The Evolution of Art in Mexican Culture

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When the world thinks about art we think about paintings and sculptures. But what comes from it? When art is tied with culture you create this everlasting piece of work that has an impact on those who come across it. The significance of each work of art differs from the next. In this research paper we will indulge into the background of art in Mexican culture. Art in Mexico has shifted and continues to modernize because of the customs that comes with this country.

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The history that comes with such a simple custom such as art in the country of Mexico can be lead to a change in thought for many. There’s plenty of back story that could go into an evolution perspective, however bringing into thought the key factors that have influenced and continue to influence the country of Mexico is what led to this choice.

Dating back to 1910, the start of the Mexican revolution created a step stone for the rise of artists in the country. During the Mexican revolution people developed a sense of identity and purpose. The country became united and wanted to be vocal expressing their Mexican artistic voices. The first movement that has transformed art to this day is the Mexican muralist movement. This began as a government-funded form of public art led by Jose Vasconcelos. He was the director of secretary of public education in Mexico. After the Revolution ended in the early 1920’s Mexico was divided. The people had different political ideas which created this diversity. The goal was to create one identity, Mexicanos. With many different identities, between Maderistas, Villistas, Zapatistas, and Carrancistas the country was not united. This is where Jose Vasconcelos assembled a network of painters who would produce monumental murals in public buildings. These murals had a public and educative purpose, commemorating Mexico’s indigenous history and traditions. Muralism captured Mexican reality of the period, social struggles and other aspects of the history.

From this point came upon “Los Tres Grandes”, the big three. Each artist had differing political beliefs, but played a significant role in building Mexico’s national identity. Jose Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) set the tone of his art to demonstrate social and political activism. He was a social realist painter considered the most complex of the three; he was fond of the theme human suffering. He was influenced by symbolism and promoted political causes of peasants and workers. The second of the three was David Siqueiros (1896-1974). His art work would fight for the rights of Mexican workers and the poor. Overall his art depicted a “Call to arms” for art to be created for and about the indigenous people of Mexico. Siqueiros was the one who was most actively involved in political activism. The last of the three was Diego Rivera (1886-1957) most commonly known as the husband of Frida Khalo. His paintings reflected Mexican society, and the country’s 1910 revolution. His goal in his artwork was to depict stories, and demonstrate the evolution and what came from the Mexican revolution. His murals have spread through the world to this day including cities such as New York City, San Francisco, Detroit, and Cuernavaca. Over time, their murals broke barriers, bringing to light major issues that emerged throughout the Americas during the 20th century. They worked as one with their individual personalities and ideologies to share their depiction of Mexican society.

Each artist shared a unique story from their artwork in which they wanted to represent and share their message. In Jose Clemente Orozco’s art piece “The Epic of American Civilization” (1932-1934), he depicted the three stages of Americas. The first stage being the indigenous and European people of North America this piece of the mural was called Anglo America. The second stage depicted the revolutionary times, in which natives were under attack and militarism was a big factor during this time period. In the last panel an image of skeletons wearing graduation caps and gowns are shown. “He shows his beliefs that institutional education is sterile. He is protesting against the intellectual restraints that keep the educators in power and the people not questioning that power” (Harding ). This art piece demonstrated the impacts on human spirit of nationalism and the pace of industrialization.

When you take into account David Siqueiros art work his pieces were more about the Mexican workers and the poor. He wanted to represent the history of the indigenous people in Mexico. In one particular work called “American Tropical”, Siqueiros represented American Imperialism. The painting showed a man tied to a double cross of which the man was an example of natives, of Indians, Creoles, of African-American men, all of them being persecuted and or mistreated by the government. The eagle perched on top of the man represented American imperialism. This mural overall depicted America being oppressed and destroyed by America. America Tropical was the first large-scale mural in the United States that created a public space by being painted on an exterior wall in Los Angeles. This art work was washed down through time however to this day the Getty Conservation Institute restored the mural and unveiled it to the public in 2012 about 80 years after the original art piece was created.

Last of “Los Tres Grandes” is Diego Rivera. He was best known of the big three for his reintroduction of fresco painting into modern art and architecture. Rivera was an artist whose art work represented Mexican society and shared a story much deeper than one would think. Rivera himself was seen as the most influential of national Mexican art development. One of his major art pieces was called “Tenochtitlan” (1945). This art piece was one which represented Mexican society. This mural was separated into three sections. The north wall section of the mural depicts the richness of the ancient Aztec culture. The west wall is the central part of the mural and summarizes the history of Mexico as a series of conflicts, rebellions and revolution against oppression. The last section, the south wall contains images of a better future of Mexico with progress and prosperity. This art work represented a day to day life of Tenochtitlan, today this city is now known as Mexico City. The amount of detail and vibrant color put into this piece showed the dedication of Rivera to get across his story of the city built by the Aztecs.

Following the muralist movement, the surrealist art movement had begun. This type of art illustrated the mind’s deepest thoughts automatically when they surfaced. Automatism was another way to describe this form of art. This is a subconscious drawing in which the artist allows his unconscious mind to take control. Andre Breton, a European poet took a journey to Mexico and came across an unfinished art piece of Frida Kahlo he quickly wanted to share her art work in the city of Paris. When he met Kahlo he labeled her as a surrealist. However according to Khalo, she never accepted this label. She only ever depicted her pain and her emotions of loneliness. She painted using vibrant colors in a style that was influenced by indigenous cultures of Mexico. Many of her works are self-portraits that symbolically express her own pain and sexuality. European influences that include Realism, Symbolism, and Surrealism were big factors in her art pieces. One of Kahlo’s famous art pieces “Self Portrait on the Border Line between Mexico and the United States,” (1932) depicted the border between the life in Mexico to that of the United States. Kahlo depicted herself in the middle, with the left side of the portrait being Mexican culture, the right side being the United States. In this portrait she sees the United States as nothing but Industrialized and Mexico holding true roots, of what is real. The realness and roots of Mexico holds the pre-Columbian temples while the United States is now full of machinery and skyscrapers.

In another one of Kahlo’s paintings she is representing her own life and the pain she had encountered. One art work in particular that shares one of her most endured pains would be, “Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair”, she created this portrait in 1940. About 55 of Kahlo’s paintings were portraits, and behind each piece she wrote a different story. She represented a different type of pain that she had encountered. The one pain that she most depicted in her artwork was loneliness. When Kahlo and her husband had divorced just a few months later she developed this painting. Her ex husband Diego Rivera admired her long hair, as a way to represent her relationship she developed a portrait of herself cutting off her hair. In the portrait she is wearing an oversized men’s suit, which was very similar to the one that Diego Rivera would wear. She was assertive with herself and wanted to depict herself as an independent artist.

Aside from Frida Kahlo many surrealist artists impacted the art in Mexico. Maria Cenobia Izquierdo was most interested in learning new art forms. She was also an artist who was claimed to be a surrealist. She refused to accept this title and felt her art was much more than a label. Today Maria Izquierdo is known as the first Mexican female to exhibit her artwork in the United States. Izquierdos artwork was rooted in Mexicanidad, she painted many self portraits most of which represent a Mexican-Indian artist. She was the artist who employed the day of the dead. Olga Costa the last artist whom which impacted artwork in Mexico emigrated from Germany. Her artwork was reinforced by the Mexican muralist movement. She was a painter and a cultural promoter in which her artwork was also represented in numerous exhibitions in Mexico and also had her art sold in the United States. What stood out about her artwork was the use of their color. Her artwork consisted of costumbrista subjects, still lifes, portraits and landscapes. In sum of these three women Kahlo, Izquierdo, and Costa, they represented the success of female Mexican artists as important practitioners and contributors to universal Mexican nationalism.

Art in Architecture was another major influence in Mexico’s culture. Art in the early twentieth century was primarily of European precedents. During the time frame of dictatorship from Porfirio Diaz and the French occupations, Mexico city had embraced French neoclassical architecture at the expense of both Iberian and indigenous Mexican Designs. After the revolution styles of European modernism were introduced. The international style was introduced in Mexico after World War II, around the late 1940’s, due to Mexico’s strong tradition in stonemasonry and the scarcity of steel. During mid century an architect known as Mario Pani, took on this style of architecture to change the structure of Mexico. Pani was raise in Europe and had studied architecture in the city of Paris. When he returned to Mexico he was given the project to design the hotel La Reforma, which to this day is now the leading tourist hotel in Mexico City and a flagship of modern architecture. During the late 1950’s he had partnered with a few other architects known as Carlos and Enrique del Moral to work on the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). This project was one of the largest to integrate visual arts with functionalist architecture. Another important building was in the Ciudad Universitaria, its Olympic Stadium; it was one of the largest in the world. This stadium featured mosaics by Diego Rivera on its façade as well. Functionalism was considered the vital role in the architecture of Mexico during the 1950’s and the 1960’s.

As a result of these artists and movements art continues to expand. The Mexican Muralist movement led to new forms of artwork. Street art and graffiti movement are the largest which have come about in the late 20th century. This type of modern art proposed a type of medium and an artistic expression that conveys meanings and ideas. Since these movements came upon public art has demonstrated a different type of impact into society. Mexican artists would spread social, cultural and political meanings within their artwork. These messages coming from past artists continue to empower and promote motives in strategies of change outside of the traditional expectations. Streets in Mexico have an abundant amount of street art on mass buildings and walls. Mexico City is one of the largest cities in Mexico, in which street art is seen. As a result of street art, it has inspired art collectives such as Street Art Chilango. This group has created murals that spread ideas and messages in the grand Mexico City. Guadalajara is the second biggest city in which Mexican street art has spread. However, when overlooking at the depth of where art has spread, it is worldwide. The evolution of art continues to spread, with new ideas formulating, and new mediums. Mexico has artist that have worked above just representing their art in that one country, but it spreads to multiple countries. Artists have expanded beyond art of religion and politics, but they have created art to express their own values and beliefs.

In summary, art is a depiction of more than a thousand words. There lies meaning and a message followed by an everlasting image for the world to continue and create messages from them. Art in Mexico represents a history of war, and a history of native legends. The unique culture of Mexican art comes with pride and its own identity. Dating back to the empires such as the Mayas and the Aztecs, art was always an ideal way to represent tradition and represent society in Mexico. The biggest impact known came from Los Tres Grandes, it was the Mexican Muralist movement. During the post-Revolutionary period, a nationalistic pride and identity came about, known as Mexicanidad. This pride focused on honoring Mexico’s heritage and indigenous culture. As a result of this movement Mexico and even the United States has evolved with their art which as a result came about the Graffiti movement in the late 20th century. Mexico continues to hold their tradition and representation of art in their country. The evolution that comes of art will continue to evolve with more and more ideas and values.


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The Evolution of Art in Mexican Culture. (2019, Sep 03). Retrieved from