Listen Closely

Listen Closely

Just as the pieces displayed in the “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” exhibition reflect how their creators were responding to and processing the world around them during the tumultuous civil rights movement, Dr. Mark Anthony Neal’s Listening Sessions and Film Series programming reveals how artists and musicians draw inspiration from each other during this time and continually throughout history.

“To have a historical context for [artists] is critical,” Neal asserts. “We have a generation of folks who are more aware of visual art culture because of Instagram and their fascination with various artists that have shown up on television shows like ‘Empire,’ and of course, the presidential portraits being another example.

“With this interesting moment we’re in now — where so many musical artists are aware of visual culture and incorporating more of it in their own music besides just simple music videos — it was an opportunity to create a kind of playlist, a listening session that speaks to some of the themes that come up in the exhibit.”

Neal’s three different listening sessions take themes that surface in the exhibition — like black respectability, the southern soul aesthetic and the influence of artistic genres on each other — and build around them thematically. The first listening session on March 15 explored the development of Motown and “High Negro Style.”

Also taking place over the next few weeks, Neal hosts a three-part film series further diving into these issues and providing a contemporary resonance for modern viewers.

“So again, it’s an attempt to present a nice view of what was happening at the time, and with the case of [films] ‘For the Love of Ivy’ and ‘Black Power Mix Tape,’ it kind of contextualizes [it] in a historical way,” Neal offers. The third film in the series, Denzel Washington and Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues,” also considers the stakes of what it means to be an artist — a universal challenge for any creator, Neal says. “Those are the kind of questions that are not only apropos to jazz musicians, but any artist trying to work at the highest form of their craft, to be as effective as possible. And you realize the life stakes that are associated, the kind of sacrifices that have to be made to be a successful artist.

“For me, it’s really important to make these connections to understand that visual artists were not working in isolation of black artists who were working within the context of other artistic genres,” Neal concludes. “So whether we’re talking music, whether we’re talking film, whether we’re talking theater in some context, all these artists are self aware and [aware] of their peers within their own genres, but they’re also very much aware of those working in other genres and taking inspiration from those artists.”



Dr. Mark Anthony Neal presents:

Listening Sessions

“A Love Supreme: Jazz and the Pursuit of Black Excellence” — 7 p.m. March 29. $15.

Film Series

“For the Love of Ivy” — 7 p.m. March 23. Free.

“Mo’ Better Blues” — 7 p.m. March 30. Free.

WHERE — Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville.

INFO — 657-2335,

Categories: Galleries