10 March 2000
Claude McKay, a True Artist
Festus Claudius McKay, aka Eli Edwards, was born in Jamaica on September 15, 1889. His parents were farmers and he was the youngest of eleven children. Twenty-three years of his life were spent in Jamaica and from there he would immigrate to the United States. Claude McKay was known as an internationalist because he traveled far and wide to several different countries. His travels and experiences in the range of countries he visited, played a key part in shaping McKay?s ideas. These ideas would forge powerful messages that McKay expressed in a unique, artistic way.
The Harlem Renaissance was in its early stages during the time McKay wrote. An African American poet, known as Alain Locke, had developed a concept of ?the New Negro? during the Harlem Renaissance. Locke had a view that African American art should be created as art for the sake of art. His ideas were based on breaking away from the society influenced ?black? art and rather developing art without any racial bounds. McKay disagreed with these very ideas and was considered an outcast from the New Negro Alliance. McKay believed that the beauty of art was only expressed through genuine emotion. Art that is representative of ones true self is the only true art. I believe that McKay would have argued this point. He believed that the bitterness penned inside the ?Negro? is what gave them the motivation to project beautiful creations. McKay argued that through bitterness, ?bloomed? spirituals, blues, and several forms of art.
Through McKay?s own personal experiences in the United States, he became very bitter. The expression of his bitterness through his art, poetry, was what true art was supposed to be. Passionate feeling put into artwork and inspiration through life?s experiences, is the very essence of the African American culture. The ability to express feeling and emotion through art is art for the sake of art. McKay argues that art born out of negative energy is truly definitive of a person?s state of mind. Venting this negative energy into works of art was considered by McKay to be true art.
McKay began as a romantic poet writing about the primitive joys of Jamaican life. McKay?s exposure and witness to the atrocities being shown towards African Americans in the United States slowly transformed him from a romantic to a radical. The beauty of his transformation was that instead of resorting to violence, he vented through his writings. McKay shows power to defy and fight back in renowned poems such as ?If We Must Die.? This poem was written during the times of the Chicago race riots. It showed how McKay and others would lash back at the evil actions projected against them. They would refuse to die as animals but rather go down as brave, dignified men. This simply shows that the cruelties imposed upon many Negro?s would be met with resistance. Many of his works show how he would not be subjected to evil, lowly levels of hatred. While America presents these evil acts and festers ill-natured emotion among the African Americans, they still have a love for the land. The resistance of evil only makes one stronger. Like a common saying, ?what doesn?t kill us only makes us stronger,? the hatred in America only forges the strength of the African American.