Mexico Arts and Literature

Mexico Arts and Literature


The Spanish conquest of Mexico was described by various chroniclers, notably Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a soldier at Cortés, and the priests Bartolomé de Las Casas, the Native American defender, and Bernardino de Sahagún, translator and writer of Native American literature. Nana Juana Inés de la Cruz, best known for his Baroque poetry, was the foremost literary innovator in Mexico during colonial times. The novel, which was fought by the Spanish Inquisition, got an early representative in Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora’s novel about Alonso Ramírez in 1690, but “El periquillo sarniento” (“The Scabby Parrot”, 1816) by JJ Fernández de Lizardi is considered the first Mexican – and Latin American – the novel. In both, the influence of the Spanish girl novel is evident.

Mexico Population Pyramid

  • Countryaah: Population and demographics of Mexico, including population pyramid, density map, projection, data, and distribution.

In poetry, Spanish American modernism had some of its main representatives in Mexico: Amado Nervo, Salvador Díaz Mirón, Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera and Ramón López Velarde.

The Mexican Revolution, beginning in 1910, became the subject of a long line of narrators, primarily Mariano Azuela but also Martín Luis Guzmán, José López Portillo y Rojas, Gregorio López y Fuentes, José Mancisidor, Mauricio Magdaleno and José Revueltas. The works eventually came to be enriched with a revolution that derailed and solidified. In a series of novels, Agustín Yáñez has depicted life in the Mexican province before, during and after the revolution.

Mexican poetry, which exhibited great variety and breadth during the 20th century, took strong impressions of European avant-garde after World War I. This was especially true of the group that came together around the magazine Contemporáneos (1928–31) with Carlos Pellicer, José Gorostiza and Xavier Villaurrutia as the main names. A later group emerged around the magazine Taller (1938–41) with Octavio Paz, Efraín Huerta and Neftalí Beltrán. It was distinguished by its social pathos and anti-fascist attitude. Of recent generations poets include Jaime Sabines, Jaime García Terrés, Rosario Castellanos, Marco Antonio Montes de Oca, Gabriel Zaid, José Emilio Pacheco and Homero Aridjis.

Mexico has played a prominent role in the development of modern Latin American prose, especially through Juan Rulfo and Carlos Fuentes. Despite its small production, Rulfo has been of outstanding importance for several generations of Latin American and Spanish writers. Equalist Juan José Arreola represents in his narrative art a fantasy world of a more intellectual kind. Carlos Fuentes is in his works in the midst of the discussion about the heritage and future of the Latin American world and the identity of the Mexican nation. He has an equality in the analysis of Mexican reality and myth he has in Fernando del Paso. Elena Garro addresses the individual’s inner problems, while Rosario Castellanos in autobiographical novels illuminates the vulnerable position of Native American cultures. Jorge Ibargüengoitia was a brutally ironic critic of Mexican society. In the 1960’s, a number of linguistically experimental writers appeared, notably Salvador Elizondo, Vicente Leñero, José Agustín, Gustavo Sáinz and Sergio Pitol. Elena Poniatowska has, in highly documentary works, based on the violence and massacres in Mexico in connection with the 1968. Olympic Games, in two novels, the poet Homero Aridjis dealt with the events of 1492 and Spain’s conquest of Mexico.

Several of Latin America’s foremost essays in the 20th century come from Mexico, primarily Alfonso Reyes and Octavio Paz, but also José Vasconcelos, Antonio Caso and the indigenous cultures Miguel León Portilla and Angel María Garibay.

Drama and theater

In the 16th century, the theater was used in the service of the Christian Church and was based on a mixture of European and Native American traditions. It was performed in Native American languages. Towards the end of the century, the didactic Jesuit drama was introduced in Latin and Spanish. At the same time, a worldly theater emerged for the ruling class but gradually also for the people. Fernán González de Eslava, born in Spain, gave a genuine expression of colonial Mexico in his works. Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, who lived in Spain for many years, is regarded as the foremost playwright of his time alongside Lope de Vega and Calderón. Juana Inés de la Cruz wrote both worldly drama and religious (autos).

In modern times, the 1928 Teatro Ulises founder was responsible for a radical renewal of the theater in Mexico. Its principal representatives were Xavier Villaurrutia and Salvador Novo, at the same time a writer and actor. The Teatro de Orientación, founded by Celestino Gorostiza, gained great importance for Mexican theater life through competitions, festivals and experimental groups. Gorostiza’s theater focused on the country’s social problems. Rodolfo Usigli, Mexico’s foremost contemporary playwright, has examined Mexican myths and national identity. Emilio Carballido, Sergio Magaña, Maruxa Vilalta, Eduardo García Máynez and Miguel Sabido have recently contributed to the vitality of the Mexican theater.


Mexico’s first film screening took place in 1896. The following year, Salvador Toscano Barragán (1872–1947) began recording journal films and also opened the first cinema in Mexico City.

The feature film had a hard time getting a foothold for a long time, although in 1898 Toscano Barragán made a film version of the drama “Don Juan Tenorio”. The first feature film became “El automóvil gris” (1919) directed by Enrique Rosas (1877-1920), and the 1920’s featured many popular melodramas. However, several popular stars went on exporting north, to Hollywood: Dolores Del Rio, Ramon Novarro and Lupe Vélez (1908–44).

The transition to the audio film also meant that even more actors during the period 1928–32 worked with Spanish-language versions of American films in Hollywood. The first sound movie, “Santa” by Antonio Moreno (1887-1967), came in 1931. Sergei Eisenstein’s Mexico recorded “Storm over Mexico” (1931-34) also inspired a number of future filmmakers, including Emilio Fernandez.

During the 1930’s, the Mexican film received a domestic boost with a series of success films, such as “La Mujer del Puerto” (1934) by Arcady Boytler (1895-1965), “All in One Rancho Grande” and “Vámonos con Pancho Villa”, both made in 1936 by Fernando de Fuentes (1894–1958) and “El Indio” (1939) by Armando Vargas de la Maza (1890–1941). The outbreak of World War II in 1939 also became the beginning of a golden age, when the country’s film exports dominated the cinema offering in Latin America, which lasted for thirty years.

The biggest movie star of the period was the Chaplin-inspired comedian Cantinflas (actually Fortino Mario Alfonso Moreno Reyes, called Mario Moreno, 1911–93), who also had a brief Hollywood career in the 1950’s and was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He broke through in 1939 in “Ahí está el detalle” directed by Juan Bustillo Oro (1904-89) and gained his greatest international fame with the Hollywood production “The Earth Around 80 Days” (1956). Among the female stars is Sara Garcia (1895-1980), known as “Mexico’s movie grandmother” for her many portraits of tough but lovable old aunts.

Director Emilio Fernández’s collaboration with photographer Gabriel Figueroas in films such as “Flor Silvestre” (1942) and “Maria Candelaria” (1944) – both starring Dolores Del Rio – and the John Steinbeck filming “Pearl” (1945). The Spanish Luis Buñuel became a leading name with a number of internationally acclaimed films, from “The Street Desperados” (1950) to “Simon the Pillar Saint” (1965).

A popular genre especially for the country during the 1950’s-1970’s was lucha libre, where free-throwers such as El Santo (really Rodolfo Guzman Huerta, 1917-83) and Demonio Azul / Blue Demon (really Alejandro Muñoz Moreno, 1922-2000) fought against all kinds dangers such as alien invasions, amazon women and vampires. In 1950, production was at its peak with 120 feature films, mainly distributed in Spanish-speaking countries.

During the 1960’s, the Mexican film industry, like others, weakened as a result of the rapidly growing middle class new consumption patterns. The rate of production gradually decreased to 34 films per year in 1991. Nevertheless, a number of internationally known names were introduced between 1960 and 1990, such as Arturo Ripstein (born 1943; “Tiempo de Morir”, 1965), Alejandro Jodorowsky (“El Topo”, 1970), Alfonso Arau (born 1932; “Calzonzin Inspector, 1974), Felipe Cazals (born 1937;” Canoa “, 1976) and Paul Leduc (born 1942;” Frida “, 1984).

In the 1990’s, a state film support was established that laid the foundation for Nueva Cine Mexicano, when a new generation presented itself with names such as Antonio Serrano (born 1955; “Sexo, pudor y lágrimas”, 1999), Alfonso Cuarón (born 1961; “Din mum too ”, 2001), Guillermo Del Toro (“ Cronos ”, 1992) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (“ Beloved Dogs ”, 2000). Several of them have continued their careers in the United States. Carlos Reygadas (born 1971), who has had success with “Post Tenebras Lux” (2012) which received the award for best director in Cannes.

Among Mexican actors with international reputation are Anthony Quinn, Salma Hayek and Gael Garcia Bernal. During the 2000’s, Mexico has produced an average of 65 feature films a year.


The conquistadors conquest of Mexico in the 16th century broke the independent development of the indigenous cultures which would still characterize the cultural patterns introduced by the Spanish into the area. In the 17th century, the Baroque became the dominant style. Visual art, mainly church art, was performed by both European and domestic artists. As in Europe, new antiquity became the leading style towards the end of the 18th century. The first Academy of Fine Arts in Latin America, the Academy of San Carlos, was founded in Mexico City in 1785. Even though Mexico became independent in the early 1800’s, architecture and visual arts were strongly influenced by European role models.

One of the first significant Mexican artists was Juan Cordero, who, after studying in Rome, made murals in Mexico. From the mid-19th century, several artists began to depict national motifs, for example. from the Aztec era. The Mexican landscape was portrayed by José María Velasco. The graphic artist José Guadalupe Posada, who became very important for the development of Mexican art, used popular motives to comment on the contemporary. Another artist of great importance was Gerardo Murillo. Around the turn of the century he propagated for a reevaluation of pre-Columbian cultures and adopted the name Dr. Atl (‘water’ in the language of the Aztecs).

The political and social changes that accompanied the Mexican Revolution (1910-20) enabled the emergence of Mexican muralism. José Vasconcelos, Minister of Education between 1921 and 1924, started an art educational program with murals in public buildings. Artists involved in this were Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, who subsequently became the most famous mural painters. Rivera and Siqueiros had been active in Europe and studied in depth the Renaissance frescoes in Italy. The first murals with motifs from Mexican folk life were painted in the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria (1922-24). The most important mural painting with Mexico’s history as a theme was performed by Rivera in Palacio Nacional (1930–35). Rivera portrayed both pre-Columbian society and the struggle of the masses in modern Mexico in a social-realist style that would inspire artists throughout Latin America. Others involved in the muralism were Ramón Alva de la Canal, Jean Charlot, Xavier Guerrero, Carlos Mérida, Roberto Montenegro and Juan O’Gorman.

Of the artists who did not belong to muralism, Rufino Tamayo was the most renowned. His works show influence from both pre-Columbian cultures and from European modernism. María Izquierdo, Frida Kahlo and Agustín Lazo showed interest in the fantastic and the surreal. Many of the artists of the next generation did not follow the tradition of muralism but created a new kind of figuration, e.g. Arnold Belkin, Pedro Coronel, Rafael Coronel, José Luis Cuevas, Alberto Gironella, Juan Soriano and Francisco Toledo. Other artists of the same generation created geometric art, such as Gunther Gerzso and Vicente Rojo.


For Mexico’s oldest architecture, see Ancient American Art and Architecture.

The first churches the Spaniards built after Mexico’s conquest had Gothic features. The early Gothic was replaced in the 16th century by the Renaissance. With the cathedrals of Jaén and Granada in Spain, cathedrals were built in Mexico City (1563–1667), Mérida (1563–98), Guadalajara (1570–1618) and Puebla (1575–1649). By the middle of the 17th century, the Baroque became the dominant style in Mexico. Polychrome decorations and polygonal shapes, as well as domes and towers, became important elements in the churches. Local variations occurred throughout the country, including in many of the cathedrals built in the north, e.g. in Aguascalientes (1704–38), Chihuahua (1726–41), and San Luis Potosí (1670–1720).

In the middle of the 18th century, Spanish architects introduced neoclassicalism, which, after the establishment of the Academy of Art in 1783, came to dominate Mexico’s architecture. In the 19th century, the style spread throughout Mexico and was used during the Porfirio Díaz regime in 1877–1911 in an effort to give Mexico City a European character. Around the turn of the century there was some influence from Art Nouveau.

After the revolution of 1910, internationally-embraced modernism began to emerge with architects such as José Villagrán García, Juan Legoretta, Enrique Yáñez and Enrique de la Mora. At the same time, inspired by colonial architecture, Luis Barragán, Rafael Urzúa and Ignacio Díaz Morales developed an independent regional architectural style in Guadalajara. Town planning was renewed in the 1940’s, partly under the direction of Hannes Meyer. The Spanish-born Felix Candela made an important contribution when he created a new method for building large hyperbolic roofs in reinforced concrete. Other important architects in Mexico are Augusto Álvarez, Teodoro González de León, Mario Pani, Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Abraham Zabludovsky and Adolfo Zeevaert.


Classical music

The earliest art musical activity (mainly European polyphony) was provided by missionaries from 1523; the first chaplain at the Cathedral in Mexico City took over in 1539. Italian opera dominated the music scene from the early 19th century, and the first conservatory was founded in 1825, renamed in 1877 to the Conservatorio Nacional de Música.

Among domestic operas, Aniceto Ortegas (1825-75) records “Guatimotzin” (1871) elements of Native American music. Among the composers of romantic salon music, Juventino Rosas (1868–94) is prominent, for example through the internationally known drum “Sobre las olas”.

The Revolution of 1910 was of great importance for the national-romantic currents, led by Manuel Ponce (1882-1948), who studied and used indigenous folk music. Carlos Chávez appears as the biggest name in national romance, while Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) is known for orchestral works such as “Sensemayá” and “Ocho por Radio”.

Later composers include Manuel Enríquez (1926-94), who worked with serialism and aleatory, as well as Mario Lavista (born 1943), who also uses electroacoustic and visual elements.

Folk music and popular music

In pre-Columbian cultures, bark trumpets, turtle shell scrapers, worm trumpets, teponaztli wear drum, flutes (for example tlapitzalli) and drums (for example, huehuetl) were found. The Spanish Renaissance and Baroque originate from the diatonic harp, violin and guitar related guitarrón, requinto, huapanguera, jarana and a particular kind of vihuela. A common type of ensemble is mariachi, consisting of harp, violin and vihuela, sometimes even trumpets. In Conjunto norteño, an ensemble that has become popular through, among others, texmex musician Flaco Jiménez (born 1939), mainly used guitar, accordion and bass.

Mexico has several dance music styles. The Mexican son (usually referred to as Jalisco) is characterized by the 3/4 and 6/8 rate switch. Chilena is close to the Chilean cueca style; in the related huapango, there is often falsette song. Other styles are jarana, zapateado and jarabe. Corrido is a narrative ballad in 2 or 3 beat with guitar accompaniment. The motifs are often dramatic events, heroic deeds and the revolution of 1910. Canción ranchera is a romantic type of song that can vary in tempo. Habanera and bolero are popular styles of Cuban origin.

With its proximity to the United States and the nature of musical melting pot, Mexico has for a century played a central role in the international spread of Latin American music.

During the great golden age of the 1930’s-50’s, Mexican tunes were launched in the United States and Europe (for example, “La Cucaracha”, “Cielito Lindo”, “Granada” and “Bésame Mucho”), and the mariachior orchestra was popularized, among other things, by the legendary group Mariachi Vargas (formed in 1897).

With his rock version of the folk song “La Bamba” (1958), Ritchie Valens (1941–59) became the forerunner of chicano rock, Mexican-American rock based on rhythm & blues.

Mexico’s first significant rock wave occurred around 1970 when many rock artists became involved in the cultural alternative movement La Onda and the rock festival Avándaro attracted mass audiences. At the same time, Carlos Santana and his group had their breakthrough, which was of great importance for the continued development of Latin rock. In the late 1970’s, the rock troubadour appeared Rockdrigo (1950–85), which was awarded legendary status. In the 1960’s-1970’s, however, rock was primarily an underground culture.

It was not until the late 1980’s, with the Caifanes group (formed in 1987), that Mexican rock began to reach a larger audience. At this time, the career of “rock queen” Alejandra Guzmán (born 1968) also began. During the 1990’s, Mexican rock gained international spread with groups such as Café Tacuba (formed 1989), Maldita Vecindad (formed 1985) and Maná (formed 1986), today one of the best-selling Spanish-speaking rock groups in the world. A controversial band is the rap group Molotov (formed in 1995). Stylistically, the rock scene is varied (punk, metal, hip-hop, electronica, etc.) and incorporates traditional Mexican or other Latin American styles.

Traditional styles are still very popular, often in modern vintage. The Norteño group Los Tigres del Norte (formed in 1968) has the status of superstars. A popular style in the countryside is grupera, which like Swedish dance band music is sprung from 1960’s pop influenced by traditional music. The Mexican-American style of tejano, or texmex, which is akin to norteño, mixed with country and rock, won large audiences through the iconic singer Selena (1971–95). So-called banda Rock Music, brass bands playing traditional music with elements of pop and cumbia, heard across the country. Despite the genre’s male dominance, its leading name is Jenni Rivera (1969–2012).

Romantic beauty song, as in ranchera and bolero, has a long tradition in Mexican culture, which is reflected in the repertoire and singing style of several of the internationally most popular vocal artists, such as Vicente Fernández (born 1940), José José (born 1948), Juan Gabriel (1950–2016), Marco Antonio Solís (born 1959), Luis Miguel (born 1970) and Alejandro Fernández (born 1971).

The mainstream pop also has female superstars with diva status, such as Ana Gabriel (born 1955), Gloria Trevi (born 1968), Thalía (born 1971) and Paulina Rubio (born 1971).


The Native American origin lives in certain ritual dances, which are performed in large groups, lines and open or closed rings. In the dances animals and gods are embodied, often with the help of masks. A strange ceremony is Los Voladores, which is performed in honor of the fire god.

In the 1600’s, the Spanish dances were introduced contradanza, fandango, malagueña, zapateado and zarabanda, which are preserved but in changed condition. They are almost exclusively bailes de pareja (pair dances), except for some that are bailes de montón (crowd dances) with men and women in two rows against each other. Many dances, e.g. huapango, contains zapateado, a strong rhythmic foot game. In son, text, music and choreography can imitate animals and human types.

Among Mexico’s dance ensembles are Compañía Nacional de Danza Clásica, Ballet Nacional de México (founded in 1949 by Guillermo Bravo) and Ballet Folklórico de México (founded in 1952 by Amalia Hernández).

Mexico Arts and Literature