The editorial categories are research topics that have guided researchers during the recovery phase and continue to be the impetus behind the Documents Project’s digital archive and the Critical Documents book series. Developed by the project’s Editorial Board, each of the teams analyzed this framework and adapted it to their local contexts in developing their research objectives and work plans during the Recovery Phase. Learn more on the Editorial Framework page.
In this text, José Martí discusses an exhibition of paintings at the Academia de San Carlos and how this exhibition has brought to light important issues about the most relevant artistic expressions of today. The author begins by warning how the daring and ambition of young artists can sour and [then continues with] some abstract observations about the nature of beauty and how it is expressed in the arts. In the hierarchy of the arts, Martí argues that beauty is best expressed in music, then in painting (specifically with color), and lastly in poetry. The more expansive and open the medium’s nature, the better it expresses the spirit of beauty. In his discussion of the exhibition, he focuses on the many portraits by Escudero y Espronceda that appear in the show, highlighting the most striking of these, a a painting named the “Virgen de Cordero.” Martí compliments this painting for the “vigor” of its drawing and the “originality of its palette.” But, he finds that it fails to convey the mystery of the Virgin’s creation, because, as he explains, the artist does not convincingly convey his own faith in the execution of the painting. Martí ends the text by concluding that the time of painting virgins has past in Mexico. He argues that the spiritual and the mystical exist at all times, and he urges artists to look to Mexico’s own history and to the spiritual struggles of conquest and indigenous resistance for relevant contemporary subjects.
The Cuban-born politician, essayist, and poet José Martí (1853-95) was a central figure in the Cuban fight for independence from Spain and in promoting intellectual and cultural throughout Latin American at the end of the nineteenth century. Martí spent most of the 1870s and ‘80s in exile, and he wrote this text during a visit to Mexico City in 1875. His interest in Mexican art shows how he was concerned with fostering nationalist expressions of Latin American history and culture on the level of individual nations as well as that of America as a whole (or what is now considered Latin America). The poet’s aesthetic concerns—his interest in comparing the capacity of the various arts to express beauty and his preoccupation with how the spiritual is expressed through art—suggest his knowledge of such eighteenth-century philosophers of aesthetics as Emmanuel Kant. His method of analysis, in which qualities such as line and color are analyzed discretely, also suggests familiarity with European art history as it was developing in Germany during the nineteenth century. Martí, however, puts this European aesthetic philosophy to a nationalist use in this text, calling on Mexican artists to look toward their own unique history for sources for a newly relevant spiritual form of national painting.