Diego Rivera Murals

– Detroit Essay, Research Paper

Art comes in many forms such as dance, sculptures, photography, architecture, graffiti, music and much more. What one person may see or think is art, someone may completely disagree. Going to a museum, you may find a painting that captures your eye. By looking at it, you may be able to understand its meaning. It maybe the answers to the questions that you’ve been looking for. It may take you out of life’s misery for a second and give you peace of mind.

This reminds of Sharky the dog from the cartoon Eek the Cat, a cartoon that I still watch everyday. Sharky went to see a psychiatrist. The doctor was showing him cards that had ink splattered on them and he was supposed to describe what he sees. Suddenly he jumps up and starts shouting out, ” That’s it, this is the meaning of life. This is the answer to all of life’s questions. This is the cure for all illnesses…” . The doctor got up and said, “oh, sorry, that’s a ketchup stain from lunch!” Just like Sharky, different people see different things. Art is in the eyes of the beholder.

One of the most remarkable forms of art are paintings. My favorite painting is one of Diego Rivera’s many frescoes. Entitled Detroit Industry, it’s located in the Garden Court inside the Detroit Institute of Arts. It has a great meaning to the city of Detroit and represents the start of Detroit’s fame as the Motor City. Its a form of type of Urban Art discussed in our class.

So who is Diego Rivera?

Diego Rivera is the one of greatest mural painters of all time. He was born in 1886 in his native town of Guanajuato located in Mexico and came from a diverse family. His grandfather was a Spanish nobleman who fled to Mexico from the republic movement in the Nineteenth century. His grandmother was a Portuguese Jewess from a distinguished family. His father was an engineer and an educator. His mother was Mexican, half Spanish and half Indian.

Rivera’s skill was unmistakable. Rivera’s father noticed his son’s talent at the age of seven, drawing on a blackboard in one of the rooms in their home. He quickly set aside a room, kind of like a studio, so Diego can practice. He attended the National Preparatory School and the Academy of fine Arts in Mexico City when his family moved in 1898. In 1907, he was awarded a scholarship for the study of art.

Rivera continued to paint. For twenty years he worked and studied in Europe, maily in Italy and Spain. He became a close friend of Picasso, another great painter. From there he moved on back to Mexico where he continued to paint.

In Detroit, the Arts Commission felt it was ready to paint the Garden Court in 1931. Diego Rivera, famous for his many murals, was invited to do the job.

He was originally asked to due only two panels but later expanded to paint the entire court. The subject was left for him to decided, but the theme should be related to the city of Detroit. So, Rivera decided to depict the mass production industry, which had made Detroit world-famous and contributed much to the welfare of the country.

Rivera spent many days in automobile factories, making an infinite number of sketches and sometimes bringing photographers

with him to take pictures for absolute accuracy. But he didn’t really use them as much. His talent and brain surpass any camera’s abilities.

His paintings gave a sense of clearness but they are very detailed. The men working are not from his imagination, they are real men that he sketched while they working at the factories he visited. The machines are not fictional, they are perfectly correct. Rivera sketched the machinery first, then checked with engineers who designed the machines to make sure they’re correct.

The Mural is divided into four parts, the North Wall, West wall, South Wall and the East Wall. In spite his reality, he draws the pictures on a colossal scale. In the two big panels, the North and South Walls, rivera depicts the Detroit industry. In the other two, the elements that make up our industrial civilization.

The top of the side walls represents the four races that have helped build the American culture. The White race eager, nervous and looking. The Black race is patient and unhappy. The Indian is uninterested and the Chinese is calm and self-assured.

The North Wall has, in the left, the Indian holding in her hands the iron and the copper ores forming in the earth beneath her, natural products important to the industry. On the right, the Black women holds coal. The upper right and left panels represent man’s scientific knowledge. The right-hand panel shows the development and use of vaccines from cattle, sheep and horses. The left-hand panel shows scientist making poison gas for warfare. The middle center represents the industry. Men working together in the production and assembly of motors.

The South Wall has the other two races. On the left, the White race, and on the right the Indian race. They hold in their hands limestone and sand. At the left end is the representation of the production of pharmaceutical products. On the right end, chemicals being made. In the main middle panel, the final chassis and body assembly. The giant press, that stamps out the cars’ bodies, looks like a robot. In the lower right-hand corner are portraits of Mr. Edsel B. Ford and Dr. William Valentiner. In Dr. Valentiner’s hand is a paper that reads,” These frescoes, painted between July 25, 1932 and March 13,1933,…are the gift to the City of Detroit of Mr. Edsel B. Ford…”

The West Wall carries the theme of transportation and mechanical power. The shapes of birds and the motors of planes are pictured on the top. On the side of the door, two long panels show boilers and turbines which represent the making of steam power. Portraits of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison are painted at the foot of the turbines.

At the top corners of the East Wall are two female figures which symbolize agriculture. In the middle panel, forms of animal and plant life, soil and fossils.

This painting relates to the type of art discussed in our section of the text, Urban Art. Urban Art represents the city and city life. Well, this clearly does exactly that. Detroit Industry represents Detroit’s culture and heritage. It recognizes Detroit’s success in, not only the automotive industry, but science, agriculture and for becoming one of the world’s greatest cities.

Art is truly in the eyes of the beholder. Not everyone considers the same thing as being art. Different forms of art mean different things to different people. To me, Diego Rivera’s mural, Detroit Industry, is truly an extraordinary painting. It helps me understand the struggle and the history of the city I call home, the Motor City.


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