National Standards for Arts Education:
Visual Arts Standard 4c:  Students will reflect on how works differ visually, spatially, temporally and functionally and describe how these are related to history and culture.

Visual Arts Standard 5b:  Students will describe meanings of artworks by analyzing how specific works were created and how they relate to historical and cultural contexts.

Pre Hispanic

I. Show students the painting Autorretrato  by Rufino Tamayo (1967).  Lead a discussion concerning the content of the piece. 
Fig. 5 Autorretrato by Rufino Tamayo (1967)

In Self-Portrait  painted in 1967, it can only be speculated if he meant to express anything specific by placing himself with his arms crossing as they are.  The curve on the left seems to be the trace of a movement made by his right arm.  The figure of the woman is static with her arms outstretched.  The serious man’s face is that of Tamayo and Jose Corredor-Matheos speculates that Tamayo has used this painting to express the monumentality of man within his cosmos: “In it man can see he is in a lost or privileged place; it hardly matters which.”  The luminous colors of the painting are clearly a response to the color of his native Oaxaca.
“What about himself is Tamayo communicating in this self portrait?” 
“What aspects of his culture do you think he incorporated into his painting?”
“What feelings does he evoke and how has he done this?”

II. Show slides or prints of images of Oaxaca, Mexico and tell the students about Tamayo and his work.
Fig. 6 Doorway and wall in Oaxaco, Mexico (1998); photograph by Sandi Hammonds
Fig. 7 Window in Oaxaco, Mexico (1998); photograph by Sandi Hammonds
Fig. 8 Window and wall in Oaxaco (1998); photograph by Sandi Hammonds           

Rufino Tamayo was born in 1899 in Oaxaca, Mexico to Zapotec parents.  At the age of twelve, he moved to Mexico City.  There, he worked in a city market selling fruit, a subject that would later appear in the images of many of his paintings.  In 1917, he entered the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts in Mexico City where he received a formal European-style art training.  In 1921, he was appointed to the head of the Department of Ethnographic Drawing at the National Museum of Anthropology. It was here that Tamayo learned to value the compositional qualities and the symbolism of preHispanic art.  By 1926, he had his first one-artist show in which he distinguished himself as a very personal and different painter from the accepted work of the times.  As his career developed, he moved through several artistic stages and his use of color evolved from dark tonalities and earth colors to a palette of violent but delicate colors.  Tamayo preferred the surface of canvas and worked only in natural light.  He painted with a wide variety of tools and made his own pigments.
Although he painted a number of murals around the world, Tamayo reacted against the work of Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera.  He felt the epic proportions and the political rhetoric of their work was unnecessary and believed that the Mexican qualities of a painting would be evident as a result of the artist being part of the culture.  The mythical aspect of the Mexican personality rather than obvious social images inspired him.

Tamayo said “The trouble was that the mural painters portrayed only a surface nationalism.  They painted the facts of Mexican history and culture, all leading to the facts of the revolution.  But revolution is not a Mexican phenomenon.  It happens all over the world.  I’m not opposed in theory to what they did.  But I myself felt something beyond that.  I was a rebel, not against the revolution, but against the Mexican mural movement that was conceived to celebrate it.... I think in terms of universality.  Art is a way of expression that has to be understood by everybody, everywhere.  It grows out of the earth, the texture of our lives and experiences.

III. Show students Self Portrait Masks  by Francisco Toledo (1965) as well as images of animal images from the art of preHispanic Mexico. 
Fig. 9  Self Portrait Masks I  by Francisco Toledo (1965)
Fig. 10 Xochicalco, Mexico (1998); photograph by Sandi Hammonds
Fig. 11 Self Portrait Masks II  by Francisco Toledo (1965)
Fig. 12 Teotihuacan, Mexico (1998); photograph by Sandi Hammonds
Like many of his works, this series of self portraits by Toledo, has a light fantastic touch that also has a menacing aspect to it.  His abstracted interpretations incorporate many indigenous Mexican motifs as well as the international influences from his early training.

IV. Lead the students in a discussion of the works and help them to discover how the historical images have had an impact on Toledo as reflected in this series of eight self portraits. 
“What is Toledo communicating about himself in this self portrait series?’ 
“What design elements of preHispanic art have inspired him?”

V. Tell the students about Toledo and his work.

Francisco Toledo was born in 1940 in Juchitan and, like Tamayo, to Zapotecan parents.  Because the Zapotecs have been able to conserve their original language and culture over the centuries, from an early age Toledo was exposed to a tradition of Zapotecan customs, rites, and attitudes towards animals, plants, and objects.  As a young man, he moved to Mexico City where he attended the engraving workshop at the School of Crafts and Design and at the age of 20, he went to Paris. 
While in Europe, Toledo was influenced by the artists Paul Klee, Joan Miro, and Jean Dubuffet and when he was ready to return to Mexico in 1965, he had developed a style that combined aspects of both his Zapotecan heritage and the art of Europe.  Toledo now spends his time in Ixtopec, Juchitlan, Oaxaca, and Mexico City.  In Oaxaca, he has created an extensive art library that is available to anyone wishing to study there.

“The artist carried on a dialogue with himself; he established a dialogue between the two cultural components that form him, as it were, and recognized his ambivalence as a cultural phenomenon.  On the basis of that dialogue, he chose to “return to his roots”.  Even if he had decided to leave them behind, they would have remained ever-present in his work.  More importantly, however, is that Toledo is not an illustrator of ancient myths, but an updater and creator of modern myths.”   Jorge Alberto Manrique 

Ask students:
“Now that you know something about Toledo and the culture that he comes from, why do you think he has depicted himself in masks?”

VI. Pose a summary question:
“What similarities and differences can you see between these three Mexican artists?”    
You may wish to have the students use a Venn diagram to stimulate their thinking.

Lesson Resources:

  • Billeter, Erika;  Images of Mexico;  Benteli Catalog Edition, 1988.
  • Burke, Marcus B.; Mexican Art Masterpieces; Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc.,1998.
  • Corredor-Matheos, Jose; Tamayo;  Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1987.
  • del Conde, Teresa; Tamayo, Little, Brown and Company, 2000.
  • Escalente, Samuel Morales, Voices of Mexico,  No. 37,  December 1996,  “RufinoTamayo: A Pictorial Concept”.
  • Arqueologia Mexicana I;  Imagenes del Museo Nacional de Antropologia; text by Octavio Paz.
  • Francisco Toledo 1970-1995; Galeria Arvil; Twenty-fifth Anniversary Show Catalog.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries, New York, 1990.