Thompson, Robert Farris

Full Name: 
Thompson, Robert Farris
Year Born: 
Place Born: 
El Paso, Texas
Home Country: 
Curator and historian of African and African-American art. After receiving a B.A. and an M.A. from Yale, Thompson completed his Ph.D. at Yale in 1965 under George Kubler (q.v.), becoming the second person to receive a degree in the field of African art in the United States. He accepted a teaching position at Yale after receiving his Ph.D., and is currently Professor of African and Afro-American history of art and Master of Timothy Dwight College. His dissertation entitled, Yoruba Dance Sculpture: Its Contexts and Critics, introduced the study of Yoruba religion and dance practices to art history, and served as the methodological foundation for the study of African art. Thompson's research encompasses art from the entire African diaspora, ranging from Afro-Brazilian art to African-American art. In 1974, he curated an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, entitled, African Art in Motion: Icon and Act, which emphasized the importance of movement and dance in the African artistic tradition. Thompson's 1983 book, Flash of the Spirit: African and African-American Art and Philosophy was the first comprehensive study of the African religious traditions, such as altar building and divination ceremonies, that influenced Caribbean and African-American cultures. His field research in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America emphasizes the strength of African religious, philosophical, and artistic traditions despite the social obstacles presented by the international slave trade. The more recent field of African diaspora studies developed from Thompson's publications and his research on Africa art from a global perspective.
Selected Bibliography: 
[essay by] Divine Inspiration: From Benin to Bahia. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993; [essay by] The Art of William Edmondson. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1999; [videorecording] Faith Ringgold Paints Crown Heights. Chappaqua, NY: L & S Video, Inc., 1995; and Meurant, Georges. Mbuti Design: Paintings by Pygmy Women of the Ituri Forest. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996; African Art in Motion: Icon and Act in the Collection of Katherine Coryton White. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1974; Black Gods and Kings, Los Angeles: UCLA Museum of Ethnic Arts, 1971; reprint, Black Gods and Kings: Yoruba art at UCLA. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976; The Four Moments of the Sun, New Haven: Eastern Press, Inc., 1981; Face of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas, New York: The Museum for African Art, 1993; "An Aesthetic of the Cool," African Arts(1973); "Yoruba Artistic Criticism," The Traditional Artist in African Societies, ed. Warren L. d'Azevedo Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973; Face of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas. New York: Museum for African Art, 1993; Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. New York: Random House, 1983; and Joseph Cornet. The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1981; Painting from a Single Heart: Preliminary Remarks on Bark-Cloth Designs of the Mbute Women of Haut-Zaïre (Malerei aus Aufrichtigem Herzen: Vorläufige Bemerkungen zu Rindenstoff-Zeichnungen der Mbute-Frauen in Haut-Zaïre). Munich: F. und J. Jahn, 1983.
Flash of the Spirit (1983), African Arts (October, 1992), vol. XXV, no. 4
LaNitra Michele Walker