This essay reflects on the impulses, aspirations, and process of an online art criticism series called Black One Shot, which ran in 2018 and 2020 on ASAP/J, the open access journal for the Association for the Study of Arts of the Present (ASAP). Sourcing visual and epistolary materials from the series’ production, the coeditors revisit their collaborative effort to discern blackness and pursue object-forward art criticism without foreclosures and guarantees.

Black One Shot began as a phone call between post-tenure friends left to their own scholarly devices at their respective institutions. We shared a frequency for blackness and the arts. We craved something rigorous and fun that might suspend the pressures to frame blackness in narrow and urgent ways, particularly in our pedagogy, research, and disciplines. Furthermore, we wanted to account for the pleasures engendered by thinking about blackness without a diagnostic imperative. How might criticism redirect these pressures without the authoritative distance and resolve of punditry, the high theory flyover, or the hot take? What if we gave sharp and agitated love to the speculative, ambivalent, and irreconcilable ways of black form as cultural production? What if one were compelled by their object and not their tool? In an ongoing experiment without a hypothesis, we imagined new stipulations for the labor and intimacies of art criticism and aesthetics.

With a prompt and parameter to enable a different discussion of blackness, we choreographed an immediacy between scholars/critics/curators and their object. Contributors were invited to detail their attachments, doubts, dreams. Object forwardness is the direction, we said. Discrete transmissions through an open-access platform is the channel, we said.1

March 17, 2018

Dear _______,

We are launching a project entitled “Black One Shot” for ASAP/J, the online journal for the ASAP (Association for the Study of Arts of the Present). We are inviting established and emergent scholars whose work is connected to blackness and its expressive and visual forms to write 1000 words about a single work of contemporary black art broadly conceived (e.g. music, architecture, painting, performance, photography, film and media). While we welcome a range of objects, we do ask that you avoid literature.

Speed thrills and ambitious cycling; a steady circuit of every two weeks. One shot. Two shot. Three shot. Four. Over sixteen weeks, transmissions #1–8 ensued.2 At a thousand words a pop, the pieces were about both the art objects and the care enacted by attending to them (figs. 2 and 3). We didn't want writing that opens with a grand thesis about Black life that then reduces the object to an extended anecdote. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and shitty art criticism. We also knew that “art for art's sake” writing has never and could never make the futures we need. Formalism without history is irredeemable. Object love > object fetishism. We wanted writing that produced itineraries and propositions of what blackness might be and do: disassociate, distend, demand, repeat, refract, rejoice. Our physics of black study sought to amplify the resonance of objects (centripetal) over the insistence on what objects must do (centrifugal). We made our own contribution to the series, investing in and attuning to our own object choices. After all, what was the point of pressing for a new direction if we weren't willing to venture ourselves?

We did the series again in 2020; a decision made during a visit to Seattle's Frye Art Museum (fig. 4). Want to reprise this adjacency-meets-embeddedness duet? Want to make another lifeline without prefigured outcomes? Yes and yes. This time, we revisited the terms of what we thought we were doing. We moved away from “black art” and tended toward an “art of blackness” that could inspire more “leaning into and caring for” ontological porousness.3 We had become divested from critical tendencies that exclusively insisted on art's capacity to embody or reflect a truth of Black life and folks. Considering blackness and the arts only in terms of content or an ability to confirm an always already limited conception of living is myopic at best, we said.

And so, we sent this brief style guide to our 2020 writers:

June 30, 2020

Dear Contributors,

We appreciate and share investments around the capitalization of the word “black.” This series will now capitalize the term when referencing people (e.g. Arthur Jafa is Black; Black people). We will not, however, capitalize the word “blackness” as it is always a conceptual term and not exclusively defined by the social category (e.g. art of blackness). Further, we will not capitalize the word “black” when referencing concepts and practices (e.g. black music; black film; black abstraction). We are committed to differentiating the social category of “Black” from other possible enactments of the terms “black” and “blackness.”

In many ways, 2020 did not do the art of blackness any favors. Amid a global pandemic and insurrection, treatments of black visual and expressive culture became, by and large, a content-driven, teachable moment, “representation matters” clusterfuck. The impulse to write, circulate, assign, and read anti- racist lists of literature, film, visual art, music, and podcasts still hangs in the air.4 We refused the instrumentalization of these cultural forms toward empathy parlor games or allyship with no flavor. Transmissions #9–16 became our collective response (figs. 5–7).5

Black One Shot  began as a phone call between friends that grew into an intervention, a promise, a praxis, a syllabus. Currently, it circulates as sixteen transmissions—sixty-five devotionals to the variable modes, moods, coordinates, underwrites, ecologies, and assemblages of blackness. With love and gratitude, we said.6



Thanks so much to Abram Foley, Aurélie Matheron, and Irenae Aigbedion of ASAP/J for all their work on the series.


Much love to Amber Jamila Musser, Faye Gleisser, Huey Copeland, Leora Maltz-Leca, Priscilla Layne, Racquel J. Gates, Joshua Chambers-Letson, Shawn Michelle Smith, Mark Anthony Neal, Kristen Warner, Jessica Lynne, Uri McMillan, Glenda R. Carpio, Charles P. “Chip” Linscott, Macushla Robinson, TEXTURES Material Culture Lab (Siobhan Carter-Davis, Tanisha C. Ford, and Brandi Thompson Summers), Keith M. Harris, Charles L. Davis II, Steven Nelson, the Black Aesthetic (Jamal Batts, Leila Weefur, and Malika Imhotep), Tina Campt, Tavia Nyong'o, Tiffany E. Barber, Jasmine Elizabeth Johnson, Jonathan W. Gray, Rebecca A. Wanzo, Thomas F. DeFrantz, Walton Muyumba, and Kimberly Juanita Brown.


Much love to Adrienne Brown, Laura Larson, Qiana Whitted, Alessandra Raengo, Samantha Sheppard, Courtney R. Baker, Henriette Gunkel, Christina Knight, Leigh Raiford, Mikal J. Gaines, Adedoyin Teriba, Shelleen Greene, Elliott H. Powell, Victoria Rose Pass, Tina Post, Shana L. Redmond, Amy Herzog, Taylor Renee Aldridge, Genevieve Hyancinthe, Julie Beth Napolin, L. H. Stallings, Allyson Nadia Field, Sampada Aranke, Matthew Barrington, Courtney Desiree Morris, Fumi Okiji, Janaína Oliveira, Erin Jenoa Gilbert, Terri Francis, Ariel Osterweiss, Cynthia A. Young, Nijah Cunningham, Hayley O'Malley, and John Jennings.


For 2020 we designed trailers for each transmission to celebrate the work. They are available at www.instagram.com/black_one_shot_/.

Works Cited

Copeland, Huey. “
, no.
Gates, Racquel. “
The Problem with ‘Anti-racist’ Movie Lists
New York Times
. www.nytimes.com/2020/07/17/opinion/sunday/black-film-movies-racism.html.
Uddin, Lisa, and Gillespie, Michael Boyce.
Black One Shot
, nos.
). www.asapjournal.com/tag/black-one-shot/.
This is an open access article distributed under the terms of a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).