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In this article Miguel Arroyo disagrees with using the terms “Realism” and “Abstractionism” when referring to art, because several members of the latter movement also call themselves Realists, inspired by a definition proposed by Aristotle, for whom it was more of an inner than an outer reality. Arroyo mentions the French “Realism” of the late nineteenth century (and Gustave Courbet) and distinguishes it from “naturalism” and today’s socially committed art with its sociopolitical critique of contemporary society. These artists, who consider “Abstractionism” to be a decadent idea, claim to project a faithful reflection of society; but, in the author’s opinion, “Abstractionism” may be the best-equipped movement to express the social and scientific changes that have had an impact on contemporary society. This became obvious with the introduction of digital photography, a new way to zoom in on reality or take aerial views of nature. Arroyo analyzes both terms and proposes that, instead, it would be preferable to speak of “creation” and “imitation;” he rejects any suggestion that Abstractionism is an expression of a decadent society.
This essay by Miguel Arroyo (1920–2004) is based on the debate at the Centro Cultural Venezolano-Soviético in Caracas (July and August, 1948). Other participants in the debate were the artists and intellectuals César Rengifo, Pedro León Castro, Eduardo Francis, Miguel Otero Silva, and Héctor Mujica on the side of “Realism,” and Mateo Manaure and Luis Guevara Moreno on the side of “Abstractionism.”
In his review, the future museologist Arroyo—who, at the time, was a painter and ceramicist—sides with the “Abstractionist” art that “Courbet’s Realist heirs” dismiss as a decadent form of art that was incomprehensible to the general public. The debate was perhaps the first public face-off between avant-garde art and Figurative tradition that had ever taken place in Venezuela; it happened during the time of democratic opening and intellectual and political tolerance introduced by General Isaías Medina Angarita. The debate at the Centro Cultural Venezolano-Soviético was a sign of the times; the first public confrontation that sparked a decade of discussions about Abstract art, featuring many of the same participants. It would reach its eventual climax in 1957 with the famous epistolary exchange between the journalist and owner of El Nacional Miguel Otero Silva and the geometric-abstract painter Alejandro Otero, who founded the avant-garde group Los Disidentes and the magazine of the same name in Paris, in 1950.
Arroyo’s essay is included in a collection of his studies and conversations compiled by Roldán Esteva-Grillet and published as Arte, Educación y Museología (Caracas: Academia Nacional de la Historia, 1989); it was grouped with César Rengifo in another collection, also compiled by Esteva-Grillet, Volume II of Fuentes documentales y críticas de las artes plásticas venezolanas: siglos XIX y XX (Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 2001).