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In this article, poet and critic Luis Vidales expresses his position on the debate surrounding abstract and figurative art, a polemic central to Colombian art at the time. First, Vidales argues that certain concepts have been poorly defined in Colombia, as is evident from the fact that the opposition between the abstract and the figurative is quickly undone if those terms are studied in depth. In fact, any aesthetic expression requires a measure of realism and a capacity for abstraction. The essential question is if the expression fits the form, regardless of whether realist or abstract. Vidales goes on to formulate what is, in his view, the crux of the matter: venturing into new ground in art, formulating alternatives to a Renaissance conception based on the imitation of forms and the composition of isolated figures. This does not mean anarchy of expression, but the pursuit of form itself, beyond representation. Vidales analyzes the example of architecture whose approach to the problem of space is abstract, never representative. In closing, the author provides a historical reconstruction intended to demonstrate that realism and abstraction have coexisted in art since antiquity. He praises the work of several Colombian artists, both figurative and abstract, on the basis of their conception of space rather than their approach to expression.


This article attempts to intervene in the polemic formulated in the Lecturas Dominicales or Sunday readings section of Bogotá-based newspaper El Tiempo. Specifically, an article published two weeks before this one asked artists and critics for their opinion on the opposition between realism and abstraction [See “¿Realismo es decadencia? ¿Abstraccionismo es solo incapacidad?… y el público… ¿Qué prefiere?”, doc. no. 1087938]. This text by Colombian poet and art critic Luis Vidales Jaramillo (1900–1990) serves to clarify the position of criticism in that debate which had been only vaguely expressed by Eugenio Barney Cabrera (1917–1980) in the earlier article. Vidales provides a historical and economic analysis of a problem he approaches from a sociological perspective.  


Vidales believes that the turn away from imitation of forms is born of an expressive need. The paradigm of the Renaissance has run its course and must be replaced. For this reason, he formulates what, in his view, is the central issue of Modern art: venturing into new ground. This means going beyond naïve oppositions like those between “the abstract” and “the realist.” Vidales calls for a measured assessment based on historical analysis and careful reasoning. This, he asserts, will make it possible to evaluate, among other things, the political implications of the change in paradigm.


Lastly, Vidales’s formulation of the problem of reception in abstract art is striking. At the time, it was common for the public to complain about what they experienced as Modern artworks’ unclear message or inability to convey meaning. Vidales asserts that this is not due to any deficiency on the part of the artists, but rather a total lack of aesthetic education. To remedy this situation, he calls on critics to “engage in education of this sort,” hence reaffirming the social role of critics who should no longer limit themselves to issuing judgments but instead guide the public’s taste. This article, then, views art criticism as fundamental to aesthetic processes, not as a mere agent of mediation. The text reflects deeply on the relationship between abstract art and both criticism and the public, and as such it addresses a polemic crucial to understanding Colombian art of the fifties and sixties. 

Camilo Sarmiento Jaramillo
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
© Estate of Luis Vidales, Stockholm, Sweden
Courtesy of Casa Editorial El Tiempo, Bogotá, Colombia