Frederick Douglass developed an aesthetic theory during the Civil War in four lectures entitled “Life Pictures,” “Lecture on Pictures,” “Age of Pictures,” and “Pictures and Progress.” But his aesthetic theory is underestimated by Douglass scholars and others, often in favor of his various types of aesthetic practice, such as photography, autobiography, and speeches. There are several reasons to give Douglass's aesthetic theory its due. First, we can recognize that Douglass self-consciously engaged in theory to combat the racist belief that, being black, he was incapable of expounding any philosophy. Second, we can understand why he was convinced that art was able to contribute to abolition and racial equality. Third, we can better appreciate the aesthetics of Douglass's picture making, speeches, political activities, and lived experiences if we know more about his theoretical account of them. Prospectively, many key elements of contemporary critical aesthetic theory are present in Douglass's aesthetic theory.

You do not currently have access to this content.