Is there any meaning in grouping art by ethnicity?

The term Latino Art or, as we see used today Latinx to avoid a gender connotation, is used to cover an influence in both high culture and pop culture, meaning that it affects literature and fine art at one end all the way through music, folk art and dance.

There is a genre of music which is immediately identifiable as Latino. It takes only a few beats for us to know without thinking;its rhythms suggesting hot countries, and fabulous dancing. But in this sense, the word is not necessarily used in an ethnic sense, rather as a categorization. If it had another name like Jazz or Rap it would categorize just the same. It just happens that the word used has another meaning when used in another sense.

If we explore that idea in terms of fine art then the word begins to lose its relevance. The painter Fernando Botero has a distinct and style. His small featured faces painted into over-rounded bodies, the short, fat fingers of his hands, the generosity of all his figures, and his always rounded edges are immediately identifiable as his work.

The work of Carlos Almaraz is also very identifiable as his. In some ways Almaraz is harder to pin a style on; his large sweeps across the canvas, his use of color are all hallmarks of his. Both artists would be considered Latino Artists – but both or neither could be considered as representative of a genre. In this sense to categorize ethnically could be seen as limiting in an artistic sense, or if that seems too harsh it could be seen as a meaningless qualifier.

The argument is their art resists qualification based only on ethnicity. It is both bigger and smaller than that at the same time. We speak of renaissance painters as a way of putting them in a time, we speak of modernist or we assign an ism to a style to categorize it, what we tend not to do is give it an ethnic epithet. To go back to Botero or Almaraz if they were to paint in the style of Seurat, they would be pointillists and not Latino

When art becomes mainstream

The above argument works very well when art becomes mainstream. Where it doesn’t work so well is when the community trying to create it is a minority community and is in some ways being side-lined ethnically. In this case to deny someone qualification ethnically is racist and to be resisted.

At this point, the Latinx percentage of the American population is sufficiently large and the culture sufficiently entrenched that it is mainstream, and so it is legitimate to ask “is this not just art, not necessarily Latino art?’

In the US at this time, the argument is germane. If we need to use the term to get recognition and acceptance then it is worth the categorization but it behooves us to pay attention to the art for its own inherent value, and acknowledge its roots wherever they come from.