Diego Rivera Essay - Critical Context

James D. Cockcroft

Critical Context

Diego Rivera is an excellent place to begin an exploration of the life and many artistic contributions of this great muralist. It is most suitable for art appreciation courses or for courses that delve into the psyches and social consciousness of great Hispanic individuals or of modern artists.

James Cockcroft portrays Diego Rivera, who is most often viewed solely as a stubborn, irreverent, and fanatical communist, as a thinking individual who developed a leftist sociopolitical viewpoint as a result of the political conditions existing in Mexico during his formative years. In addition, it becomes evident that Rivera both analyzed his own political ideology and was not fanatically adherent to communism. Rather, it seems likely that he saw communism as a way for the common people, whom he portrays so poignantly, to seek human dignity.

Diego Rivera provides a good sampling of black-and-white and color plates of the artist’s works, which makes clear his talent and his efforts to condemn social injustice and celebrate the inherent greatness of the common people. These aspects of the text make it quite useful for young people as a primer for social consciousness and a yardstick for great twentieth century art. Another aspect of the book that makes it useful for study by young readers is the view that it gives of Mexico’s political climate during Rivera’s lifetime; Cockcroft describes the actions of Mexican public officials, including several presidents, and important historical events in that country.

Diego Rivera also fleshes out the entire life of the artist, in contrast to the partial coverage in Florence Arquin’s Diego Rivera: Shaping of an Artist, 1889-1921 (1971). Moreover, it places all of his art in context in comparison to specialized texts such as Diego Rivera: Science and Creativity in the Detroit Murals (1986), by Dorothy McMeekin. These other books do provide more details about specific aspects of Rivera’s life and work, as do the many references in Cockcroft’s section on further readings.