Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    Synopsis

    In this text, Joaquín Torres-García theorizes about a vision for the future of American art. He begins by arguing that American art is deeply flawed because its forms are used only to depict regional themes. Torres-García explains that his theory of American art consists of two elements: the regla abstracta and lo viviente. By fixing lo viviente, or the local, lived experience within the structure of the regla abstracta, the local will be shaped by the universal. Regla abstracta, the author explains, is a theory of plastic structure arrived at independently by an artist according to his own sensibilities. The regla abstracta, the explanation continues, is indeed a constructive language, both geometric and intuitive, but, as Torres-García stresses, which is formed according to an artist’s own experience, through the process of “personal discovery.” He concludes that American artists must arrive at the regla abstracta via a process of reduction; they must begin in a vacuum to begin to invent their own forms.

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    After spending much of his life in Europe and New York, Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949) returned to settle in Montevideo in 1934, when he was entering his sixties. During the late 1930s and ‘40s, Torres-García devoted himself to developing and propagating his theories on constructivist art. This text is part of Universalismo constructivo, a series of lectures that he delivered during the early 1940s in which he developed his theory of a new aesthetic expressive of the new American man. In this lecture, Torres García voices his dismay at the prevalence of Latin American-themed genre painting. He criticizes American artists’ dependence on European painting, and derides scenes of the pampa, suggesting that Americans are unable to see their true selves because they see themselves as Europeans do. For Torres García, Walt Whitman (1819-92) is the model of an artist who developed a completely new form of art for the Americas through the kind of process of introspection that Torres-García engages artists to undertake. He calls on young artists to embrace Whitman, the American poet, as a model for the new (American) man. It is also important that, while he is committed to the idea of a universal American art, he distinguishes his theory from Pan-Americanism and its political impulse. Revealing his modernist fervor for basing art on the most literal qualities of form, he urges artists to examine themselves and to derive their American sensibility from such sources as the abstract qualities of language in America, such as the rhythms and cadences of Creole speech.