A Brief History of Mexican Art for Elementary School Art Teachers - IPaintMyMind A Brief History of Mexican Art for Elementary School Art Teachers - IPaintMyMind
A Brief History of Mexican Art for Elementary School Art Teachers

A Brief History of Mexican Art for Elementary School Art Teachers

Written by:
Evan La Ruffa
Apr 08, 2024

The history of Mexican art incredibly rich and could exhaust various articles, videos, or discussions. As an elementary school art teacher, we know you’re always looking for ways to contextualize the art you feature for your students. Understanding historical art movements, or learning about national art histories of the countries our students are from also gives us a cool way to connect, while everyone learns something.

It’s amazing how seeing someone like us do something inherently gives us the impression that we can do it ourselves. This is why representation in art is so important, and why we have so much fun supporting art teachers with content like this.

Below we provide a brief overview of the history of Mexican art so that artists like Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and others can be put in context, seen on a continuum, and understood as the titans of culture that they are.

The history of Mexican art is diverse and spans thousands of years, incorporating influences from indigenous cultures, colonial periods, and modern artistic movements. Here we trace those eras all the way through the vibrant art scene in Mexico today. 

history of mexican art

Here’s a brief overview of the history of Mexican art:

  • Pre-Columbian Art (c. 2000 BCE – 1521 CE)
      • Mexico has a rich heritage of pre-Columbian art, with civilizations like the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec creating intricate sculptures, pottery, and murals.
      • The Aztecs, in particular, were known for their monumental architecture, such as the Templo Mayor in the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.
  • Colonial Period (1521-1821)
      • With the Spanish conquest led by Hernán Cortés in 1521, Mexico entered a colonial era.
      • Colonial art was primarily influenced by European Baroque styles, and religious themes dominated paintings, sculptures, and architecture.
      • The fusion of indigenous and European artistic traditions gave rise to a unique Baroque style in Mexican art.
  • Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821)
      • The struggle for independence from Spanish rule influenced art, with images of national heroes and patriotic symbols appearing in paintings and murals.
  • 19th Century
      • The 19th century saw a shift towards romanticism and realism in the history of Mexican art.
      • Artists like Jose Maria Velasco depicted landscapes, while others explored themes related to Mexican identity and history.
  • Mexican Revolution (1910-1920)
      • The Mexican Revolution had a profound impact on art, leading to the emergence of the Mexican Muralism movement.
      • Artists like Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco created large-scale murals with social and political messages, often depicting the struggles of the working class.
  • Post-Revolution Period (1920s-1940s)
      • The history of Mexican art continued to evolve with modernist influences, with artists like Rufino Tamayo exploring new styles and themes.
      • The influence of indigenous art and folklore became more pronounced during this period.
  • Mid-20th Century to Present
      • The mid-20th century saw the rise of internationally acclaimed artists like Frida Kahlo, known for her surrealist self-portraits.
      • Contemporary Mexican art is characterized by a diverse range of styles, mediums, and themes, with artists addressing issues such as identity, globalization, and social justice.
  • Contemporary Art Scene
    • Mexico City has become a vibrant hub for contemporary art, with numerous galleries, museums, and art festivals showcasing the work of Mexican and international artists.
    • Artists continue to engage with a wide range of influences, blending traditional and avant-garde elements in their work.

history of mexican art

Unpacking the Mexican Muralist Movement & Its Impact

The Mexican Muralism movement is likely the most impactful in the history of Mexican art, which emerged in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), is arguably the most well-known and famous historical period of Mexican art globally. This movement had a profound impact not only on Mexican art but also on the international art scene. 

The key figures associated with Mexican Muralism, including Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco, created large-scale murals that conveyed social and political messages.

Key features and reasons why this period is globally renowned include:

  • Social and Political Engagement: The murals created during this period were deeply rooted in the socio-political context of post-revolutionary Mexico. They addressed issues such as social justice, land reform, and the struggles of the working class, resonating with global concerns of the time.
  • Prominence of Leading Artists: Diego Rivera, in particular, gained international acclaim for his murals. His influence extended beyond Mexico, and he was commissioned to create murals in the United States, including the famous Detroit Industry Murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
  • Influence on Modern Art Movements: Mexican Muralism had a significant impact on modern art movements, influencing artists globally. The bold use of color, the integration of indigenous themes, and the monumental scale of the murals inspired artists in various parts of the world.
  • Connection to International Politics: The artists involved in Mexican Muralism were often politically engaged, and their works reflected not only Mexican but also global political concerns. This connection to broader political movements contributed to the global recognition of the movement.
  • Frida Kahlo’s International Appeal: While Frida Kahlo’s work is often associated with the broader Mexican art scene, her unique and personal style has contributed to the global fascination with Mexican art. Kahlo’s self-portraits, often infused with surreal and symbolic elements, have captivated audiences worldwide.

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The Mexican Muralism movement remains a pivotal period in the history of Mexican art, and its impact continues to be felt in contemporary discussions on art, politics, and social justice. The movement’s ability to merge artistic expression with social commentary has solidified its place as one of the most iconic and globally recognized periods in Mexican art history.

The history of Mexican art is a dynamic narrative that reflects the cultural, political, and social transformations of the country over the centuries. From ancient civilizations to the present day, Mexican art remains a testament to the rich tapestry of influences and expressions that define its cultural identity.

And the thread that links it altogether in Mexico’s rich history provides us with an incredible case study for the ways in which culture permeates all, and how we bring our experiences to our practice of making art, no matter who we are, or where we are from.

Written by:
Evan La Ruffa
Apr 08, 2024