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

  • SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications

Writing a Family History

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.

Curriculum Objectives

•  Explain ways in which art tells about the past and its leaders such as William Penn.

•  Identify primary and secondary sources of historical information.

•  Research and write their own family history.




Social Studies



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.


•  Review each work of art and what it expresses about the experience and background of each artist.

•  Discuss ways in which works of art are important in learning about history.  How is each of these works effective in expressing the artist’s idea about his heritage?

•  Think about museums as containing works from diverse cultures.  Discuss the importance of museums in preserving and sharing objects from many cultures.


•  Discuss primary sources and secondary sources of historical information.  List examples of each.  Discuss whether works of art are primary or secondary sources.

•  Use the information gathered for the art lesson to write family or cultural histories represented in works of art.  Encourage students to make connections between family history and world and national events (for example, families relocating because of war or economic hardship).

•  Have students list the sources they used to write their histories and identify each as primary or secondary.

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:

Mercantil Commercebank

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.