Habits of Mind

  • Understand Bias
  • Observe Details
  • Communicate

Bato con Sunglasses (Science)

Discussion through works of art encourages 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

  • Communicate valid conclusions through collaborative discussions
  • Compare art observation to the Scientific Method



Students would do some thinking independently and then they could commit to their thinking in a group setting, allowing students to feel comfortable with the activity and would participate.

Bell Ringer:

  • Observe work of art by scanning it from top to bottom and left to right, recording details that stand out as particularly intriguing or noteworthy. Describe the work of art.
  • Create areas for two lines.  One line will be for “affirmative responses” and the other line will be for “negative responses” when the Bell Ringer begins.
  • Teacher asks the following questions. Students respond by moving to the area for “YES” response or “NO” response. After the students choose their response, ask questions that prompt students to justify their answer, through further analysis and interpretation.
    • I believe the person depicted is a man.
    • I believe the person shown is a person of color.  
    • I believe the person shown is happy.
    • I believe the person shown is outside.
    • I believe the person shown would speak to me if I walked up.
    • I believe this person lives in an urban environment.
  • Follow this activity with the Conversation Starters on lta.mfah.org for further investigation.
  • How does the process of this activity run parallel with the scientific method?

  • What do you notice about the colors in this painting? How would the image change if the artist used more naturalistic colors?
  • Notice the composition. Would the impact of the image change if the figure was larger? Smaller?

  • Consider the mood of the painting. How might the artist’s color choices contribute to this feeling?
  • What associations might one have with the color red? Yellow? Green? How do these associations contribute to a feeling of intensity within the work? 

Students often struggle with having differing opinions form their peers. This discussion of this work of art offers an opportunity to debate and share differing opinions and interpretations since the work of art is fairly ambiguous in nature. The facts and data can offer an aesthetic analysis, however a definitive “answer” is less clear. 

Cesar A. Martinez’s Bato con Sunglasses presents a vividly hued portrait against a contrasting, equally rich background. The figure sits in the bottom half of the square canvas with the background dominating a large portion of the composition.  The intense, warm red color-block extends upward until interrupted by a band of russet red at the very top. Martinez’s choppy, swirling brushstrokes utilized for the background create a heavily textured surface around the central figure. Rendered with varying shades of bright yellow, lime green, and an inky blue-black, the figure sits in stark contrast with the surrounding field of red. A green outline serves as a barrier between foreground and background. Seen from the shoulders up in bust-length fashion, the male figure faces the viewer with shoulders square. Martinez highlighted the man’s face with lemon yellow and used varying shades of green to form subtle shadows. The figure holds a confident expression with his eyes gazing out from behind dark-tinted sunglasses. The deep shadow found in the sunglasses, slicked back hair, and flannel shirt create a visual rhythm leading the viewer’s eye around the figure. The high-contrast shading in the face suggests a strong light source directly overhead. There are few indications to the figure’s identity.    


The captivated quality of Bato con Sunglasses is by design: “The operative word has always been ‘effectiveness.’ I'm interested in effectiveness … sometimes people have made these wonderful comments about how stunning the work is, and I said, ‘I planned it that way.’ If it dazzles you, it's because I made it dazzle.” [1] This statement from the artist in an interview reflects the confidence and intention that can be observed in the painting.


This striking work is one of many in the Batos series created by one of the most important living Chicano artists, Cesar A. Martinez.  Born in Laredo, Texas, Martinez enjoyed visiting family often in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and this cross-cultural interaction is reflected in his work. Martínez attended Laredo Junior College and earned a BS degree in art education from Texas A&M University, Kingsville.[2]

In this series titled “Bato,” meaning “guy” or “dude” in Chicano slang, Martinez reveals how he developed his visual language:

“Probably the most effective images that I have come up with have been from recollections that I have reconstructed not exactly as I saw them, because it wouldn't work, but I would kind of like merge characters, make composites, sort of like [how] a writer comes up with a character that is based on real people, only this was a visual thing. And that is how it developed. Very few of the work from that series is actually real likenesses of real people, but it's the essence of real people. And I was also very consciously … trying to come up with characters that were very specific, but at the same time also very universal to the Chicano experience.”

Thus, Bato con Sunglasses can be seen as a distillation of likenesses rather than a specific portrait. In addition to the main inspiration found in his Chicano culture, Martinez was deeply impacted by the work of photographer Richard Avedon, with the stark composition of the artist’s images suggesting "the individual's unique characteristics [and his] loneliness in the world.[3]" Similarly, Martinez was influenced by color field painting, a style of abstract painting that seeks to center color as subject, as well as Alberto Giacometti, with his use of heavy texture in his sculptures.[4] We can see these influences referenced in the dominant, textural red background that isolates the figure, the band of russet red at the top of the image, along with the vibrant coloration used to render the man. Here, the colors and the sculptural rendering of the figure become the focus. While this is not a particular portrait, Martinez is presenting, as he says, a character that is very specific but at the same time universal to the Chicano experience.


[1] Jacinto Quirarte, "An Interview with César A. Martínez,"1997, at ArtPace, A Foundation for Contemporary Art, San Antonio, Archives of American Art. http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/oralhistories/transcripts/martin97.htm

[2] Quirarte, "An Interview.”

[3] Quirarte, “An Interview.”

[4] Jacinto Quirarte, "Foreword," in "César A. Martínez: A Dual Heritage, 6

The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.

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All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider