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¿El Arte en Ecuador? ¡Toda un Historia!

Usually when I tell people what I study, I get a similar reaction: wide eyes and inquisitive eyebrows. I study Art History. Art History? What´s that about? How does that work after you graduate? What types of jobs can you get with a degree on Art History? These are the types of questions I usually get from people back in my home university in Ecuador. Although I go to the only Liberal Arts university in Ecuador, not many people know much about Art History. 

It is common to hear about students who major either in Art or in History. But, according to my own experience Art History is still a relatively new career in Ecuador unfortunately, art education in Ecuador has never been considered a priority. In fact, only private schools and universities offer a broader Liberal Arts education focusing on art, music and literature. In contrast, Science, Math, Economics, Law, Business and Marketing seem to be the top major careers that Ecuadorian students seek for when they get into college. Art-related careers have been usually considered superfluous, unnecessary, hobbies, unproductive, unprofitable, unfruitful. In spite of the negative reactions, I have the feeling that views on art are changing. By the time I was a senior in high school, all of us had to take a basic Art History and a Music Appreciaton class in order to graduate. Although I had taken art and music theory classes in high school before, I had never taken any Art History courses! I always liked art and thought I wanted to do a major in art when I was a senior. But after I took the Art History course, my curiosity about art expanded even more. I felt excited about not only making art but actually getting into the roots of why people make art, ever since we have existed in this planet.

Back at home, I know more and more people in my university who are actually majoring in Art History. I say this not only because I study Art History but also because Ecuador itself has an excruciatingly broad artistic legacy. Due to our colonial history, downtown Quito (the capital city) is filled with by Baroque churches where the Spanish and Indigenous art and cultures mix. This is called “sincretismo”. It is fascinating to read about and actually visit the churches and other historical buildings where sincretismo is evident. Religious sculptures play a big role on this as well. The vivid images of suffering Christ and Virgin Mary were used by the Spaniards to manipulate the Indigenous population into the Catholic fate. Apart from colonial art in Ecuador, there are many modern and contemporary artists. My country has a noticeably significant artistic production. In spite of the abandoned production, a career in Art History is not that common. However, recent efforts from government institutions are modifying the tradition and focus on education and understanding the value of learning our identity through art.

Roof section of La Compañía Church, downtown Quito

Colonial sculptures from Quito

Work by Camilo Egas

Work by Camilo Egas

Work by Oswaldo Guayasamín

Work by Oswaldo Viteri

Self Portrait of Luigi Stornaiolo

Work by Jaime Zapata

Many of the Art History professors at my home university have encouraged us, Art History students, to travel abroad for graduate studies and for jobs as well. Hopefully, if the value of Art History is understood in Ecuador as a means to consolidate our national identity, careers in Art History will be less rare. I do think art is already a way for us to get to know ourselves and our feelings. Moreover, I think Art History is a tool that can help people understand not only themselves, but each other, the context of their attitudes and expressions and ways of thinking as a group, or as a country. Maybe, if we begin by trying to understand our own actions through understanding our legacy, we will embrace, and hopefully respect our own diversity within the same country.

*All the images in this document come from the Internet.

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