Orozoco painting the god Quetzalcoatl, 1934.
José Clemente Orozco was born on November 23, 1883, in Ciudad Guzmán, a provincial city in the Mexican coastal state of Jalisco. He was educated at the Agricultural School of San Jacinto, the National University, and the San Carlos Academy of Art. Architecture was his intended career, and for a time he was associated professionally with the architect Carlos Herrara, but after 1909 he applied his talents entirely to painting, drawing, and print making.
As one of the leaders of the "Syndicate of Painters and Sculptors," he played a major role in the development and flowering of modern art in Mexico. Mural painting was the major interest of this group, and the fame of their achievement in this field has now spread throughout the entire world. Most critics today consider Orozco the most original and powerful mural painter of the group. Outstanding examples of his work are in Mexico City, in Guadalajara, at Pomona College in California, and here at Dartmouth. Orozco came to Dartmouth in May of 1932 as a visiting lecturer in the department of art. His first work on campus appears off of the reserve room corridor and is entitled Man Released from the Mechanistic to the Creative Life.
Orozco died of a heart attack in 1949 at his home in Guadalajara. The house and studio are now a museum-workshop under the jurisdiction of the National Institute of Fine Arts.
In every painting, as in any other work of art, there is always an IDEA, never a STORY. The idea is the point of departure, the first cause of the plastic construction, and it is present all the time as energy creating matter. The stories and other literary associations exist only in the mind of the spectator, the painting acting as the stimulus.
There are as many literary associations as spectators. One of them, when looking at a picture representing a scene of war, for example, may start thinking of murder, another of pacifism, another of anatomy, another of history, and so on. Consequently, to write a story and to say that it is actually TOLD by a painting is wrong and untrue. Now the ORGANIC IDEA of every painting, even the worst in the world, is extremely obvious to the average spectator with normal mind and normal sight. The artist cannot possibly hide it. It might be a poor, superfluous and ridiculous idea or a great and significant one.
But the important point regarding the frescoes of Baker Library is not only the quality of the idea that initiates and organizes the whole structure, it is also the fact that it is an AMERICAN idea developed into American forms, American feeling, and, as a consequence, into American style.
It is unnecessary to speak about TRADITION. Certainly we have to fall in
line and learn our lesson from the Masters. If there is another way it has not
been discovered yet. It seems that the line of Culture is continuous, without
shortcuts, unbroken from the unknown Beginning to the unknown End. But we are
proud to say now: This is no imitation, this is our OWN effort, to the limit of
our own strength and experience, in all sincerity and spontaneity.
Last Updated: 8/3/07