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    Arte chicano : part one / César Augusto Martínez
    Chicano art history: a book of selected readings. -- San Antonio, Texas: The University of Texas at San Antonio, 1984.
    p. 78
    Book/pamphlet article – Essays
    Martínez, César Augusto. “Arte Chicano (Part one).” In Chicano Art History: A Book of Selected Readings, edited by Jacinto Quirarte, 78. San Antonio, Texas: The University of Texas at San Antonio, 1984.

Written by César Augusto Martínez, one of the most active members of the Chicano art movement of the 1970s, “Arte Chicano” discusses the implications of the term “Chicano” (in Part One) and the status of Chicano art in the mainstream art circuits (in Part Two). In Part One, the author points out controversial, conflicting connotations of the signifier “Chicano.” On the one hand, the term is associated with the negative stereotypes of poverty and crime. On the other, it is used with pride by community activists, who celebrate their social and economic origins. As an extension, Chicano art implies political activism, recognition of the community from which it stems, and struggle for civil rights. In Part Two, Martínez identifies these political and communal leanings of Chicano art as the obstacles that prevent it from being recognized by the academic circles. Thus, he challenges the mainstream criteria of art legitimization, which, according to him, are solely based on stylistic and formal aspects of art. He also asserts a distinct nature of Chicano cultural identity: a fusion of Mexican, American, European, indigenous, and “whatever” roots. As such, Chicano art eschews “nationalistic guidelines” and easy classification, challenging common preconceptions and prejudices of the viewers. Finally, he postulates that Chicano art—just as any art—must be understood in terms of context from which it emerged.


This two-part essay by César Augusto Martínez (born 1944) was first published in 1975 in Caracol: La revista de la raza, a San Antonio monthly art and literary journal. Martínez—an important member of Con Safo and Los Quemados art collectives and a professor of San Antonio College—served as its art editor. A longtime champion of Chicano art as a grassroots movement, Martínez undertakes in this text an important intervention into methodologies of traditional academic art history in order to carve out the discursive space for Chicano art. He challenges formalist criteria that seek out crystallized, legible artistic styles and postulates for contextual, social reading of art, which—just as the culture that it reflects—is always evolving and in a state of flux.

Dorota Biczel
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA
Courtesy of César A. Martínez, San Antonio, TX