A Question of Color, 1989
Luis Cruz Azaceta, American, born Cuba, 1942
Acrylic on unstretched canvas
120 × 144 in. (304.8 × 365.8 cm)
Museum purchase funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Próspero Foundation in honor of Dr. Peter C. Marzio and the exhibition "Hispanic Art in the United States: Thirty Contemporary Painters and Sculptors"
Habits of Mind
- OBSERVE DETAILS Observe details / time to think and reflect
- COMMUNICATE Verbalize ideas, thoughts, feelings / ask provocative questions / ask for support
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
• Study works of art as expressing an artist’s heritage.
• Use graphic organizers to prepare ideas for writing.
• Write plays and act them out with puppets.
Connecting to the Work of Art
This painting presents an area of white and an area of black. A fence-like band of crossed lines divides the composition into two distinct areas and suggests the theme of the work. The artist has written:
At the time I painted A Question of Color I was exploring the idea of fences as boundaries, symbols of power, human confinements, territorial spaces, and psychological limitations. . . .the painting deals with racism and I’m certain a lot of racial turmoil and incidents in N.Y.C. were in the back of my mind during this time.¹
Luis Cruz Azaceta strips his composition down to three simple elements – the two areas of color and the crossed lines dividing them. He has stated:
In my new work I’ve been involved in condensing ideas to [their] essence[s], depicting them with an economy of means with the hope that the results will be powerful and straightforward.
The artist has subtly modulated the white area through changes in tone and thick strokes of paint. Using layers of acrylic paint, the arrangement relies on contrasts of color, shape, and line to deliver its message. A Question of Color demonstrates Azaceta’s ability to combine abstract principles with social issues such as racism.
Luis Cruz Azaceta was born in Cuba in 1942. He graduated from high school during the Cuban revolution, had difficulty finding a job, and ended up as a clerk in a drug store. Although initially sympathetic to the new government, he eventually became disillusioned and, in 1960, at the age of eighteen, received a visa to settle in the United States. His parents and sisters followed several years later.
Azaceta settled with relatives in New Jersey. He worked in a factory, but was fired for unionizing factory employees. One day in late 1963, he wandered into an art-supply store. “I became an artist out of boredom,” he later said. Azaceta worked in a factory for three years while taking life-drawing classes at night. In 1966 he enrolled in art school full time, working as a library clerk at night. By the mid-1970s, Azaceta felt he had developed his own style, based on cartoon-like images. He has painted work with tormented figures to show brutality and call for compassion, saying, “I want to present the victim – that is always my theme.”²
1. All quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from a letter from Luis Cruz Azaceta to Alison de Lima Greene, curator of twentieth-century art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, November 9, 1990.
2. John Beardsley and Jane Livingston, Hispanic Art in the United States: Thirty Contemporary Painters and Sculptors (Houston, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1987), pp. 146-48.
• Analyze the works of art. List the people, places, colors, lines, shapes, textures, etc. portrayed.
• Discuss how the artists have organized their compositions. Are they balanced or symmetrical? Is there a single focus? How does the artist draw attention to that focus? How does each artist bring variety and unity to this composition?
• Teach different methods of using graphic organizers (e.g., webs) to arrange ideas for descriptive writing.
• As a group, web the important objects and details in one of the works of art, then write descriptive paragraphs based on the webs.
• Have students develop a visual organizer based on the paintings they created in the art lesson. Then work in groups to write plays that dramatize the different cultural groups in the class.
• Create sack puppets for the characters in the plays (see Art Lesson: Writing Plays - Stuffed-Sack Puppets) and present the plays, using the puppets.
Resources Available to Order
The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.
The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.