’ll be loving you always.
Sculpture: Richard Hunt
He is the most celebrated sculptor in the United States, with over 160 commissioned sculptures punctuating the spaces of libraries, museums, schools, and public offices. Having professionally contributed to the arts for over five decades, Richard Hunt’s life embodies an unwavering curiosity and tireless commitment to expression through sculpture.
His work ethic saw him get various appointments and accolades, including honorary degrees from over a dozen universities across the United States.
He once said:
Art does not succeed in time by being more personal, different, or even original than any other. It succeeds by remaining intact and… containing within its form ideas and associations, which can continue to stimulate people who view it.
Film: Ryan Coogler
Perhaps one of the most promising entries in our list, Coogler is one of the most outstanding screenwriters/directors of the 21st century. His most commercially successful film was Marvel’s Black Panther, which made over $1.3 billion at the box office. It remains an international cultural footnote that was a celebration of black talent, an exploration of African culture, and a nod to the potential of storytelling on the big screen. His ability to tell stories that overcome the stereotypical barriers of race and class politics is recurrent in his other projects, like Fruitvale Station and Creed.
For me, with me, making film is always about humanity.
Fashion: Virgil Abloh
A trailblazer in the Fashion Industry, Virgil Abloh was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. His 15-year career saw him rise to become the first black man to become Louis Vuitton’s menswear artistic director, creative director of Off White, and founder of Pyrex Vision. An artist at heart, his life features many different art forms, eventually influencing his approach to fashion design. Virgil was a DJ, independent art contributor to art museums, art director in the music industry, and furniture designer. He also had a streetwear background, which became an important influence in his fashion pieces.
His philosophy on creating works of art through various mediums can be summed up in a quote he gave for his 2019 MARKERAD collection collaboration with IKEA.
It’s about elevating the anonymous, everyday icons that we use without noticing. When we put a doorstop on the legs of an ordinary chair, we create something unexpected-an interruption.
At the core of each of these six artists is their capacity to take their gifts, continuously work to hone their craft, and use their platforms to bridge the gaps in society’s understanding of each other. They’ve fought for the oppressed despite their struggles, meaningfully contributed to the world, and left legacies that will inspire generations to come. Their lives are the embodiment of elite personal brands. By looking at their legacies, we’ve picked up a few lessons.
Core Values: Your personal brand must be a reflection of your values. It’s built from the inside out, and how you sustainably put your best foot forward is by distilling what you stand for and the quality of your character.
Purpose & Relatability: Having reached the peak of your profession, leading with purpose while maintaining relatability is an infallible recipe for the success of your personal brand. Your brand should represent your expertise and tell the story of why others should care about your influence.
Consistency & Thought Leadership: Being competent is not enough. Leading by example and consistently breaking new ground in your career will be a defining marker of a lasting personal brand.
Visibility: Working in corporate America should not limit your brand awareness. It’s crucial you use your position to create awareness of the importance of your profession as well as champion other causes that are near and dear to your heart.