Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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Synopsis

In this text, Jorge Mañach considers how lively debates about the question of aesthetics had recently proliferated among groups of passionate young people in the Americas. He notes that these polemics are driven by the urgent need to develop “our own” (American) culture. On one side of the debate is the claim that culture is American enough simply because it is made by “us” (Americans). On the other side is the argument that it must be marked by a quality that distinguishes the culture as American. Mañach states that it is impossible to make art that is in no way related to its context and because of this, art is always regional by definition. He notes that the debate in Latin America between nationalism and universalism in art has been exacerbated by opinions from Europe that are too dogmatic and absolutist. Asking how any art can deny expressing qualities of the “típico” [typical,] he argues for a middle ground, explaining that, among other things, a middle ground balances such important aspects of art as collective political use and personal expression. Keeping the notion of “beauty” open, he argues, will allow for a flexible kind of art that can achieve both the specificity of the “typical” as well as the universal, or what he calls, “cosmic knowledge.”

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Jorge Mañach was a Cuban critic and philosopher who, along with several peers, edited the avant-garde magazine, revista de avance, during the 1920s in Havana. His text, “Vértice del gusto nuevo,” appeared in the magazine in the issue of September 15, 1929. revista de avance was among the most significant venues for debating cultural issues among Latin American intellectuals and artists living throughout the Americas and in Europe during the late 1920s. In this text, Mañach addresses his readers as the young participants in what he describes as the lively and passionate discussions about the question of American aesthetics. In addition to articulating an argument for an open understanding of American art—one that encompasses both an appreciation for regionalism and the universal beauty of forms—Mañach also reveals his preoccupation in fundamental philosophical issues about art. He notes that the current debate is exacerbated by the fact that there is no consensus among his peers about the nature of art, including the relative values of the “pure” versus “descriptive” forms of art, or its “social” versus “individualist” manifestations.

Researcher
María C. Gaztambide
Team
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA
Location
Microfilm, Library of Congress, Washington D.C., United States