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, Jaime Torres Bodet responds to the question that the editors of revista de avance posed to their readers: “What should American art be?” Torres Bodet notes the anxiety created by this question and warns of the dangers of defining oneself and one’s art as American. He notes that one risks negating the universal values of art, and instead, exalting insignificant local “triumphs.” Positioned between Europe and America, the American artist is in a difficult position. Torres Bodet argues that it should be assumed that an American writer will always possess an American point of view, but also believes that his work has the ability to speak to other cultures. He concludes that if an American quality exists in art, it exists not in political proclamations or in government-sponsored programs, but in the spirit of the single poet’s voice, in his sincerity and sentiment. Ultimately, Torres Bodet stresses the commonalities shared by art produced in the modern Western world and clearly sees Latin American artists as part of this world. He concludes that America does not yet possess its own culture, but instead, characterizes American art as that of American artists’ conflicted attitude toward Europe: moreover, he neither completely submits nor totally negates its influence.
Jaime Torres Bodet (1902-74) was a Mexican poet and diplomat, active during the post-revolutionary period in Mexico City. His response to the question “What should American art be?” was published in revista de avance in 1928, in a magazine based in Havana. Like Amauta (Lima), revista de avance was a forum where intellectuals living in various Latin American countries (and Europe and the United States) debated, among other topics, the question of nationalist qualities in art and literature. In his response, we can see that Torres Bodet thinks American artists are limiting themselves by trying to define themselves in nationalist terms. He clearly has a European sensibility, quoting French poetry and citing the Mexican poet Alfonso Reyes (1889-1959)—who spent a great deal of his life in Europe. He also has a problem with how nationalism has been taken up in art in Latin America, and especially in his native Mexico, where, he suggests, it has been used for political gain. While he also values indigenous art, he does not see how it is directly relevant to contemporary artists. His America (and Mexico) is clearly cosmopolitan, modern, and international. He notes that the fluid exchange between European and American poets, and rapid international communication, has penetrated traditional America and modernized it. His primary concern is how American artists negotiate their relationship with Europe in the context of this modern world.