Representational Realism and Abstractionism
Two Approaches to Chicano Art
Chicano art has been described as a canon of representation distinct from mainstream American art. After all, Chicano artists often represent different subjects than mainstream artists, especially those artists who were active during teh Chicano civil rights movement. But how distinct are their strategies of representation from those of the mainstream? TomaÌs Ybarra-Frausto, among others, takes a representationally realist approach in presuming that one of the distinguishing features of Chicano art is the verisimlar representation of the experiences of Chicanos. In this paper I argue that Chicano art can also be described as critiquing the contingent nature of social relations, such as holding a collective identity as Chicano, by drawing attention to the necessarily arbitrary and distinct nature of representation, just as mainstream abstract art does. I term this position representational abstractionism. First, I argue through a reading of Ybarra-Frausto's essay "Rasquache: A Chicano Aesthetic Sensibility" that his nominally descriptive account in fact prescribes a representationally realist aesthetic to Chicano art. Then, I develop a reading of rauÌlrsalinas' poem "Un Trip through the Mind Jail" that demonstrates how the search for a collective identity as a Chicano would be better thought along representionally abstractionist lines. This framing of Chicano identity as a contingent product of representation, I conclude, enables a different aesthetic politics, namely it renders the politics of authenticity incoherent.