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The Cartilla de dibujo [Drawing Handbook], published in Bogotá in 1935 by the artist Miguel Díaz Vargas, was essentially created for teaching drawing in elementary school. The book’s structure is clearly pedagogical. It has a brief introduction (“Preliminar” [Preliminary]) which criticizes traditional drawing techniques used in Colombian public schools and instead suggests that “(…) the teacher should guide his students without imposing any ideas on them, always respecting their natural artistic inclinations.” This is a novel approach in an area dominated by pedagogical methods, and academic painting and sculpture practices. The book proposes a series of exercises (that are progressively more complicated) for each grade, from first through tenth. Díaz Vargas introduces the reader to notions of artistic perspective, color values, charcoal drawing, use of color, and techniques such as oils and watercolors. At the end of the book there are ten black and white reproductions of iconic works in the history of Colombian art.


The Cartilla de dibujo [Drawing Handbook] by Miguel Díaz Vargas (1886–1956), published in 1935, was one of the first more or less large-scale attempts to democratize the teaching of drawing to elementary school and working class children in Colombia [Cf. AA.VV. Miguel Díaz Vargas: una modernidad invisible [Miguel Díaz Vargas: Invisible Modernism] (Bogotá: Alcaldía Mayor, 2008), p. 156].  


This book was published as part of Colombia’s Aldeana Library collection during the first liberal administration of President Alfonso López Pumarejo (1934–1938). This collection was proposed early in this administration by Luis López de Mesa, the Education Minister, as a means of disseminating fundamental works of Colombian and universal culture to “raise the cultural level of the people.”


The book Elementos de geometría aplicados al dibujo [Elements of Geometry Applied to Drawing] by Manuel Doroteo Carvajal (1819–1972) was first published in 1859 (and reprinted four times through 1920), but it was specifically written for artisans and fans of drawing, and was based on technical geometry lessons and other rudimentary material.


On the other hand, Díaz Vargas’ book was clearly [intended as] a teaching handbook; it was a modern book, written for a wide audience, with simple images and predominately artistic intentions, rather than merely functional ones. His Cartilla de dibujo includes ten black and white reproductions of painting, sculpture, and architectural work from all periods and movements in the history of Colombian art, making it the first pedagogical publication that uses Colombian works of art to teach any form of art.  


This forty-five page book clearly played a key role in the development of the art field in Colombia (using “field” here as defined by Pierre Bourdieu), with its clear goal of democratizing drawing as an artistic practice, modernizing the teaching of art in elementary schools, and contributing?insofar as it could?to the cultural development of Colombia’s working class and marginalized communities.     


The Colombian artist Miguel Díaz Vargas studied at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. In 1934 he took a position as a teacher at the School of Fine Arts in Bogotá (which is now the National University of Colombia’s School of Visual Arts.) He was appointed and served as director of that institution and its museum on several occasions.

Taller Historia Crítica del Arte (U.N.): Halim Badawi
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Courtesy of Daniel de la Zerda, Bogotá, Colombia