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In this text, Eduardo Avilés Ramírez responds to the question that the editors of revista de avance posed to their readers: “What should American art be?” He specifically addresses each of the four sub-questions grouped under this larger question. In response to the first—“Do you believe that the American artist should reveal a preoccupation with America?”—he enthusiastically affirms his belief in an American art based on indigenous cultures. Indigenous sources, according to Ramírez, include the “classic forms” of the Indian art of Peru and Mexico, as well as vernacular “black music.” To the second—“Do you believe that americanidad is a question of optics, content, or medium?”—he replies that it is a question of all three and that the best, most American work, inflects all three aspects with an American quality. To the third—“Do you believe in the possibility of common characteristics shared by the art of all of the nations of our Americas?”—his response is both yes and no, explaining that we must appreciate how each “pueblo” possesses its own distinct characteristics, while also identifying broader characteristics and themes shared across America. To the last question—“What should the American artist’s attitude be toward Europe?”—Ramírez responds that American artists must strategically assimilate and exploit European “discoveries” and styles with the goal of strengthening American art.
The journalist and poet Eduardo Avilés Ramírez was born in Nicaragua and moved to Cuba as a young man, where he spent most of his life. His response to the question “What should American art be?” was published in 1929 in revista de avance, 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 this text, Ramírez expresses his enthusiasm for the pre-Hispanic cultures of Mexico and Peru. In this respect, he aligns himself with a group of intellectuals across the Americas who looked to ancient Mexican and Peruvian civilization as sources for Indo-American culture. Although, on the other hand, he does not completely reject European culture, he urges artists to think politically about their relationship with Europe, inviting them to adopt the attitude of “el chino nacionalista”: “to assimilate its [European art’s] strengths, adopt its energy, and exploit its discoveries, all for the benefit of American art.”