Can anybody help me to understand what is typical of African - American consciousness in Bearden's painting  Piano Lesson?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If there is anything "typical" in an art work that discusses what it means to be a human being, perhaps Bearden's work represents the idea of what it means to live in the present and future with a past that is so heavy in terms of defining consciousness.  The portrait, itself, inspires some of the ideas that come out of August Wilson's play, The Piano Lesson.  The presence of the spirit, or the ghost, who is standing over the protagonist playing the piano in Bearden's painting is something that Wilson definitely picks up in his drama.  It is also something that does represent the struggle of identity for African- Americans and typical of this search.  The question that comes out is what role does the past play in constructing one's identity.  The historical condition of slavery and racial discrimination are both embedded elements in the search for identity in people of color.  The portrait brings this out as representative of what it means to Black in the modern setting.  The typical nature of this is illuminated by the role that the past, the ghost, plays in the portrait and in the play, in general.  How much do we lean on the past to guide who we are and how much to we have to put it aside in order to be what we want to be?  Is there a way for identity to be what it can and should be when understanding what was?  These are questions typical of the search for identity in African- Americans and are highlighted through the portrait.