Uruguayan culture is strongly European and its influences from southern Europe are particularly important. The tradition of the gaucho has been an important element in the art and folklore of both Uruguay and Argentina.
A prominent exponent of Uruguayan art was abstract painter and sculptor Carlos Páez Vilaró. He drew from both Timbuktu and Mykonos to create his best-known work: his home, hotel and atelier Casapueblo near Punta del Este. Casapueblo is a "livable sculpture" and draws thousands of visitors from around the world. The 19th-century painter Juan Manuel Blanes, whose works depict historical events, was the first Uruguayan artist to gain widespread recognition. The Post-Impressionist painter Pedro Figari achieved international renown for his pastel studies of subjects in Montevideo and the countryside. Blending elements of art and nature the work of the landscape architect Leandro Silva Delgado has also earned international prominence.
Uruguay has a small but growing film industry, and movies such as Whisky by Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll (2004), Marcelo Bertalmío's Los días con Ana (2000; "Days with Ana") and Ana Díez's Paisito (2008), about the 1973 military coup, have earned international honours.
The folk and popular music of Uruguay shares not only its gaucho roots with Argentina, but also those of the tango. One of the most famous tangos, "La cumparsita" (1917), was written by the Uruguayan composer Gerardo Matos Rodríguez. The candombe is a folk dance performed at Carnival, especially Uruguayan Carnival, mainly by Uruguayans of African ancestry. The guitar is the preferred musical instrument, and in a popular traditional contest called the payada two singers, each with a guitar, take turns improvising verses to the same tune.
Folk music is called canto popular and includes some guitar players and singers such as Alfredo Zitarrosa, José Carbajal "El Sabalero", Daniel Viglietti, Los Olimareños, and Numa Moraes.
Numerous radio stations and musical events reflect the popularity of rock music and the Caribbean genres, known as música tropical ("tropical music"). Early classical music in Uruguay showed heavy Spanish and Italian influence, but since the 20th century a number of composers of classical music, including Eduardo Fabini, Vicente Ascone, and Héctor Tosar, have made use of Latin American musical idioms.
Tango has also affected Uruguayan culture, especially during the 20th century, particularly the ´30s and ´40s with Uruguayan singers such as Julio Sosa from Las Piedras. When the famous tango singer Carlos Gardel was 29 years old he changed his nationality to be Uruguayan, saying he was born in Tacuarembó, but this subterfuge was probably done to keep French authorities from arresting him for failing to register in the French Army for World War I. Gardel was born in France and was raised in Buenos Aires. He never lived in Uruguay. Nevertheless, a Carlos Gardel museum was established in 1999 in Valle Edén, near Tacuarembó.
Rock and roll first broke into Uruguayan audiences with the arrival of the Beatles and other British bands in the early 1960s. A wave of bands appeared in Montevideo, including Los Shakers, Los Mockers, Los Iracundos, Los Moonlights, and Los Malditos, who became major figures in the so-called Uruguayan Invasion of Argentina. Popular bands of the Uruguayan Invasion sang in English.
Popular Uruguayan rock bands include La Vela Puerca, No Te Va Gustar, El Cuarteto de Nos, Once Tiros, La Trampa, Chalamadre, Snake, Buitres, and Cursi. In 2004, the Uruguayan musician and actor Jorge Drexler won an Academy Award for composing the song "Al otro lado del río" from the movie The Motorcycle Diaries, which narrated the life of Che Guevara.
The Reporters Without Borders worldwide press freedom index has ranked Uruguay as 37th of 178 reported countries in 2010. Freedom of speech and media are guaranteed by the constitution, with qualifications for inciting violence or "insulting the nation". Uruguayans have access to more than 100 private daily and weekly newspapers, more than 100 radio stations, and some 20 terrestrial television channels, and cable TV is widely available.
Uruguay's long tradition of freedom of the press was severely curtailed during the years of military dictatorship. On his first day in office in March 1985, Sanguinetti re-established complete freedom of the press. Consequently, Montevideo's newspapers, which account for all of Uruguay's principal daily newspapers, greatly expanded their circulations.
State-run radio and TV are operated by the official broadcasting service SODRE. Some newspapers are owned by, or linked to, the main political parties. El Día was the nation's most prestigious paper until its demise in the early 1990s, founded in 1886 by the Colorado party leader and (later) president José Batlle y Ordóñez. El País, the paper of the rival Blanco Party, has the largest circulation. Búsqueda is Uruguay's most important weekly news magazine and serves as an important forum for political and economic analysis. Although it sells only about 16,000 copies a week, its estimated readership exceeds 50,000.MercoPress is an independent news agency focusing on news related to Mercosur and is based in Montevideo.
Beef is fundamental to Uruguayan cuisine, and the country is one of the world's top consumers of red meat per capita. Asado, a kind of barbecued beef, is the national dish in Uruguay, and other popular foods include beef platters, chivito (steak sandwiches), pasta, barbecued kidneys, and sausages.
Locally produced soft drinks, beer, and wine are commonly served, as is clericó, a mixture of fruit juice and wine. Uruguay and Argentina share a national drink called mate. Grappamiel, made with alcohol and honey, is served in the cold mornings of autumn and winter to warm up the body. Often locals can be seen carrying leather cases containing a thermos of hot water, the traditional hollowed gourd called a mate or guampa, a metal straw called a bombilla, and the dried yerba mate leaves. Sweet treats, including crème caramel with dulce de leche and alfajores (shortbread cookies), are favorites for desserts or afternoon snacks.
Other Uruguayan dishes include morcilla dulce (a type of blood sausage cooked with ground orange fruit, orange peel, and walnuts), chorizo, milanesa (a breaded veal cutlet similar to the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel), snacks such as olímpicos (club sandwiches), húngaras (spicy sausage in a hot dog roll), "tortas fritas" (similar to elephant ears, and traditionally eaten when it rains), "martin fierro" (a bread-less sandwich of cheese and quince paste), postre chaja (a cake made mostly from meringue and peaches in syrup), "pascualina" (kale and egg pie), "pastafrola" (a quince pie) and masas surtidas (bite-sized pastries), many of which are of Spanish and Italian origin, like the "massini".