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In this text, Carlos Enríquez 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?”—Enríquez is ambivalent with negative tendencies. Enríquez writes that art in America suffers from regional provincialism and that artists are “victims” of the “moral-political preoccupations” expressed in their works. Furthermore, they are forced to ask questions about the compatibility of “pure art” and regional concerns. To the second—“Do you believe that americanidad is a question of optics, content, or medium?”—Enríquez replies that it is superficial if a sense of Americanness is conveyed in content, but that it is worthwhile if it is expressed through the form of a work. To the third—“Do you believe in the possibility of common characteristics shared by the art of all of the nations of our Americas?”—the painter argues that a shared American sensibility exists on the level of the subconscious. To the last question—“What should the American artist’s attitude be toward Europe?”—Enríquez responds that artists must take in all influences, affirming the status of art as a universal language.
The Cuban painter Carlos Enríquez was active in Havana in the mid-1920s, and in New York, Paris, and Madrid, during the late 1920s and early ‘30s. At that time he was married to American painter Alice Neel. 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 his response, Enríquez establishes himself as a proponent of a modernistic cosmopolitan understanding of art. While he accepts that an American sensibility does exist in art, he argues that this sensibility must function on the level of the individual artist’s psyche or subconscious. The painter is not interested in art motivated by political interests or regional preferences, and he urges his readers to look for American qualities in the formal, rather than narrative, aspects of painting.