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The Mexican Revolution: Intellectuals and the Arts

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  1. The Mexican Revolution: Intellectuals and the Arts Daniel W. Blackmon IB HL History of the Americas Coral Gables Senior High

  2. Full Disclosure • It will be quite obvious to you that I did what I tell you not to do: string a lot of quotations together without much in the way of commentary. • Art history is well outside my comfort zone, and I did not think I could improve on what my sources had written. • 

  3. Background • José Vasconcelos

  4. José Vasconcelos • “During the last year of the Porfiriato a group of young thinkers had banded together to form theAteneo de la Juventud. Among its charter members were a small group that would come to dominate early revolutionary thought: Antonio Caso, Alfonso Reyes, José Vasconcelos, and Martin Luis Guzman.

  5. José Vasconcelos • “Meeting fort-nightly, the members of the Ateneo began to formulate a philosophical assault on materialism in general and on positivism in particular. Impressed with Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer, but most especially with Henri Bergson's masterpiece L'Evolutioncreatrice(1907), they lashed out against the cientificosand launched a movement for ideological and educational reform based on a healthy respect for the humanities. “(Meyers 561)

  6. José Vasconcelos • “Late in the Porfiriatohis antipositivist rebellion led him to join the Ateneo de la Juventud, and he shortly distinguished himself as one of the most brilliant minds in Mexico. An enthusiastic supporter of Francisco Madero, he became a Constitutionalist at the time of Huerta's coup and subsequently served in Eulalio Gutierrez's Convention government.

  7. José Vasconcelos • “With the flight of Carranza from Mexico City in 1920, Vasconcelos briefly served as rector of the National University, but Obregon wanted him in the cabinet and he accepted the portfolio of education shortly after Obregon's inauguration.” (Meyers 564)

  8. José Vasconcelos • “To implement Article 3 Obregon named José Vasconcelos, one of Mexico's most illustrious men of letters, to be secretary of education.” (Meyers 564)

  9. José Vasconcelos • “Vasconcelos had to inspire the teachers with a deep sense of national mission because life in rural Mexico, for many of them, was a type of cultural exile. Some of the villages were a two- or three-days' ride by horseback from the nearest railroad station, most lacked electricity, and few amenities of the comfortable life were to be found.

  10. José Vasconcelos • “In addition, the new teachers were not always welcomed with open arms. They often encountered deep hostility from villagers who did not want to change their traditional ways and from local priests who resented government encroachments into what they considered a church preserve. But the teachers did go into the hamlets and labored with dedication. Children attended during the day, while many adults consented to attend classes at night.

  11. José Vasconcelos • “Vasconcelos'splan was designed not to segregate the Indian but through education to incorporate him into the mainstream of mestizo society. Vasconcelos would subsequently undergo a tremendous intellectual volte-face, but at this time he called for the incorporation of the Indians into a razacósmica.” (Meyers 572-573)

  12. José Vasconcelos • “Vasconcelos believed in the utility of informal education as well and employed some of Mexico's leading artists-Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros-to begin ornamenting the walls of public buildings with murals.

  13. José Vasconcelos • “The murals were designed for the people rather than for the art critics, but they received world acclaim as well. The themes were anthropological and historical for the most part and, with no shortage of polemicism, sought to instruct the literate and illiterate alike in the truths that the Revolution had come to hold dear. (Meyers 574)

  14. José Vasconcelos • “While secretary of education, José Vasconcelos commissioned leading artists to fill the walls of public buildings with didactic murals, and Mexico's artistic renaissance occurred in the process. Art was no longer directed to the privileged few who could afford to buy a canvas; it was for the public.” (Meyers 614)

  15. José Vasconcelos • “Vasconcelos, while supplying the government subsidy, was too much the free intellectual to place any constraints on the artists. Coordinating his efforts with the artists' union, the Syndicate of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors, he instructed the artist simply to paint Mexican subjects.” (Meyers 615

  16. Revolutionary Art • “Mexican culture during the period 1920 to 1940 came to the service of the Revolution. The artistic, literary, and scholarly communities, with an abiding faith in the new thrust of Mexican life, supported revolutionary ideals by contributing their unique talents to awakening the consciousness of the new social order.” (Meyers 614)

  17. Revolutionary Art • “The murals painted by Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros during the 1920S can be divided into two groups. The first consists of work commissioned by Vasconcelos and completed before the end of his term of office in 1924, and which seem to mirror the ideological and aesthetic framework of his own particular philosophical vision.

  18. Revolutionary Art • “The second group are works - some of which were commissioned by Vasconcelos and even executed, during his tenure as Minister of Education - with themes and styles that moved away from his vision towards a more overtly didactic, political and populist art, with which the Mexican mural movement has come to be popularly associated.” (Rhodes 33)

  19. Revolutionary Art • “[I]t was conceived as a popular art, for a people, to cite Diego Rivera, untrained in looking at objects of art. The artist had to provide an understandable art, interesting at first sight. Besides being an art for the people, it was also an epic art, which dealt with momentous themes and controversial topics. Orozco, Rivera, and David Siqueiros, the "Big Three," were its masters.” ( Ruiz 365)

  20. Revolutionary Art • “When talented painters like Orozco and Rivera did not have to depend for their livelihood on the sale of their art to burgueses, channels previously closed were opened to them. No longer captives of the tastes of private buyers, artists were free to experiment, to paint in novel fashion.

  21. Revolutionary Art • “Not dependent on the goodwill of the rich, they could refuse to paint a wealthy Mexican's wife or mistress, the horizons of their art liberated from the dictates of critics in the European mold.” (Ruiz 366)

  22. Revolutionary Art • “The Syndicate [ of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors] was also important in that it became the vehicle for the manifesto on mural painting issued by the painters, and for its production of the union newspaper El Machete. The paper was edited by Siqueiros and Guerrero, and they and Rivera wrote articles for it, while Orozco produced some memorable cartoons

  23. Siqueiros: Trinity of the Leeches

  24. Revolutionary Art • “The Syndicate's manifesto was drawn up by Siqueiros in 1922 and launched on 9 December 1923 in response to Adolfo de la Huerta's coup against the Obregon government. It was published in 1924 in the seventh issue of El Machete and was signed by the large majority of tl mural artists. Its opening preamble declared:

  25. Revolutionary Art • “The Syndicate of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors directs tself to the native races humiliated for centuries; to the soldiers made into hangmen by their officers; to the workers and peasants scourged by the rich; and to the intellectuals who do not flatter the bourgeoisie

  26. Revolutionary Art • “Further on, the manifesto explicitly outlined its artistic and aesthetic principles and goals:

  27. Revolutionary Art • “)“our fundamental aesthetic goal must be to socialize artistic expression and wipe out bourgeois individualism.

  28. Revolutionary Art • “)“We repudiate so-called easel painting and every kind of art favoured by ultra-intellectual circles, because it is aristocratic, and we praise monumental art in all its forms, because it is public property.

  29. Revolutionary Art • “)“We proclaim that at this time of social change from a decrepit order to a new one, the creators of beauty must use their best efforts to produce ideological works of art for the people; art must no longer be the expression of individual satisfaction which it is today, but should aim to become a fighting, educative art for all. “ (Rhodes 39)

  30. Dr. Atl • “The new director, Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo), was even less conventional than his predecessor. Politically a loyal Carrancista but artistically a free spirit, Dr. Atl wanted to convert the academy into a popular workshop for the development of the arts and crafts.

  31. Dr. Atl • “But when Pancho Villa marched his army into Mexico City following the Convention of Aguascalientes, the director and his loyal students, including José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, fled to Orizaba .” (Meyers 564)

  32. Dr. Atl • “But it was Gerardo Murillo, the artist most responsible for the muralist outburst, who offered the classic answer, thus winning for himself a niche in "revolutionary" circles. For Murillo, or Dr. Atl, as he titled himself, the Revolution held the secret to the renaissance.

  33. Dr. Atl • “It was, to start, an anticlerical crusade which acquired a religion of its own, becoming a facsimile of the Counter-Reformation, the mother, as Atl rightly pointed out, of Spanish art.

  34. Dr. Atl • “Before 1910, art had been both Spanish and Christian, an architectural art basically, orphaned by the culture that produced it. Imitation was the result. To overcome the cycle of mediocre art, a sharp break with the past was necessary; that rupture, said Atl, must be Mexican and pagan. The Revolution, to Atl, made that possible

  35. Dr. Atl • “The Revolution symbolized the struggle for social justice; from it, a spiritual rebirth took shape, conferring importance on the common people, as well as rediscovering the Indian and the pre-Hispanic heritage. Indianismo, its philosophical foundation, recognized that the ancients had carved out mighty civilizations where art enjoyed center stage. Unlike Europe, ancient Mexico had "no art for the sake of art," no artistic elite.

  36. Dr. Atl • “Quite the opposite: everyone was an artist, while the useful and the beautiful were one and the same. Additionally, folk art, which survived the tastes of Porfiristas, left behind examples for others to emulate, for instance in the murals of the pulquerias, where the poor went to drink; in the retablos of churches, artistic testimonials to miracles; and in the lithographs, namely, the drawings of Jose Guadalupe Posada.

  37. Dr. Atl • “Then, there was the inspiration of the popular arts, revived in the 1920S when tourists started to visit Mexico, more and more on the lookout for blankets from Toluca and sarapes from Saltillo; black pottery from Oaxaca; and colorful baskets and huaraches. All of this, Atl concluded, explained the renaissance.” (Ruiz 365)

  38. The Artists • Diego Rivera

  39. Diego Rivera • “Diego Rivera spent most of his time in France and Spain, dabbling with some success in cubism. Siqueiros abandoned the brush for the gun and served in the Carrancista army for several years, storing up penetrating impressions of camp life, battles, and death, all of which he would later recreate. Orozco spent much of his time painting posters and sketching biting political cartoons and caricatures for Carrancista newspapers. “ (Meyers 564)

  40. Diego Rivera • “Art has always been employed by the different social classes who hold the balance of power as one instrument of domination––hence, as a political instrument.... What is it then that we really need? An art extremely pure, precise, profoundly human, and clarified as to its purpose.” Diego Rivera, 1929 (Weser)

  41. Diego Rivera • “An artist who read and pondered, Rivera, during his travels in Europe, started to wonder why artists separated themselves from the community and to study the history of art, trying to discover how this had come about.

  42. Diego Rivera • “Until the European Renaissance, he concluded, the artist was not isolated from society but a craftsman among fellow craftsmen, who taught his neighbors the importance of art and beauty. That was also true for pre-Hispanic artists.

  43. Diego Rivera • “The rupture with society occurred during the Renaissance, a break prolonged by the commercial and industrial revolutions, birthplaces of capitalism. At this juncture, easel art, the prerogative of wealthy patrons, came to dominate, when artists catered to the whims of their buyers and became outcasts in society, the pawns of the rich.

  44. Diego Rivera • “Rivera's Italian visit, when he saw the murals of Michelangelo and BonozzoGozzoli, provided answers to these questions. To integrate the artist into society, Rivera deduced, art, like that of the ancient masters, must be for the people and in union with architecture.

  45. Diego Rivera • “As he saw it, the Russian revolution, which had brought the Communists to power, had ended the era of "modern Christian art," which dated from the French Revolution. Socialist Russia opened up a new era, a Marxist world asking artists to give birth to a social art, accessible to the people, nourishing and reforming their tastes. Art must serve the interests of workers and not of burgueses. “ (Ruiz 368)

  46. Diego Rivera • “Determined to be a Mexican artist, he made the Indian the centerpiece of his art. Everything of value in Mexico, he insisted, had Indian roots; without the inspiration of the Indian, "we cannot be authentic."

  47. Diego Rivera • “Show me, he declared, "one original Hispanic-American ... idea and I will ... beg forgiveness from the Virgen de Guadalupe." An ideologue who scoffed at the "neutrality of art," Rivera believed "all of it to be propaganda" and, as a fervent nationalist, scorned the burguesiaof Latin America, labeling it malinchista, a class fawning on foreigners, the victim of a colonial inferiority complex, warning, time and again, against imitating "whites and blonds," saying it led to feelings of shame for the native. “(Ruiz 368)

  48. Diego Rivera • “One of the lessons he sought to teach with his murals was a positive revaluation of Mexico's indigenous culture, for centuries demeaned by a Europhile elite, a goal that echoed Vasconcelos's own promotion of indigenismo.” (Winn 424)

  49. Diego Rivera • “[H]e used the Indian as his basic motif. Rivera's realistic murals did not invite freedom of interpretation, and he depicted humanistic messages for the illiterate masses on the walls of the Agricultural School in Chapingo, the Cortes Palace in Cuernavaca, the National Preparatory School, the Department of Education, and the National Palace in Mexico City.

  50. Diego Rivera • Spaniard during the colonial period, and his criollooffspring during the nineteenth century, had enslaved the Indian and had kept him in abject poverty. It was now time to incorporate the Indian into the mainstream of society just as Rivera was incorporating him into the mainstream of his murals.” (Meyers 615-616)