Art Conversations: Ideas and Aesthetics of Modernism

Modern ideas are often applied within the aesthetic imagination of the Filipinos. F. Sionil Jose’s obsession with the significant form and the greatness of the art of the masters echoes Clive Bell in his The Aesthetic Hypothesis, “It is the mark of great art that its appeal is universal and eternal. Significant form stands charged with the power to provoke aesthetic emotion in anyone capable of feeling it… Great art remains stable and unobscure because the feelings that it awakens are independent of time and space, because its kingdom is not of this world… The form of art are inexhaustible; but all lead by the same road of aesthetic emotion to the same world of aesthetic ecstasy” (Bell online). Poleteismo, being something which is not covered with such “great art” becomes a subject of controversy and even ridicule of those that remained left in the time and politics of the “great masters”.

The controversy also shows the pre-conception of a bourgeois, educated perspective in the appreciation and critique of art. Isagani Cruz writes in his column, ““Kulo” was clearly too sophisticated for the general Filipino audience. That is proven by the controversy itself. Even the rich and famous who should know better because they have had the chance to visit the largest museums in the world reacted as though they had never travelled. Because they were miseducated, a number of Catholics understandably could not even distinguish between Church and State, art and religion, protest and violence” (online). This echoes the closed and elitist art world that is reflected in Jurgen Habermas, in his Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, “The bourgeois avant-garde of the educated middle class learned the art of critical-rational public debate through its contact with the “elegant world”. The courtly-noble society, to the extent that modern state apparatus became independent from the monarch’s personal sphere, naturally separated itself, in turn, more and more from the court and became its counterpoise in the town. The “town” was the life center of civil society not only economically; in cultural political contrast to the court, it designated especially an early public sphere in the world of letters whose institutions were the coffee houses, the salons, and the Tischgeselleschaften (table societies)” (1747).  It appears that popular critics still believe that there are still the salons and table societies that may house more progressive art forms rather than exposing the general public to such artworks. This elitism and close-mindedness in art discourse fails to enrich the Philippine art discourse and does not address the issue of aesthetics valuation of the Filipinos.

Instead of daring to delve into the aesthetics of conceptual art, art writing in the Philippines are stuck in the ideal, reverting once again to beauty. GWF Hegel’s Philosophy of Fine Arts would become more resonant rather that any exploration or consideration for conceptual art. He says, “Only in the highest art are Idea and presentation truly in conformity with one another, in the sense that the shape given to the Idea is in itself the absolutely true shape, because the content of the Idea which that shape expresses is itself the true and genuine content. Associated with this, as has already been indicated, is the fact that the Idea must be determined in and through itself as a concrete totality, and therefore possess in itself the principle and measure of its particularization and determinacy in external appearance” (Hegel 101). They look into the beauty and truth of an idea of the artwork, rather than its corporeality in everyday life and Philippine society, “For the Idea as such is indeed the absolute truth itself, but the truth only in it’s not yet objectified universality, while the Idea as the beauty of art is the Idea with the nearer qualification of being both essentially individual reality and also an individual configuration of reality destined essentially to embody and reveal the Idea. Accordingly it is here expressed the demand that the Idea and its configuration as a concrete reality shall be made completely adequate to one another. Taken thus, the Idea as reality, shaped in accordance with the Concept of the Idea, is the Ideal” (100). Such an ideal pervades the imagination of art discourse and art practice that unfortunately traps other forms of discourse and practice. There is limited growth in simply searching for the ideal and never even challenging the concept of this ideal that is assigned, even forced into, upon the Filipinos.

The intolerance of varying opinions on art is reminiscent of Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Judgement wherein the judgement on “taste” is given importance and such concepts were invoked by various critiques published during the controversy. Such elitism of taste is widely invoked by writers and columnists, particularly, again, by F. Sionil Jose as he writes, “Now, let me contribute my two pesos worth in this melee. Bear in mind, I am an octogenarian. I have seen almost every major art museum in the world. I operated one of the earliest art galleries in Manila, Solidaridad, from 1967 to 1977, with the intention of giving our art a Filipino and an Asian face. I am also a novelist, and, as we all know, literature is the noblest of the arts. I am enumerating these not just to establish my bonafides but to show that I know whereof I speak. The exhibit should not have been shown at the CCP. If submitted to my old gallery, I would have rejected it. It is not — I repeat — it is not art! It is an immature and juvenile attempt at caricature. I have not seen the exhibit itself but I have seen pictures of it and they are enough to convince me of the validity of my conclusion” (online). Though there are differences in opinion, published works seeks the agreement of everyone and see the conditioning of “taste”. Kant states that, “The subjective necessity attributed to a judgement of taste is conditioned. The judgement of taste extracts agreement from every one; and a person who describes something as beautiful insists that every one ought to give the object in question his approval and follow suit in describing it as beautiful. The ought in aesthetic judgements, therefore, despite an accordance with all the requisite data for passing judgement, is still only pronounced conditionally. We are suitors for agreement from every one else, because we are fortified with a ground common to all. Further, we would be able to count on this agreement, provided we were always assured of the correct subsumption of the case under that ground as the rule of approval” (Kant 94). Kant also argues that “The necessity of the universal assent that is thought in a judgement of taste, is a subjective necessity which, under the presupposition of a common sense, is represented as objective. In all judgements by which we describe anything as beautiful we tolerate no one else being of a different opinion, and in taking up this position we do not rest out judgement upon concepts, but only on our feeling. Accordingly we introduce this fundamental feeling not as a private feeling, but as a public sense. Now, for this purpose, experience cannot be made the ground of this common sense, for the latter is invoked to justify judgements containing an ‘ought’. The assertion is not that every one will fall in with our judgement, but rather that every one ought to agree with it” (95). This insistence upon the belief of one that should be subscribed to by others is the discourse that is espoused by F. Sionil Jose and those who dealt with the issue. Such matters of taste and those with supposed superior or higher standards of taste is advocated through the popular media as opposed to those who have a limited access upon it.

Part IV of Art Conversations. See Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Not to be reproduced by Rene Magritte, 1898-1967, Collection EFW James, Sussex

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