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Arguing that art history must always account for precedents and influences, art historian Jacinto Quirarte’s essay traces the way in which Mexican muralists influenced American artists during the 1930s. The author suggests that, in this case, influence occurred through both published reproductions of Mexican works and actual contact between individual artists. Mexican muralists—Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros in particular—offered U.S. artists’ technical, thematic, ideological and formal models that echoed with the movement toward socially relevant artistic production during the Depression and attempts to develop an American identity and gain aesthetic freedom from European influence. Quirarte argues that during each muralist’s visit to the U.S., press coverage, lectures, and studio visits all contributed to the impact of Mexican Muralism on American creators. And, perhaps most significantly, federally-funded art programs during the period offered artists the opportunity to explore this visual idiom.
Jacinto Quirarte is one of the foremost Chicano art historians and one of the earliest to write about Chicano art history, including the groundbreaking book Mexican Americans Artists. This essay was included in an anthology published on the occasion of the U.S. Bi-centennial that was compiled to celebrate Hispanic contributions to U.S. history. For his essay, Quirarte focused on an art historical area that had not received adequate attention: Mexican muralists’ influences on U.S. artists. Quirarte substantiates with strong examples how the influence of the Mexican muralists is apparent on the level of both content and form, including Victor Arnautoff’s San Francisco Coit Tower murals. For other artists like Jackson Pollock (who had contact with all three muralists in question), the influence becomes admittedly more difficult for Quirarte to assess. However, based on anecdotal evidence, he proposes that Pollock was impressed with Siqueiros’ “accidental” spraying process, a technique that links his abstract work’s drippings with the figurative tendencies of the muralist.