Compare and contrast what inspired the individual differences between the collages of Romare Bearden and Miriam Schapiro.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Romare Bearden and Miriam Schapiro are artists who create collages. Visually their works are quite different, but it is not surprising for two artists who practice the same art form to share some similarities, as well.

The most obvious comparison is that they both create collages, a relatively unique art form. Because a collage is a collection of images and other things, it is clear that they both feel as if they can tell an effective story by compiling these elements into a collage. 

Both of them create visually appealing and unique pieces of art which utilize items that have value to them. In essence, they are collectors of things that represent that which is most important to them. While this is a point of convergence, it is also a point of divergence because they each collect different kings of things.

Schapiro is what is described as a "femmagist," which means she is committed to the following principles:

  1. It is work by a woman.
  2. The activities of saving and collecting are important ingredients.
  3. Scraps are essential to the process and are recycled in the work.
  4. The theme has a woman-life context.
  5. The work has elements of covert imagery.
  6. The theme of the work addresses itself to an audience of intimates.
  7. It celebrates a private or public event.
  8. A diarist's point of view is reflected in the work.
  9. There is drawing and/or handwriting sewn in the work.
  10. It contains silhouetted images which are fixed on material.
  11. Recognizable images appear in narrative sequence.
  12. Abstract forms create a pattern.
  13. The work contains photographs or other printed matter.
  14. The work has a functional as well as an aesthetic life.

Clearly Schapiro's primary concern is women in life and creating a functional work of art. In contrast, the viewpoint Bearden represents is the daily life he witnessed first-hand in both Harlem, New York, and southern rural areas and his collages are not particularly finctional. Just as Schapiro relates her experiences as a woman in her collages, however, Bearden represents his experiences as an African-American in his.

While they are contemporaries, born just a decade or so apart, Bearden's works generally look much more modern and contemporary than Schapiro's more classical and romantic-looking collages. His are quite colorful and are not always presented in any particular visual pattern. Schapiro's works, on the other hand, are quite patterned and do not even look much like a collage from a distance. On the other hand, a few of Schapiro's collages are quite geometric and modern-looking and some of Bearden's works are much more muted and subtle. Up close, both artist's collages have depth and dimension because that is the nature of a collage--one thing placed on top of another in an artful display.

Schapiro's collages are done in a variety of mediums, including paper, paint, and mixed media. Bearden also uses a variety of media, including wood, fiberboard, paper, graphite, and paint. While their media may, at times, be different, they both seem to enjoy working with a variety of them.

While virtually all of Bearden's collages have four corners like most paintings, Schapiro's collages are often done in shapes. A collection of her collages is likely to include shapes such as fans, hearts, rainbows, or other cut-out shapes, making them more funtional. 

Clearly, two artists who create the same type of art will share some similarities; however, the nature of creativity and art suggests a uniqueness and diversity which separates them.

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