Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    In this text, Francisco Ichaso reflects on the pertinence of the question that revista de avance posed to its readers: “What should American art be?” and he composes his own response to this question. Ichaso begins by acknowledging that all answers must necessarily be provisional, and that defending this kind of inquiry is a productive way to provoke ongoing discussion among an unusually wide range of intellectuals. In developing his own argument about what American art should be Ichaso urges artists to act more deliberately and with greater humility. In relationship to Europe, American artists should not reproduce European culture, nor simply portray its beloved subjects (such as landscapes or local customs). Nor should an American quality in art be achieved through purely instinctual means. An American work of art should deliberately express both the universal and particular, as he explains; and it must achieve such qualities through its essential qualities and not its superficial appearance. Ichaso concludes by emphasizing America’s destiny as a cultural nexus, by enticing artists to find “lo popular” in contemporary, not past, culture, and by reminding his readers that American culture benefits when it is realized in the spirit of opposition with Europe.

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    In this essay the Cuban writer Francisco Ichaso(1900-62) reflected on the responses prompted by the question he and his coeditors posed to readers in revista de avance: “What should American art be?” Like the Lima-based Amauta, the Havana-based 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. It is not surprising that in this statement Ichaso defends the relevance of this question, and the way in which it has been posed to readers. This “indagación” [inquiry] has afforded [Latin] American intellectuals the rare opportunity to hear from peers living in far-flung geographic locations, who, generally, have diverse points of view on this question. Ichaso does not summarize his peers’ responses in his essay. Instead, he develops his own answer to the question in which he argues that the americanidad present in American art must be a quality that is both sought deliberately as well as something that is profoundly felt and genuinely experienced by artists. It is also of note that Ichaso’s text is full of quotations from José Martí (1853-95), and to a lesser degree, Pedro Henríquez Ureña (1884-1946), both of whom developed theories of a Pan-Latin American culture driven by beliefs in both politics and the conviction that American peoples shared an essential sensibility.