“Learning to Draw in Spanish” examines the Academia de San Carlos (1784) and Cuba’s Academia de San Alejandro (1818) as instances of colonial academies and, in turn, Chile’s Academia de Pintura (1849) and Argentina’s Academia Libre de Bellas Artes (1878) as examples of arts institutions of independent nations. While acknowledging their relationship to Italian and French academies, whose legacy was manifest in the curriculum and ideals of art in Spain and Latin America, my work examines how these later academies diverged both pedagogically and artistically. I contend that, although the Latin American academies adopted similar pedagogical methods, their particular geographic, historical, and sociopolitical conditions engendered differences in life drawing practices and in finished paintings and sculpture that reveal dissonances between European institutional models and their colonial copies.
“Learning to Draw in Spanish” begins with the premise that in academies of Latin America, copying, and its theoretical counterpart of mimesis, were central both to artistic pedagogy and to the apparatus of political power. On one hand, copying was a tactic that allowed for the institutionalization of Spain’s power over its colonies by the extension of regulations (for example, the adoption in Mexico of statutes nearly identical to those of Spain’s academies). On the other hand, duplication in curricula of repetitive training exercises ensured that the taste and vision of elites, namely their stylistic and subject preferences, would be perpetuated.
Copying began early in the student’s career
The uniformity of students’ drawing was further ensured through the interior layout of life drawing classrooms,
Still, the practice of copying did not preclude technical and stylistic variation. Differences in life drawing techniques and finished paintings and sculpture indicate that Latin American academies diverged from European institutional models. For example, although indigenous models were frequently used in certain Latin American academies’ drawing classes, their ethnic and racialized features were erased and rarely appeared in finished canvases placed on public display. By the late nineteenth century, however, incipient
The particular characteristics of artists and subjects in the Spanish American colonies, especially after independence, emerge as quite different from those of their European progenitors with regard to the framing of the human body. It is these differences—as they may be discerned in training, works, and academic regulations—that my research examines. My investigations further ask what effect the arrival of ethnographic, anthropological, and medical photography may have had on artists’ conceptions of the human body. These changes and their differences from the practices of European academies reveal that, while many of the works their students produced in certain periods appear formally similar, academies were not homogeneous institutions. Rather, they were individually adapted to the different political and social demands of colonial and national powers. The differences among them are valuable for what they tell us not only about the functions of Latin America’s arts