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Mexico, Arts

Jose Vasconcelos, mural movement, European techniques, Mexican artists, Mexican history

Mexican culture is a fascinating blend of Native American traditions and Spanish colonial influences. Long before the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, the indigenous civilizations of Mexico had developed arts such as ceramics, music, poetry, sculpture, and weaving. After the conquest, the intricate designs and bright colors of many Native American arts were often mixed with European techniques and religious themes to create a hybrid and uniquely Mexican artistic style. Numerous churches constructed during the colonial era reflect the blending of Spanish architectural designs with the handiwork of Native American workers who built and decorated the buildings. Many of Mexico’s most popular modern crafts—such as textiles, pottery, and furniture making—borrow designs and techniques from Native American culture. Mexican painting and music have also been shaped by this heritage.

Indigenous influences were given a tremendous boost by the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). During and immediately after the revolution, many Mexican artists celebrated the nation’s unique mixture of races and cultures in their work. Political and social themes from the revolution—such as efforts at land reform and the right of common Mexicans to participate in the nation’s government—were also reflected in the arts.

Immediate postrevolutionary governments supported the arts and contributed to efforts to make them more accessible to average Mexicans, especially in the 1920s and 1930s. The individual most responsible for this support was Jose Vasconcelos, a leading intellectual who served as secretary of education in the first postrevolutionary government. The government was especially influential in promoting mural painting, commissioning artists to paint murals depicting Mexican history on public buildings. During the 1930s, painters came to Mexico from the United States to study the mural movement. Many people from Europe, the United States, and Latin America also visited Mexico as tourists in the 1930s and 1940s, increasing the popularity of native arts such as the making of silver jewelry.

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