Arts and Politics, an Unstable Cocktail


The Artists of the Mexican revolution are known for being inspired by the revolution, and for helping to drive it. Yet the relationship between the Mexican Revolution and its artists is complex and multileveled, and for many ended in disillusionment and even violence.

Take for instance Diego Rivera and his murals. An early supporter of the revolution, and of the Communist Party, his decision to continue working for the constitutionalist government after the revolution caused him some problems. He was kicked out of the communist party, and viewed with suspicion by many of his fellow Mexican artists, who saw him as a sell-out to the establishment. Many think that a desire to re-establish his left wing credentials led him to insist on  including a portrait of Lenin in the mural he was commissioned to create for Rockefeller center ( an insistence that led to losing the commission).

The disillusionment of Mexican artists with Rivera, who was the poster-child of public muralism in the 1930’s, had ripples that extended to the US , the WPA and the New Deal. As Meyer Schapiro advocated for a mural program within the WPA, and convened meetings with Mexican and American artists to this end, he found himself in the position of having to “rescue” muralism from the idea that it had been co-opted by government association into being picturesque tourist-pleasing pap, or worse, government propaganda.

Another example can be found around 1911, in the provincial silver mining capital of Guanajuato, Mexico. The writer  Juana Belen Guttierez de Mendoza was arrested several times and had her printing press seized by the government. Founder of a revolutionary newspaper called “Vesper”, she had continued advocating for the revolution’s ideals, such as Zapata’s land reforms, even after Madero’s new government had abandoned them.

In my opinion artists are always popular and welcome at the beginning of political movements, in the atmosphere of hope and idealism, but are often seen as a liability as movements turn into the establishment, for exactly the same reason. Living in a world of ideas, artists naturally gravitate towards idealism, and stay there. Politicians, while often born of idealism, are almost always bent away from it by reality and practical considerations. This is why artists and politicians will always make awkward bedfellows, and also why they need each other.

-Flora Newberry


Azuela, Alicia, Collen Kattan and David Craven. “Public Art, Meyer Schapiro and Mexican Muralism.” Oxford Art Journal17, no 1(1994)

Apel, Dora. “Diego Rivera and the Left:  Destruction and Creation of the Rockefeller Center Mural.”  Left History, vol 6, no1.,accessed January 31, 2017

Macias, Anna.”Women and the Mexican Revolution 1910-1920.” The Americas 37, no. 1(1980), 53-82.

Linsley, Robert. “Utopia Will Not Be Televised: Rivera at Rockefeller Center.” Oxford Art Journal 17, no. 2 (1994): 48-62.

Monroe, Gerald M. “Mural Burning By the New York City WPA.” Archives of American Art Journal 16:3 (1976), 8-11..



2 thoughts on “Arts and Politics, an Unstable Cocktail

  1. jlbrewster says:

    I agree that artists and politicians make awkward bedfellows! It is so fascinating how art and politics seem to be so volatile and yet they always find a way to come together.


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