Essay: To what extent is it correct to denounce the creation of Diego Rivera’s 1932 painting Man at the Crossroads?

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  • To what extent is it correct to denounce the creation of Diego Rivera’s 1932 painting Man at the Crossroads?
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Some of the most recognizable influences in the Earth’s history, include works in the arts. The arts allow a person to express their creativity awaiting to burst out of the individual’s mind. Art can be found through multiple branches including expression through paintings, music, works of literature, and routines of dance. With the creation of paintings, murals, et cetera, the arts began declining after the eighteenth century and thus, caused few to express their emotions through their creations. One exception to this decline was a prominent artist by the name of Diego Rivera. Being a twentieth century artist, Diego Rivera was pressured by many worldly influences, most exceptionally including the outbreak of communism in Mexico. Diego Rivera would hint communistic ideals in many of his paintings, and this would cause the controversy behind the astute artist. One painting in particular labeled Man at the Crossroads, would be challenged for its representation of communism. This painting would be demolished in 1934 and leave many to wonder upon the infringement of rights involving the freedom of expression. This thus creates the main question of this paper:

To what extent is it correct to denounce the creation of Diego Rivera’s 1932 painting Man at the Crossroads?

While many argue that removing the painting was incorrect for not allowing the artist to express his emotions toward one particular subject, many argue against this stating that the demolition of the painting was correct due to preventing the appearance of glory in a communistic society. The population’s choice on whether or not the painting’s removal was correct, was as well influenced by many other political factors, such as the upbringing of the Red Scare. To Diego Rivera, one of his greatest pieces would be utterly destroyed and lead him to create a replica mural known as Man, Controller of the Universe. This paper will assess all perspectives present in the argument.


In 1866 at Guanajuato, Mexico, the affluential Diego Rivera was born. Diego Rivera had moved to Mexico City a few years after his birth and this allowed him to begin his journey as an artist. At the age of twelve, Diego Rivera was admitted to the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts. By 1905, Diego Rivera had graduated from the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts and continued his destiny. One year later, he had over twenty-four astounding paintings presented at the San Carlos Academy Art Show and by 1907, Diego Rivera traveled to Europe to study upon the arts and gain a more confided strategy to his artistic pieces. He would then move to Paris to learn upon more and new artistic effects and works, as well as enter in an art exhibition in 1910 with six of his paintings presented. By 1913, he had set his routes upon cubism artwork and followed the footpath that he had created for himself in the art world. Diego Rivera continued to make his extravagant pieces and loved to portray the struggling working class. His pieces of art would not only appeal to the working class, but as well as to other artists and especially one American president by the name of Theodore Roosevelt. Diego Rivera’s masterpieces would help inspire and allow for the creation of the Federal Arts Project (established by President Roosevelt) that employed all artists to paint casual scenes on their nearby city’s buildings. With all the successes and failures in Diego Rivera’s life, one painting would seal the deal. This painting was known as the Man at the Crossroads.


Begun in 1932, Man at the Crossroads would become one of Diego Rivera’s most controversial paintings ever created. A well renown group in New York known as the Rockefellers, had asked Rivera to paint a mural upon the beloved Rockefeller Center. The theme that he was given to paint was identified as a “Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future.” Rivera was to be payed approximately $21,000 and this was to be paid by the Todd-Robertson-Todd Engineering Committee. There as well consisted of two other paintings that would connect at the shoulders of the main Man at the Crossroads painting. The other two paintings would become known as the The Frontier of Ethical Evolution and The Frontier of Material Development. These paintings were meant to display socialism and capitalism. The paintings consisted of many aspects of traditional viewpoints, but as well incorporated communistic ideals. This led to many critiques analyzing the creation in full depth and by 1934 with much controversy, the magnificent pieces of artwork were shielded from the eyes of every viewer. Weeks later, the mural was ordered to be chiseled off the wall.


The mural Man at the Crossroads was created with various acrylic paints, brushes and as a canvas, the wall of the Rockefellers. In the painting there are multiple aspects of scientific cultures and social cultures depicted. Throughout analysis of the painting, there are many aspects that can be viewed in many ways. Yet, this analysis focuses more on the points that every analytical perspective agrees upon. Driven in the center of the painting was a workman controlling the machinery. Since many wars were fought and modernization became a demand in the twentieth century, industrialization became key to most nations. Thus, the workman represents the strength and power within the unified nation. In the background of the workman displays a grand fist emerging through the air and holding an orb. This orb would be a symbol to the division of cells in biological processes, as well as the recombination of atoms in chemical processes. The reason for this peculiar representation was to show a portrayal of life, as it is essential for a human to undergo mitosis (division of cells) before birth. We as well need to recombine atoms so that our DNA’s are solely particular and unique to one sole person through gene expression. In the center of the mural as well exhibited four elongated, ovular shapes that had gone corner to corner of the mural. These four elongated, ovular shapes depicted light sources that were created by the giant lenses on the wings of the mural. These light sources could be interpreted multiple ways depending on the viewer’s interpretation (later discussed). With the recent discovery of the telescope and microscope (at the time), there was as well a display of different scientific forces that showed exploding suns and forms of cells. The forms of cells could as well represent life, whereas an exploding sun could represent fall, decline or even death. Thus, displaying a juxtaposition in ideas between life and death. In the background of the arcs as well show the modern social life at that time period. What seems to be identified as a wealthy woman, can be seen playing cards and smoking towards the left of the mural. On top of the high-class women, displayed soldiers and machines of war. On the right of the mural, displayed Lenin holding hands with a group of workers that seem of different races. This would be a key point of communism, as communism had the concept of helping all equally within, especially the middle-class worker. Again, this middle-class worker was essential for all as they contained jobs vital for modernization and especially industrialization. On top of Lenin holding hands with the common worker, displayed red flags. These red flags would be key indicators of communism and the Russian May Day Rally. The Russian May Day Rally was celebrated on May 1st as a symbol of International Workers’ Day. The celebration was parted by grand parades in Russian cities, and was as well used as a tactic to protest any faults of the worker’s rights. In the background of the lenses on the wings of the mural, were humongous statues and what seems as people analyzing and critiquing the entirety of the painting, along with its positivity’s and defects. The statue on the left displayed an angry Jupiter with a hand struck off by a lightning bolt that he had caught. Jupiter, also referred to as Zeus, was the king of the gods in Roman mythology, who was as well the god of the sky and the thunder. The statue on the right displayed a Ceaser sitting upon his throne and headless. The headless Ceaser represented a Roman statesman and General known by the name of Pompey, who had opposed the orders of his leader, Julius Ceaser, and thus caused his beheading. In the entirety of the mural and due to the painting behind destroyed before the completion of the final completion, the bottom part of the painting was never finalized. The mural was originally meant to depict natural resources growing with varieties of plants coming from their roots. The soil would as well openly display the bottom roots of the plants and anything underneath the roots. This could be used to show life growing or life declining, depending on the perspective of the person, which will be later discussed through multiple individuals.


While creating the painting, Diego Rivera envisioned a new hope and wanted to include many aspects of his own that he sought as fair and just. With the display of the red flags alongside communism and the Russian May Day rally, Rivera sought to represent different argumentative visions and ideas that related to the social aspect. The red flags hint towards this aggression of communism, and even with usage of the color red on the flags, represents aggression and strength. As acknowledged earlier, the Russian May Day rally showed the strength of the middle class and its grand importance throughout not only Russia, but as well as for the world of modernization. Rivera wanted to portray the rich being stalked and alerted by the many unemployed people as the war rushes on. This showed how unfair it was for there to be class subdivisions. Many had more than needed and others had little to nothing, especially when it came to necessities and desires. This again ties to the idea of communism as communism allows all to be on the same playing field so that these arguments and sly faces of class subdivision between wealth and poor do not occur. He also wanted to display a utopia with socialist ideas that was created by Lenin. These socialist ideas would include placing everyone on a similar playing field so that no one was at an advantage or disadvantage , by receiving equal pay, aide and other requirements. Socialism did have its ties within communism and Lenin definitely had a say in communism, which as well shows how dependent Diego Rivera was on the concept of communism, especially found in this particular mural. Going beyond what was determined before with the statue on the right displaying a headless Ceaser, Rivera wanted to represent any concept of superstition, such as the end of republican and/ or democratic side, or even the end of communistic ideals and/ or socialist societies. This headless Ceaser would also represent events occurring for no particular reason to the concept of scientific knowledge presented in nature. This idea of unknowingly having events occur was shown through Pompey who Rivera believed was beheaded for an unreasonable act. This concept within nature allowed Rivera to express his life ideals and an area of science that was quite vital to many of his provoked beliefs. The display of liberated workers overthrowing the present authoritarian rule, was expressed so that he could create a vision of organizing many people from many areas to inhibit the ideas of communism/ socialism their own countries. This could as well give a glorified vision of revolting and standing up to a countries certain belief based upon their government. This would turn to be Diego River’s grand viewpoint on the creation of his piece.



While the painting was being created, many people questioned the mural’s motives, especially in concerns of the government. To the government, this painting was seen as an act of aggression and needed to be condemned and destroyed immediately. The reason for this was that it showed and glorified the concepts of communism and to any working government such as the United States’ democracy, it placed this idea that anyone could revolt against a government type and this led to possible endangerment within the United States. The United States government did not want anyone such as the higher and lower classmen to revolt for a communistic ideal society. In their beliefs with this painting, it was possible to obtain the aura that communism was the way to go and ideal for any society to make the society indefinitely better. It especially appealed to the lower class as they would no longer be impoverished anymore; and since the lower class contained the majority of the people, it was not hard to convince all, expect the upper classmen. To make matters worse, the painting was located in Rockefeller Center which is at the heart of New York City and quite a grand tourist site for the world. With New York City uprising and becoming the world’s main trading and visiting center, to the government, this painting would display incorrect morals within the United States and could cause foreign tourists to contemplate this idea of communism just by merely looking at the mural. The United States government did not want to make it seem as if they were accepting to the ideas behind socialism in a Utopian and communistic society. With this communistic painting posing as a threat, the government sought its destruction within a two weeks’ notice and led to much controversy, yet a different viewpoint from politics.


In talks of the population perspective, there were many mixed reviews upon the painting itself. Many artists, art reformers and lovers sought approval and awe for the painting and even protested for the painting to be assured safe and well kept. Two artists known as Ralph Stackpole and Bernard Zakheim had protested to keep the mural intact and have it moved elsewhere rather than destroyed. These two artists as well played a major role in painting murals in San Francisco after the implementation of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was a part of the American New Deal and had employed millions to produce public works projects. Artists would as well hint at the destruction of the Man at the Crossroads by placing topic words in their headlines of the art newspapers to publicly address the situation, such as ‘Intricate Communistic Painting Destroyed’. On the other half of the spectrum of the population, many people as well denounced the painting and favored the removal of the painting. One example of this was on April 24th, 1933, where the New York World-Telegram newspaper had published an article that fought against the mural. The New York World-Telegram newspaper viewed the mural as anti-capitalist propaganda. Meaning that since the painting portrayed many communistic ideals, those communistic ideals went against capitalist views of allowing people to prosper from their gross payment and allow divisions between society. The New York World-Telegram as well sought Rivera’s ideals as propaganda due to displaying the bright and supposedly correct side of communism. While this can be considered propaganda, there were people out there who viewed communism as such and saw solely the bright side behind communism. To those who view the frequent failures of communism, communism seems outright incorrect and this thus creating some of the propaganda. These ideas in general showed the mixed perspectives of the mural upon the general population.



With the removal of the magnificent mural in 1934, many began questioning and arguing if rights were infringed upon destroying the art piece. Many sought the right to freedom of expression being taken away from Diego Rivera and this prompted up many questions and ideas. In a full analysis, it is best to start with the basics of the situation and climb the latter from there. The right to freedom of expression states that every individual person is able to hold their opinions without interference and as well be able to look for and receive information and ideas through any media, regardless of the topic. In simplicity, Diego Rivera had created a painting with communistic ideals on the wall of the Rockefeller Center and later had it destroyed by the Todd-Robertson-Todd Engineering Committee before the painting was even completed. The painting was originally supposed to portray ideals of capitalism and socialism given the theme of “Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future.” In reality, Rivera had completed the assigned theme but he had not stuck with portraying capitalism and socialism and rather portrayed minuscule amounts of socialism, along with mainly communism. This is where justification is given to the removal of the painting since the painting had not followed the authorized requirements. Although, it was as well argued that the painting could have been moved to a different location to satisfy those who wanted to view the cubism and expressionism. While this may justify the removal of the painting as unjust and unconstitutional, the painting was paid by the Todd-Robertson-Todd Engineering Committee and technically since it is a paid job, they have the right to do as they please with the product that they have paid for, hence the creation of the painting. This although brings more question as to if owning something, means we have the rights to do whatever we want with it afterwards? Many view the removal as a loss to freedom of expression, but beside the point of not wanting anything to pertain to communism, the owners are allowed to move the painting, edit the painting afterwards or as they had done so, destroy the painting.



With all this being said, as a definite end result, the painting was destroyed for its communistic ideals. For Diego Rivera, everything he interpreted seemed correct and fair to him as he solely was giving his artistic approach to the painting. To the political standpoint and government of the United States, Diego Rivera was trying to solely promote communism and give a bad representation to the people and visitors of the United States to exert a glorified communistic society. This would not be acceptable for the government for a variety of reasons. For the general population (for those who viewed the painting), the reviews remained mixed as some believed Rivera had the right to display his beliefs due to a freedom of speech and press, whereas others believed Rivera had no right to create that painting as it could potentially manifest harm to those who viewed it both emotional and physical. The final results of the painting will never be determined of whether it was right or wrong to destroy the painting, as the argument would go on forever with supportive facts from different sides. Yet looking at this scenario from a general perspective, it was morally incorrect to destroy the painting as Rivera was able to show his artistic abilities and his usage of paints and foreground for his works. While looking at a government perspective it was definitely morally correct to destroy the painting as communism would not be an acceptable view it openly and happily portrays as it could injure governments and lead to problems that are not required. In the end, it is all open to the viewer to interpret the painting and decide whether they believe the grand painting, Man at the Crossroads, was correct to denounce its creation.

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