Traditionally, when you think of art in America your thoughts go to New York’s art scenes in Soho and Williamsburg; iconic metropolitan museums you visited as a kid, like Chicago’s Art Institute or San Francisco’s MoMA; the Getty’s “like”-inducing selfie backdrops in Los Angles; or Wynwood’s graffiti-covered walls in Miami. What usually doesn’t come to mind, however, are Southwestern cities like Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico, but they should. 

Long before Urban Outfitters started dedicating entire floors to moccasins and cactus-printed sweatshirts, the Southwest (and New Mexico in particular) had a history of producing some of the most compelling creative minds in American History. From its deserts mesas, and mountain-peaks, to its rich Native American culture and unique Spanish colonial history, New Mexico is beautiful, magical, and undeniably inspiring. 

Even the cool and rebellious art crowd in the ’20s saw its potential. Mabel Dodge Luhan set up camp there with a commune that brought Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe to the Southwest. In the following decades New Mexico-born musicians like John Denver and Jim Morrison would become major players in shaping what Americana sounds like. Authors Cormac McCarthy and George R. R. Martin wrote epic novels that would be adapted to film and TV series watched by millions (ahem—Game of Thrones y’all), and fashion superhero Tom Ford just pimped his grandmother’s original Santa Fe ranch to get back to his roots. 

For almost a century New Mexico has been the site of artistic communes and development. For even longer, New Mexico’s landscape has inspired artistic creation and spiritual awakening. The indigenous wildlife and foliage that spans this part of the United States has moved photographers, painters, writers, and musicians to create breathtaking and engaging work. 

Here, we check out the last 100 years of New Mexico’s influence on the art world, and what influences that unique part of the American desert is making today.