Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art Home


Document first page thumbnail
  • ICAA Record ID
    ¿Qué quiere decir un Arte Americano? / Marta Traba
    Mito (Bogotá). -- Vol. 1, no.6 (Feb.-Mar. 1956)
    p. 474-478
    Journal article – Essays
    Traba, Marta. "¿Qué quiere decir un Arte Americano?" Mito (Bogotá) 1, no.6 (February-March 1956): 474-478.
Editorial Categories [?]

In this text, Marta Traba argues that there is not really a unified [Latin] American aesthetic in the visual arts and calls for an honest investigation of the question of such an aesthetic approach, even at the risk of affirming that no common spirit unites “our art.” She debunks the idea of folk or indigenous art as the basis for a common aesthetic, demonstrating that these qualities have taken diverse forms in art at different points in history, in different countries, and in the hands of different artists. Furthermore, Traba demonstrates that the interest in the folk has been motivated by politics, not by aesthetic interests. She does acknowledge that economic and political hardships are a commonality shared among Latin American countries and that this has made it impossible for artists to consider aesthetic questions completely isolated from socio-political concerns. Nevertheless, heterogeneity is the defining characteristic of the great art of America and false efforts to present it as unified are motivated only by plain nationalism.


Marta Traba (1930-83) was an Argentine-born critic and art historian active in Bogotá and San Juan, Puerto Rico. During the 1950s she advocated international modernism in Latin America, but by the 1960s, she became a critic of the homogeneity of their brand of visual art when the cultural influence of the United States rose in the region. In this text, Traba brings to the fore her weariness of the dominance of nationalist forms of art in Latin America, such as Mexican muralism. She urges her peers to make distinctions between aesthetic concerns and the politics of nationalism. Traba contextualizes her text within a larger debate among her peers in Latin America, acknowledging that her voice joins many other critics who have recently voiced their dissatisfaction with the descriptor [Latin] “American art.” She also cites art historians and critics from various countries, including the Argentinean critic Julio E. Payró (1899-1971). Like other critics questioning the existence of an “American aesthetic,” she argues that artists in Latin America have been forced to embrace this idea because of their inferiority complex and also makes the point that European artists’ nationality does not weigh so heavily on them. Traba, like other critics against nationalism, reminds us to pay attention that painting and sculpture were imported arts in much of Latin America and that South American art was essentially French until the beginning of the twentieth century.

María C. Gaztambide; Harper Montgomery, collaborator
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA
Courtesy of Fernando Zalamea Traba, Bogotá, Colombia