Sometimes, we just end up watching too much Big Bang Theory.
Portia: When we go to Switzerland, can we go and see the Hadron Super Collider?
Ian: Why not? Though I don’t know what I’m going to do with it.
P: I said see it not play with it.
P: Can I put you inside the Hadron Super Collider?
I: You want to vaporize me?
I: I will move in the speed of light and I will get vaporised.
P: Superman moves faster than the speed of light.
I: I’m not a super hero. I’m human.
P: I thought you were a Green Lantern.
I: I’m still human. I will still get vaporised.
P: So theoretically, we can go back in time. We’ve found a way to move in the speed of light, we just need to move a bit faster than that, then we can go back in time.
I: Only if you can find a material that won’t get vaporised while moving in the speed of light. And create a container out of that material that can maintain the air pressure while moving at that speed. Trains can go faster than they do but they limit the speed to the capacity of humans.
P: We can get materials from the planet Superman is from, his clothes don’t get vaporised…
I: What planet is that?
P: Hmm… KRYPTON! Planet krypton! What if we can make a container out of metal from planet krypton that humans can ride faster than the speed of light to go back in time?
I: Is there a guarantee that moving faster than the speed of light will actually bring you back in time? We don’t even know it yet. Whose theory is that again? Einstein?
P: Is it part of the Theory of Relativity? I’ll have to look it up.
Long pause. Preparing to go out.
P: What are they trying to do with the Hadron Super Collider anyway?
I: They’re trying to find the god particle.
I: They’re colliding two atoms at the speed of light to find the god particle.
P: Are they relying on the law of big numbers to find the god particle?
I: I suppose so. There are billions of possibilities. So they keep on colliding two atoms at the speed of light to eventually find the god particle.
P: Let’s go check out Cat Café?
I: Why not?
Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait…
The Earth began to cool,
The autotrophs began to drool,
Neanderthals developed tools,
We built a wall (we built the pyramids),
Math, science, history, unraveling the mystery,
That all started with the big bang (Bang)!
I can’t remember a conversation that I’ve heard recently, as I keep on having the conversation with people around me. Maybe I’m the one people are actually overhearing. I’m not exactly sure. But when the prompt said “conversation”, this is the conversation that immediately popped inside my head. I wish I can tell you that this conversation was fiction, but it’s really not. This happens when you watch too much Big Bang Theory.
I’m more of an art and humanities person rather than a science person but I do love talking science from time to time. And as I’ve recently introduced my partner to the nerdy, geeky, and dorky world of Big Bang Theory, we’re having more of this type of conversation than usual. It is very enjoyable.
I decided to present this as a dialogue because that was how it happened. And its different from what I usually do. Now imagine this occurring in an apartment while eating Chinese food. That’s how I wished it happened at least.
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.
As revealed in the discussions on Poleteismo, Filipino people are still looking for beauty in art. Numerous articles are looking, not just for beauty but also for the ennoblement of the soul. It almost appears that the Filipino aesthetic valuation and theory remain still with the “great masters” echoed by F. Sionil Jose. In another article by Isagani Cruz, he states that, “Instead of ennobling some Catholics, “Poleteismo” made them commit one of the deadly sins — anger. It made them receive Holy Communion with hatred in their hearts — the sin of sacrilege. It made them judge and therefore made them liable to be judged. It made them throw the first stone even if — let us not be hypocritical — no human beings except Jesus and His mother Mary were born without sin. There is provoking and there is provoking. The kind of provoking that Mideo Cruz did was not justified by the creative piece that he did. Critics always say that an artist should “earn” the effect of his or her work. That means that there should be a deliberate, successful effort by the artist to achieve whatever it is she or he wants to achieve. No art piece can be conceived simply on the spur of the moment. Every art piece that aspires to be art is always the product of long, careful, profound hard work. Therefore, based on the reception of the work, “Poleteismo” flunked the test of good art. It may be art, but it is bad art. It may be art, but it is not Art” (online). This kind of discourse becomes the popular and the norm for the Filipinos, which ironically, echoes some of the earliest aesthetic discourses. Plotinus, in his Ennead One: Sixth Tractate, echoes the same sentiment, “Such should be the experience of beauty, amazement, pleasant consternation, yearning, ardour, and excitement mixed with pleasure” (50). Such belief is also reflected by Francis Hutcheson in An Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, “Our sense of beauty seems designed to give us positive pleasure, but not positive pain or disgust” (97). These are early philosophies of aesthetics that are subscribed to by the popular writers and are therefore what most Filipinos are exposed to.
Looking back, one of the earliest theories on beauty is that of the Greeks. Their understanding of beauty focuses on the “1. wonderful and supreme; 2. as beyond all measures and distinctions, related to un-limit; 3. as pertaining to all things; 4. as pertaining to the gods and to nature and natural things as well as to human beings and their works, including works of art; 5. as pertaining to finite things, shapes, colors, sounds, thoughts, customs, characters, and laws; and 6. as inseparable from goodness and excellence (arete)” (Ross in Oxford 238). There appears to be a limited understanding of beauty as well as the canons of art in the aesthetic understanding of the Philippines. It is widely believed that there is a standard of beauty and a specific canon that should be followed for art to be considered as art. There is, not only a canon for beauty but also a canon on how art should be perceived. Silvers writes, “Canonical objects accomplish this not by modeling how other works should look (each should be unique) but instead by modeling how we should look at other works; that is, the eye or ear or sensibility of the prospective connoisseur is cultivated by exposure to art that the admiration of previous generations of connoisseurs has marked as canonical (Oxford 335). This kind of perspective was perhaps part of what inspired F. Sionil Jose in citing his experiences of seeing the works of great masters from great museums that make him an expert on judging the work as something which is not art. The discernment from a photograph is enough for him to determine that he can actually do the work and therefore declare that it is not art. Again, as this is a word by a National Artist, it pertains to a canonical valuation as well as a canonical perspective on beauty.
On judging beauty, David Hume’s Standard of Taste should be looked into. He says that, “It is well-known, that in all questions, submitted to the understanding, prejudice is destructive of sound judgement, and perverts all operations of the intellectual faculties: It no less contrary to good taste; nor has it less influence to corrupt the sentiment of beauty (Hume 494). Ironically, Hume also points out that not everyone can properly judge artworks as they may be lacking in their taste. He further states that, “Thus, though the principles of taste be universal, and nearly if not entirely the same in all men; yet few are qualified to give judgement on any work of art, or establish their own sentiment as the standard of beauty. The organs of internal sensation are seldom so perfect as to allow the general principles their full play, and produce a feeling correspondent to those principles” (494). The belief that there are standards to be followed and that not everyone is capable of having or discerning that standard is prevalent among the Filipino popular writers. For F. Sionil Jose and the others, it is the great masters of the art world that are the standards of beauty and greatness of artworks. Again, as F. Sionil Jose writes, “First, what is art? I go by this simple definition: Being an artist myself although I work with words not with the brush — if I can do it, it is not art. If I were to do the Jesus Christ commentary in oil, I would have used imagination, craftsmanship, and most important — originality. None of these basic qualities are in the CCP exhibit” (online). There is a canon of the medium–the oil, and not only that, but also the canon of looking at and examining the medium. Though there is a welcoming online discourse on the matter, it is still those with a larger voice that is given the larger space to express their views, as in the case of columnists and editors; more than the ordinary netizen or even the academics and theoreticians.
There is also the pervading belief that art should be pleasurable because of its beauty. Perhaps it is where aesthetic education of the Filipinos today came from and eventually got stuck there. Friedrich Von Schiller in his essay On the Aesthetic Education of Man, he states that, “For whole centuries thinkers and artists will do their best to submerge truth and beauty in the depths of a degraded humanity; it is they themselves who are drowned there, while truth and beauty, with their own indestructible vitality struggle triumphantly to the surface” (Schiller 580). The Cultural Center of the Philippines is still stuck in “The true, the good and the beautiful” that the aesthetic education of Filipinos became stunted in its growth. The Imeldification that struck CCP from its founding in 1969 until the present day was never truly replaced. Risqué, challenging and confrontational artworks that do not fit “the true, the good and the beautiful” suffers. The publicity received from the Imelda visit and her comments on KKK (Katotohanan, Kabutihan at Kagandahan) struck a nerve, not just on the artworld but on the Filipino public. Once again, this woman was listened to, especially as newspapers, such as Inquirer and Sun credits her for the closing of the exhibition. This discourse on beauty is traumatized and afraid of disgust and merely looks into pleasure. These valuation is where the aesthetic value of the Filipinos, even the institutions got trapped in. It is a good philosophy to a certain extent, but far too narrow and limited. It may apply more to the 19th century Filipino oil paintings but hardly to conceptual and popular art that numerous artists are exploring in the present time. Contemporary context of art will hardly apply to the concept of “the true, the good and the beautiful.”
In the discourse of beauty and the sublime, the sublime was hardly looked into within the popular discourse. Mideo Cruz’s Poleteismo would fit more into the theory and aesthetics of the sublime, rather than the concept of beauty that was insisted upon by the popular media. Guy Sircello in Is a Theory of the Sublime Possible? poses the possibilities of the sublime discourse that might also be useful in the discourse of Poleteismo. He first distinguishes the tripartite aspect on the issue of the sublime, “first, there are experiences of the sublime or alternatively, sublime experiences. Second, there is what I call the sublime discourse. And third, there is talk about the sublime (Sircello 541). In this context, he poses some assumptions, “The first assumption is that only sublime experience properly motivates sublime discourse and therefore that only sublime experience is the proper and ultimate subject matter of talk about the sublime” and “My second assumption is that sublime experience can and does occur in a large variety of personal, cultural, social and historical contexts, all such contexts also inevitably involving experience that is not specifically sublime” (542). He formulated a theme on the sublime which he refers to as an “epistemological transcendence” (542) that is supposed to validate a sublime discourse that can somewhat be quantified without falling into the trap of universalism. Despite this attempt, there are still various topics that needs further exploration, “(1) what it might mean, (2) whether it is indeed presented in sublime experiences, (3) what, if so, there might be about such experience that could present an epistemological transcendence of that form, and finally, (4) whether epistemological transcendence as so interpreted is warrantable or believable are tasks–among many other tasks–at least for more talk about the sublime, if not for a theory of the sublime. This exploration of the subliminal discourse will be much useful in Mideo Cruz’s work, particularly in the experience, discourse and talk that the artwork and the surrounding controversies inspired.
Part III of Art Conversations. I am working on this topic. I am posting it here, hoping for a response from those who wants to engage in this conversation.
A hundred and fifty years after Jose Rizal’s death, about a hundred years after Marcel Duchamp’s The Fountain, where do we actually find ourselves?We are still stuck in the conventions of the great masters of the great museums all over the world. At least, it appears that we are. How did we get here? How did the Filipino aesthetic sensibility missed the point of modern art as we proceed towards the end of a post-modern world. We are also at the balancing point as the contemporary art world tends to move beyond the post-modern. A post-post-modern perhaps? Yet, as recent controversies surface, it appears that the Philippine artworld, at least that outside of the academe, was left far behind in terms of art discourse. The national art institution–the Cultural Center of the Philippines, remains stuck within the concept of “the true, the good and the beautiful”, being left behind by contemporary art discourse.
The controversy surrounding the Kulo Exhibit for the commemoration of Jose Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary started almost quietly, as the artworld laughed it off and regarded it as something that would increase Mideo Cruz’s market value. But soon enough, due to the influence of the netizens on the internet, it exploded into something else. There were numerous controversies surrounding the artworld before, but it has never been as widely felt as Mideo Cruz’s Poleteismo. The most obvious reason is that it went head to head against a powerful Philippine institution–the Catholic Church. Another reason is the media hype created through the use of traditional media–television, radio and newspaper and heightened by the new media–the internet. For the first time, every person who has access to the internet, which is a large percent of the Filipino people can give their comments and opinions through various sites available, as well as on the articles published by the daily newspapers. Everyone can express the voice and be heard, without the curatorship of newspapers and publishers. These comments can also be made under the cloak of anonymity, so there was a no limitation and no censorship on the opinion on the matter. Art even became a trending topic on Twitter during the senatorial hearing conducted for the controversy. There were a healthy amount of debates, not only on the “offensive” nature of Mideo Cruz’s art work, but more importantly, on the nature of art itself.
Various issues were brought up, that in a matter of days and weeks, the art exposure and education of the Filipino population was widely exposed. Surprisingly, numerous debates that have been long-buried within the academic world was once again unearthed by the population. The very nature of art and artist was debated upon along with the concept of good art and bad art, as well as the concept and definition of beauty. Even the role of the institutions in art production as well as the rules, regulations and laws that may apply to art production was widely explored. Some concepts were surprisingly archaic while others were issues are very complex as it applies to the Filipino imagination.
Part I of Art Conversations. I am working on this topic. I am posting it here, hoping for a response from those who wants to engage in this conversation.