Mural Theme Explained

Diego Rivera on Pan American Unity in 1940:

  • "My mural which I am painting now--it is about the marriage of the artistic expression of the North and of the South on this continent, that is all. I believe in order to make an American art, a real American art, this will be necessary, this blending of the art of the Indian, the Mexican, the Eskimo, with the kind of urge which makes the machine, the invention in the material side of life, which is also an artistic urge, the same urge primarily but in a different form of expression ... it is about the marriage of the artistic expression of the North and of the South on this continent."
  • "In the center of my mural there is a large figure--on one side it has the neck of Quetzalcoatl elements from the Mexican Goddess of Earth and the God of Water. On the other side the figure is made of machinery, the machine which makes fenders and parts for airplanes. On one side of this figure there is the northern culture, on the other the southern art, the art of the emotions. People are working on this figure, artists of the North and South, Mexican and North American. I have also Fulton and Morse, artists who, as well as being painters, invented the tools for the industrial revolution, the telegraph and the steamboat, the means of transporting ideas and materials. From the South comes the plumed serpent, from the North the conveyor belt. So that is my idea which I am trying to express in this mural."
  • "I believe in order to make an American art, a real American art, this will be necessary, this blending of the art of the Indian, the Mexican, the Eskimo, with the kind of urge which makes the machine..."
  • "In both of the Americas I see a great many people who paint as nearly as possible like Picasso, like Matisse, like Cezanne -- not like themselves, like some European they admire. Picasso--he paints from his emotions, his own emotions only. If he thinks he copies some other style, the Greek perhaps, it is not Greek art that comes out, but something else, because of what Picasso puts into it himself. So then he assimilates what he has copied, and soon his expression is all Picasso."
  • "Here in the Fine Arts Building there is a man carving wood. This man was an engineer, an educated and sophisticated man. He lived with the Indians and then he became an artist, and his art for awhile was like Indian art--only not the same, but a great deal of Indian feeling had passed into him and it came out in his art. Now, what he carves is not Indian any more, but his own expression--and his own expression now has in it what he has felt, what he has learned from the Indians. That is right, that is the way art should be. First the assimilation and then the expression. Only why do the artists of this continent think that they should always assimilate the art of Europe? They should go to the other Americans for their enrichment, because if they copy Europe it will always be something they cannot feel because after all they are not Europeans."
  • "I do not think that the capacity for artistic expression has anything to do with race or heredity. Opportunity, merely. In this civilization we are more crowded, more hurried, and we are made to do from childhood many things we do not want to do, so that what is creative is killed, at least it is forcibly turned into other channels than the artistic because of the pressure against true artistic expression. So people of this civilization express their emotions in other ways than in art, and it is a very poor place for the artist to function. In the South or far North where there is not always the system saying do this, do that, there it is easy for them to make art because they do not know that they are artists and that art is something apart from life, and that to make it one must be either a genius or crazy. They make it because they love the animals, they hunt them for food, they kill them, their emotions are bound up in the animals --and so they put this emotion into these little carvings. They have not had their emotions squeezed out of them and so they can function as artists."

Source: Dorothy Puccinelli's interview with Diego Rivera, San Francisco, 1940.