Nature and the Artist: Artist's Statement

Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City, July 13, 1943

Taking into consideration the nature of the function performed in the College by the Art Library, I decided to use as the theme of my mural some of the ideas that are fundamental in the plastic arts. My work endeavors to present these ideas in a form whose objectivity will make them clearly comprehensible to the students of Art, who make up the public that will be in constant contact with it.

In the first place, the student of Art must, from the very beginning, form a true conception of the attitude to be taken by the artist toward nature, source of the plastic elements with which he works. These elements, however, should not be used literally; they must be so reworked that the final result will be creation, not imitation.

Secondly, the student must also know what should be the attitude of the observer in the presence of a work of art: namely, that no work of art is to be judged on its resemblance, or lack of resemblance, to nature, but as an independent entity with a life and problems of its own.

These two ideas are the theme of my work, which was executed in the following manner:
As the architectural conditions of the library do not permit one to see the entire wall from an appropriate point of view, it was necessary to divide the wall into two panels. The first of these, which is the larger, can be seen in its entirety from the middle of the room. The second can be seen, when one reaches the end of the room, from a point much nearer to the wall. The first panel is entitled "Nature and the Artist;" the second, "The Work of Art and the Observer."

For visual reasons the first panel is subdivided--though very conventionally--into two parts, the first of which, symbolizing Nature, is visible from the entrance to the room. The second, which represents the Artist in the act of creation, discloses itself gradually as one walks toward the middle of the room, the appropriate point from which to view the panel as a whole.

The group representing Nature is composed of the five figures, of which the central one symbolizes Nature, and the other four, the elements. The figure of Nature is of heroic size. It has four breasts and lies in an attitude of surrender, to symbolize abundance and generosity. From the rocks which occupy the lower left-hand corner of the panel there springs a blue female figure from whose hand flows a stream of water. This figure symbolizes Water, and both in outline and in movement suggests a spring. Above Water, and coming down from the upper corner of the same side, is a male figure in red, symbolizing Fire. The form suggests a flash of lightning. In the upper middle part of the panel, above the figure which symbolizes Nature, one can see another female figure, coffee-colored, and representing Earth. This figure is represented as holding in its arms the figure of Nature, to show that it is in the Earth that we see Nature in all her magnificence. At the right emerges a blue male figure whose outline and movement give it the appearance of an arrow shot into space. This figure represents Air. The whole group is terminated by a rainbow which springs from the figures of Water and Fire, and ends by merging with the figure of Air. This motif, besides serving to give unity to the upper part of the composition, symbolizes Color, the basic element of painting.

In the part which completes the composition of this first panel another male figure represents the Artist engaged in producing the Work of Art. The latter is symbolized by an abstract composition whose forms and colors, taken separately, bear a certain relation to those of the group that represents Nature, but, taken as a whole, have nothing to do with it. Between the figure of the Artist and the group representing Nature there are a lyre and a compass, to show that the Artist, when he looks at nature in search of plastic elements, should do so through the medium of poetry and of knowledge, both of which are indispensable, if the work of art is to be authentic and permanent.

In the second panel there are only two figures: one representing the Observer and the other, a piece of sculpture which in this case symbolizes the finished Work of Art. The Observer stands looking at the Work of Art, and his eyes are fixed on it to the complete exclusion of his surroundings. To emphasize the idea that when judging a work of art one must take it as a new creation, independent of the source from which it sprang, the Observer stands with his back to the group that symbolizes Nature.

[Artist's statement translated from the original Spanish by Elizabeth Foster for Smith College Museum of Art Bulletin, no. 24 (October 1943): 4-8.]