Education and Culture
Argentina’s culture reflects many influences. The Argentine elite has always regarded Paris (France), rather than Madrid (the capital of Spain), as its second home, and French influence has always been particularly strong in the intellectual life of the country. During the 19th century French political and philosophical thought penetrated deeply into Argentine literature and thought. Italian and English influences have also been important in both cultural and economic life. However, the most prominent figure in the arts and heritage of Argentina is that of its native gaucho (cowboy).

* Zamba and Chacarera
* Music and Composers of Argentina
* Argentina Dance and Music

Although European ideas and culture remain the dominant factor in the evolution of the Argentine national identity, popular culture, particularly from the United States, has had a strong influence on Argentina since the 1960s. This influence has been felt in the areas of music, film, fashion, and food. The indigenous cultures also contribute, if only in a small way, to the national culture; indigenous peoples have had a significant influence on folk art.

Gaucho Folk Culture
The culture of Argentina today reveals very few non-European elements, unlike the strong Native American influence found in the culture of Mexico and the Andean countries of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. The basis for the economy and culture of colonial Argentina was not gold and slaves, since the Spaniards found no rich mines or advanced Indian civilizations upon their arrival. Instead, the source of Argentina’s wealth was mainly the immense herds of wild cattle and horses that roamed the Argentine pampas and the men who, sometimes pursued by the law, went from the cities to the pampas. These adventurers became the wild horsemen and folk singers known as gauchos.

Home-grown Argentine culture began with the gaucho. With an easily available food supply and with horses and hides for trade, the gauchos lived an isolated and independent life along the perimeter of civilization, improvising poems and songs about their deeds. They often accompanied their songs on the guitar. The gaucho folk culture flourished between 1750 and 1850 and ended with the fencing off of the Pampas. However, the gaucho remained a source of inspiration for Argentine literature, music, and art.

Argentina has one of the finest educational systems in the Western Hemisphere, although its quality has eroded as budgets tightened in the late 20th century and the conservative influence of successive military governments has shaped the curriculum. Primary education is free and compulsory from ages 5 to 14. In 2005, 4.7 million pupils attended primary schools; 3.5 million attended secondary and vocational schools. Argentina’s literacy rate of 98 percent is one of the highest in Latin America.

In the early 2000s Argentina had about 30 national (federal government-funded) universities and about 20 private universities. The largest public university is the University of Buenos Aires, founded in 1821. Others are located at Córdoba (1613), La Plata (1905), Mendoza (1939), and Rosario (1968). The Catholic University of Argentina (1958) and National Technological University (1959) are both located in Buenos Aires. Since the 1980s Argentina’s state-run universities and colleges have suffered from inadequate investment in facilities, a lack of full-time faculty, and a failure to modernize the curriculum.

Libraries and Museums
The leading library of Argentina is the National Library, built in 1810 in Buenos Aires. The library has more than 2 million volumes. Prominent museums in Buenos Aires include the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Decorative Art, and the Museum of Latin American Art. Elsewhere in Argentina, the city of La Plata has a museum of natural history that is noted for its collections of reptile fossils.

Argentine literature, originally a derivative form of Spanish literature, took on a markedly nationalistic flavor in the 19th century when the gaucho heritage asserted itself. The poem Fausto (1866), by Estanisláo del Campo, is a gaucho version of the Faust legend, inspired by the opera Faust by French composer Charles Gounod. Fausto is one of the best-loved works in Argentine literature. But it was the poem El gaucho Martín Fierro (1872; The Departure of Martin Fierro, 1935) by José Hernández that established the gaucho as a national genre in Argentine literature. Many people consider Martín Fierro the national epic of Argentina. In the sociological essay Facundo (1845; translated 1868), Domingo Faustino Sarmiento studies how the rural life of the Argentine Pampas helped shape the national character. While Sarmiento sympathizes aesthetically and emotionally with the gaucho, he presents a program for national reconstruction through education, European immigration, and technical progress.

In the 20th century the gaucho reappears as the protagonist of the novel Don Segundo Sombra (1926; translated as Don Segundo Sombra, Shadows on the Pampas, 1935), by Ricardo Güiraldes. Other notable Argentine writings from the 20th century include Rayuela (1963; Hopscotch, 1966), a novel by Julio Cortázar that many consider the most important Latin American novel of the 1960s; El beso de la mujer araña (1976; translated as Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1979), a novel by Manuel Puig that was made into a popular motion picture (Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1985); and the stories of Ernesto Sábato. Eduardo Mallea, a novelist who wrote on existentialist themes, and Jorge Luis Borges, internationally renowned for his short stories, were major literary figures of the late 20th century. The best-known Argentine poet is Leopoldo Lugones, who wrote both symbolist and naturalist verse. Contemporary writers include Guillermo Martínez, who wrote Infierno Grande (1989), a collection of short stories; Marcos Aguinis, who explored Argentina and Germany in the 1930s in La matriz del infierno (1997); and Alicia Steimberg, who chronicled a woman searching for her identity in Cuando digo Magdalena (1992; translated as Call Me Magdalena, 2001).

Gaucho themes and scenes of town life dominated Argentine painting in the 19th century. Prilidiano Pueyrredón was the principal artist of the period. Artists of the 20th century included realist painter Cesareo Bernaldo de Quirós, known for colorful canvases of gauchos and vivid folk scenes; Benito Quintela Martín, painter of port life in Buenos Aires; and cubist painter Emilio Pettoruti. The works of sculptors Rogelio Yrurtia, Carlos Dorrien, and Alicia Penalba are widely known. Julio Le Parc experimented with movement, light, and optical effects in his sculptures.

Argentina is an important center for contemporary art, particularly in the vibrant cultural center of Buenos Aires but also in the provincial capitals. Modern Argentine artists are known around the world and have consistently absorbed global artistic trends without losing their national identity. Argentina’s most innovative contemporary artists include Luis Benedit, Juan Carlos Distéfano, Guillermo Kuitca, León Ferrari, Víctor Grippo, Miguel Angel Rios, and Rubén Santantonin.

Music and Dance
Traditional Argentine music has many components. The most important are the gaucho folk song and folk dance, Native American music from the northern provinces, European influences, and, to a minor extent, African music. The most famous of all Argentine dance forms is the tango, which developed in Buenos Aires and became a favorite ballroom dance throughout much of the world. It evolved from the milonga, originally a song of the slums of Buenos Aires. Early 20th-century singer Carlos Gardel was revered in Argentina as “king of the tango.” Ástor Piazzolla, a prolific 20th-century tango composer, bandleader, and performer, incorporated jazz and classical influences in his works.

Symphonic music and opera are important features of Argentine musical culture. The National Symphony Orchestra is based in Buenos Aires, and the opera company of the city performs in the Colón Theater, which opened in 1908. The great tide of Italian immigration to Argentina made opera extremely popular in the country, starting toward the end of the 19th century. The Colón opera built an international reputation for excellence.

Leading figures in the classical music field are three brothers: José María Castro, Juan José Castro, and Washington Castro, all conductors and composers. Together with associates, they founded a group to promote modern music. Alberto Williams, the founder of the Buenos Aires Conservatory, is the best-known Argentine composer of the first half of the 20th century. Alberto Ginastera is well known internationally for his symphonic, ballet, operatic, and piano music, and Eduardo Alonso-Crespo has emerged as one of Argentina’s most popular modern conductor-composers. Argentine musicians have contributed to the nation’s vibrant popular music scene; the best-known popular musicians include soloists such as Fito Paéz, Nito Mestre, and León Gieco, and groups such as Soda Stereo, Virus, and Serú Girán.

Since the days of the gaucho, horse racing has been the great national spectator sport of Argentina. Soccer is the national competitive sport, played in both small and large venues such as the River Plata Stadium in Buenos Aires, which seats 100,000 people. The Argentine national soccer team has won many international competitions, including the World Cup championships in 1978 and 1986. Diego Maradona is the most famous of Argentina’s soccer stars.

Polo is a popular pastime, and Argentine horses bred especially for this sport are among the finest in the world. The Argentine Open is an important polo event.

In recent years tennis and golf have gained in national importance, and several Argentine players have excelled in international competitions. Guillermo Vilas won four Grand Slam titles in tennis in the late 1970s. Argentine golfer Roberto de Vicenzo won the British Open in 1967.

Rugby is also a major sport in Argentina, and field hockey is popular among females.


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