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“Into Bondage” a Picture by Aaron Douglas Research Paper


Art is one of the main features of the civilized society that has its value system as well as topical issues and problems. It appeared as one of the ways to express feelings and emotions; however, in the course of time, it turned into one of the most powerful tools used by people to touch upon critical issues or attract attention to a certain phenomenon. In this regard, it is not surprising that the 20th century gave rise to a great number of new styles of art that were expected to help people show their position about a certain concern or appeal to a community. The evolution of social movements, cultivation of democracy and tolerance provided the depressed classless with an opportunity to show their position and attain reconsideration of the situation peculiar to that epoch.

The picture Into Bondage created by Aaron Douglas appeared in this very period of time. It was painted in 1936 when Douglas was invited to create a series of murals for an exposition in Dallas (“Aaron Douglas”). The given picture is one of four others that represent the way African Americans had to pass to become free. Aaron Douglas was a bright representative of the Harlem Renaissance, a movement that appeared in the first half of the 20th century and was aimed at attracting public attention to problems of African American people living in the USA (“Into Bondage. Overview”).

Numerous artists and writers created their works to demonstrate the unique role African-American culture played in the states development and make people think about the further development of the society which would be deprived of any discrimination (“Harlem Renaissance”). Besides, Douglas was among those who perfectly realized the great potential of art as one of the tools to impact peoples mentalities and attain the reconsideration of the attitude to African-Americans. The majority of his works should be analyzed in terms of Harlem Renaissance, its main ideas, motifs, and goals.

The picture Into Bondage is not an exception. It is a powerful example of how an artist could use his/her creativity to attract peoples attention to a certain issue and make them think about their actions and contribution to the improvement of a situation. Analyzing this artwork, we could state that the author used these images to demonstrate African-Americans complicated position as well as their readiness to struggle for their main rights.

Into Bondage presents itself as a depiction of Africans who are enslaved and prepared for their delivery to the New World, or America. There is a row of people moving towards ships that could be seen in the background. They all are in manacles. There are many palm trees and other plants that surround them, and we could understand that they are somewhere in exotic lands, probably in Africa.

The majority of people moving towards the ships have their shoulders and heads bowed which symbolizes that they have already accepted their destiny and given up hope; however; there are two other persons that could be considered central for the picture. The first one reaches forth her arms towards the star that could be seen in the sky. It shines brightly, and its rays light up a man who stands with his head high. His posture is full of confidence, pride, and determination. He is obviously not ready to stoop to fate and become enslaved. Instead, he prefers to struggle for his freedom and breaks up the chains.

The given picture is full of symbols that are introduced by the artist to empower its impact and make viewers think about the complex destiny of African-Americans that were forced to abandon their native land and live under horrible conditions. Moreover, the North Star that could be found in the picture also bears a great symbolic meaning.

The fact is that runaway slaves on the Underground railroad moved at nights, and they used this star as the main landmark that guided their way and showed them the right direction to freedom (“Aaron Douglas”). In the picture, a man looks at this star, and he is lit up by it. It means that he also wants to obtain freedom and knows how to do it. Moreover, manacles that could be found in the picture obviously stand for slavery. People wear them as the sign of their depression and lack of rights.

These symbols and hidden messages perfectly reflect the epoch and historical context in which the artist lived. As stated above, he was a representative of the Harlem Renaissance, the movement which tried to attain reconsideration of the position of African-Americans in the US society. That is why the usage of pictures to emphasize the complexity of the life of the representatives of this category was a common approach.

The first half of the 20th century provided us with numerous artworks devoted to slavery, biased attitude, discrimination, etc. (“Harlem Renaissance”). They aimed at promoting tolerance in relations between the representatives of all nations by showing how horrible the life of African-Americans was. That is why Into Bondage perfectly fits the context. It shows the ugly nature of slavery and, at the same time, demonstrates peoples readiness to struggle and attain the reconsideration of the existed order.

Looking at the picture, we could also admit several important peculiarities related to the technique and style. First of all, we could find Cubist-influenced shapes (“Aaron Douglas”). Douglas uses the similar style to create the figures and the scenery. The curves are straight and sometimes broken. However, it is not a pure cubism, and some other important details could be noticed. Thus, the manacles and the star are two brightest objects that could be found in the picture. The orange color of manacles contrasts to the mild tints of the surrounding scenery.

The usage of different shades of blue, green, red, and yellow colors emphasizes the overall impression and helps to create a specific dull atmosphere (“Into Bondage. Overview”). A viewer could understand that it is one of the most tragic moments in the history of humanity and these people will face numerous hardships. The star is another bright object that could be observed. It is red, and the ray that comes from it is painted in bright tints of yellow. As stated above, it has a great symbolic meaning and, for this reason, the star is painted in the way that attracts viewers attention at the first gaze.

Delving into the pictorial component of the artwork, we could also admit that Douglas uses a monochromatic color scheme that could be noticed at the first gaze. There are no bright or diverse colors. One shade changes into another without distinct borders or bright lines. The combination of such colors along with geometric shapes results in the unique appearance of this very picture. Moreover, Into Bondage is harmonious and balanced. The artist repeats the use of the most common shapes like leaves, and trees to create a certain balance and not to overload different parts of his artwork. At the same time, he uses light to emphasize the figure in the center and attract attention to it. The usage of these pictorial devices helps to understand the main message better and admire the work.

At the first gaze Into Bondage could seem rather simple because of the lack of tiny details or complex colors. However, using my own practical experience, it is possible to state that this apparent simplicity is hard to achieve and this fact impressed me greatly. The author uses the very colors that needed to create a specific atmosphere and impress a viewer. Moreover, the choice of shapes, forms, and light focus also contribute to the final impression. For this reason, we could conclude that it is a hard challenge to create a picture in this way and achieve the same effect. Douglas obviously had a certain image in mind that was later embodied through this picture.

This great symbolism of the picture impresses me most of all as it shows a viewer the complex life of African-Americans and their struggle for rights. Altogether, we could state that Into Bondage by Aaron Douglas is a picture that embodies the idea of the struggle for rights and tolerance. People depicted there are enslaved; however, they are ready to act. The artwork impresses a common viewer by its shapes, colors, and symbols. The artist managed to create a unique picture that could make people think about one of the most important stigmas of our society.

Into Bondage by Aaron Dougla.

Works Cited

.” Visual Arts Office.

.” National Gallery of Art.

.” History.

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IvyPanda. (2020, September 13). "Into Bondage" a Picture by Aaron Douglas. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/into-bondage-a-picture-by-aaron-douglas/

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""Into Bondage" a Picture by Aaron Douglas." IvyPanda, 13 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/into-bondage-a-picture-by-aaron-douglas/.

1. IvyPanda. ""Into Bondage" a Picture by Aaron Douglas." September 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/into-bondage-a-picture-by-aaron-douglas/.


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IvyPanda. ""Into Bondage" a Picture by Aaron Douglas." September 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/into-bondage-a-picture-by-aaron-douglas/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. ""Into Bondage" a Picture by Aaron Douglas." September 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/into-bondage-a-picture-by-aaron-douglas/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '"Into Bondage" a Picture by Aaron Douglas'. 13 September.

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