Michel: The finer things

Conversation on Diego Rivera had a deeper meaning
Michel: The finer things
Photo by Wikimedia Commons
This painting in Alameda Park, Mexico City by Diego Rivera is called "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park."

My husband Roberto and I were talking about fine art when the conversation turned to Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera, one of the most influential Mexican artists of the 20th century. Rivera’s paintings were considered fine art, but the artist is perhaps better known for the murals he created in Mexico and the United States. Roberto and I talked about what defines fine art, and why contemporary works by artists of color and those of indigenous cultures are often labeled as folk art.

It was a simple conversation, but it took on greater meaning against the backdrop of the times in which we live. In the U.S., Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 is designated as National Hispanic Heritage Month to recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans. But the ongoing debates over U.S. immigration policy often dominate national headlines when it comes to media coverage of Latino communities. The issue became more polarizing in recent months when migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border were separated – including a reported 3,000 children who were forcibly removed from their parents – under the federal “zero-tolerance” policy. By late July, more than 1,800 of those families were reunited.

Closer to home, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, increased its presence in Madison in late July as part of a program to deter illegal immigration. I mention these happenings to give context to the experience of being a Latino in America, not just at the border but also in the heartland. It’s the kind of societal issue that Rivera would likely have depicted in some way through his social realist style.

I have a deep appreciation of the arts, and am pleased that the Fall Arts Preview (which will be published online Aug. 28) includes works by musicians of color and artists of color, as well as other talented artists and performers who represent different generations, communities and points of view. The preview also mentions Dane Arts Mural Arts, which trains people in mural making and places an emphasis on working with at-risk youth. This type of community-based art has impact and can be moving, much like fine art hanging in a gallery.

It’s fitting that this month, as we celebrate Hispanic heritage, we bring you a column by Sandy Morales, a daughter of Mexican immigrants who leads a local nonprofit. Her story, which will be published online Sept. 6 is as much thought provoking as it is inspirational – which, to me, are hallmarks of fine art.