Robert Farris Thompson

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Robert Farris Thompson, 2009

Robert Farris Thompson (born December 30, 1932, El Paso, Texas[1]) is an American historian and writer specialising in the art of Africa and the Afro-Atlantic world. He has been a member of the faculty at Yale University since 1965 and currently serves as the Colonel John Trumbull Professor of the History of Art.[2] Thompson coined the term "black Atlantic" in his 1983 book Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy - the expanded subject of Paul Gilroy's book The Black Atlantic.[3]

He lived in the Yoruba region of southwest Nigeria for many years while he conducted his research of Yoruba arts history. He is affiliated with the University of Ibadan and frequented Yoruba village communities. Thompson has studied the African arts of the diaspora in the United States, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and several Caribbean islands. Robert Farris Thompson is also an authority on hip-hop culture.[citation needed]

Career at Yale[edit]

In 1955, Thompson received his B.A. from Yale University. After receiving his bachelor's degree, he continued his studies at Yale, where he received his Masters in 1961 and his Ph.D in 1965.[4]

Having served as Master of Timothy Dwight College from 1978 until 2010, he was the longest serving master of a residential college at Yale. Thompson is one of America's most prominent scholars of African art,[citation needed] and has presided over exhibitions of African art at the National Gallery in Washington D. C.. He is one of the longest-serving alumni of Yale.

Publications and areas of study[edit]

Beginning with an article on Afro-Cuban dance and music (published in 1958), Thompson has dedicated his life to the study of art history of the Afro-Atlantic world.[4] His first book was Black Gods and Kings, which was a close reading of the art history of the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria (population of approximately 40 million).[4] Other published works include- African Art in Motion, Flash of the Spirit (1983), Face of the Gods, and Tango: The Art History of Love.[4] Thompson also published an introduction to the diaries of Keith Haring. Some of his works have even been translated into German, Portuguese, French and Flemish.[4] Additionally, Thompson also studies the art of Guillermo Kuitca and José Bedia, and has been anthologized 15 times.[4]


In 2007, Thompson was given the "Outstanding Contribution to Dance Research" award, by the Congress on Research in Dance.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Professor Thompson is an active gym goer. He speaks fluently in four languages which include French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish and can speak intermediately in Yoruba, Ki-Kongo[5] and Creole.[6] He has been to nearly all 47 countries of Africa and has a sister, two children and four grandchildren.[5]


  • 1971 Black Gods and Kings: Yoruba Art at UCLA
  • 1974 African Art in Motion: Icon and Act in the Collection of Katharine Coryton White
  • 1974 African Art and Motion: Art Illustrated Guide to the Exhibition
  • 1981 The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds
  • 1983 Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy
  • 1993 Face of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas
  • 2005 Tango: The Art History of Love
  • 2011 Aesthetic of the Cool: Afro-Atlantic Art and Music


  1. ^ Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosophy (Random House, 1984: ISBN 0-394-72369-4), p. 398.
  2. ^ "Robert Thompson". Yale University, The Ethnicity, Race, and Migration Program. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  3. ^ Valkeakari, Tuire (2009). "Between Camps: Paul Gilroy and the Dilemma of "Race"". In Nyman, Jopi (ed.). Post-National Enquiries: Essays on Ethnic and Racial Border Crossings. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 9781443815611.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Yale University :: Department of the History of Art". Archived from the original on 2015-10-20. Retrieved 2015-10-15. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ a b Shufro, Cathy (July–August 2010). "Professor of mambo". Yale Alumni Magazine. pp. 2 and 5.
  6. ^ Iseman, Fred (November 22, 1984). "Robert Farris Thompson: Canons of the Cool". Rolling Stone.

External links[edit]