When George Kubler says that so few “native art motifs” persisted beyond the conquest that it is more correct to speak of an extinction than a survival, he is signalling his own “realist” approach to the question. He implies that those modern writers who speak of survival are presenting the effects of the conquest in an excessively positive light.1 Succumbing to wishful thinking, they too eagerly attribute perseverance, resourcefulness, and adaptive ingenuity to the Mesoamerican peoples. He was thinking no doubt of Anita Brenner—later in the same essay, speaking of “false and imaginary survivals” of Maya forms, he disparages those who everywhere see “idols behind altars” (21/69)—but also of more orthodox academic scholars like Alfred Neumeyer and John McAndrew. Kubler implies that such observers overrate the significance of the formal survivals. There is no way to spin the...

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