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.
The earliest cries on the aesthetic value of Poleteismo is its position as art. It is the root cause of the controversy and debate when the issue of religious offense was set aside. Various definition of art was propositioned from various sectors, including two of the most popular and opposing editorials–F. Sionil Jose’s Hindsight: The CCP Jesus Christ exhibit: It ain’t art and Raul Pangalagan’s Freedom for the thought we hate. F. Sionil Jose states that, “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. Our problem as art patrons and viewers is that we have somehow lost the capacity to discern, to criticize, and also to remember. We go back to the yesteryear, the masters we studied in school, the sculptors of ancient Greece and Rome, the classical writers as well, Homer, Cervantes all of them. Even without the superior implements and materials today, the many varieties of oils for the painters, and the modern cutting instruments powered by electricity, the artists of the ancient world were able to produce those sculptures and paintings that continue to delight us with their fine detail and their exquisite form. Now, we say that there is a new way of looking at things and I agree, but the old verities remain: that artists are craftsmen, they are a special people, for not everyone can draw, or write” (online). Meanwhile, Raul Pangalagan cite’s that, “The fourth fallacy is that Poleteismo deserves less protection because it is lesser art, a “mere” collage, in contrast to, say, a “real” painting. What is art, after all? If you have to ask, Rambo, you’ll never know. The CCP’s curator selected only well-known artists, and this exhibit has been previously housed at two universities, the Ateneo de Manila and the University of the Philippines” (online). Obviously, each has a position in the artworld enough to enable them to write a these columns. It is recognized by both that to a certain extent, art has to be validated, particularly, by the institution that concerns it. F. Sionil Jose’s position, certainly places himself as an institution that can verify the art as an art, higher than the institution of the CCP, comparing the work to ancient “masters”. Meanwhile, Pangalagan recognizes the CCP as the institution that can show and decide on art, as well as recognizing other institutions–Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines as having the valid voice in granting the label of art.
As demonstrated, one of the key concepts that is brought by the controversy is the very root of artistic and aesthetic discussion–the problem of defining art. The very basic concept that will be discussed in an art class is the definition of art. What is art? Lengthened study on the subject will not bear a specific definition on the matter. Until the present time, there are numerous debates on this issue. It is most beneficial in the matter at hand to go back to the institutional definition of art, especially as espoused by three theoreticians–Morris Weitz, George Dickie and William L. Blizek. Though there are various points that they critique on one another, there is a basic principle that is obvious–the definition of art is highly relevant on the institution that it resides in. Aside from the galleries and auction houses that highly contributes to the market of value of art and its place in the art world, it is the academic institution that theorize, research and establish the concept of art. It is upon the book, journals and other writings published by credible writers, academics, critics and historians that largely determine the concept and definition of art.
Morris Weitz in his article The Role of Theory in Aesthetics focuses on the determination of the nature of art elucidated in the definition of it, thus answering the basic question of What is art? The definition is formulated by the identification of the necessary and sufficient properties of art (Weitz 191). He compares the definition of art with games wherein there is no common properties, instead there are strands of similarities. He says, “Knowing what art is not apprehending some manifest or latent essence but being able to recognize, describe, and explain those things we call “art” in virtue of these similarities” (195). Weitz points out that the concept of art is an open concept and its character cannot ensure a solid set of defining properties (195-196). In the study of aesthetics, he says, “To understand the role of aesthetic theory is not to conceive it as definition, logically doomed to failure, but to read it as summaries of seriously made recommendations to attend in certain ways to certain features of art” (198). For Weitz, aesthetics would apply more into the judgement of what makes a work of art good rather than what makes art, in which the exploration would likely not work.
George Dickie on the other hand goes beyond Weitz’s “generalization argument” and “classification argument” and actually gave an institutional definition of art in his article What is Art? An Institutional Analysis(207). He defines an art work as “(1) an artifact (2) a set of aspects of which has had conferred upon it the statues of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the art world)” (212). He also defines the people who belong into that art world, “The core personnel of the art world is loosely organized, but nevertheless related, set of persons including artists (understood to refer to painters, writers, composers), producers, museum directors, museum-goers, reporters for newspapers, critics for publications of all sorts, art historians, art theorists, philosophers of art, and others. These are the people who keep the machinery of the art world working thereby provide for its continuing existence. In addition every person who sees himself as a member of the art world is thereby a member” (212-213). This definition clearly has a renewed interpretation with the online world as anyone can have and does have a voice on the art world and therefore may also declare one’s self as part of it. This is also the main point that William L. Blizek will challenge.
In An Institutional Theory of Art, William L. Blizek challenges Dickie’s concept on the membership int he art world and the role that a person plays in that art world. His main objections are– “(a) It will be difficult to determine which objects in the world are works of art if anyone who ‘sees himself as a member of the art world’ can transform any object into a work of art simply by treating it as a candidate for appreciation” (219) and “(b) Many objects which are not generally considered to be works of art might be included in the realm of art simply because someone had at one time or another conferred upon them the requisite status” (219). This challenge applies especially in today’s scene as the mode of communication rapidly changed. Anyone can post anything, as a comment, critique or otherwise that are immediately viewable to a wide public. It may be open to the criticism or agreement of others. How can the conferring upon an object as an art happen by a member of the art world happen in a communication landscape that opens up the conferment to virtually anyone.
The conferment of the art world into Mideo Cruz as an artist and his work as an artwork in largely verifiable. The audacity of the controversy made the conferment of the object into art is the insistence that if there is a large number of people who declare it as non-art makes the object non-art. More importantly, the struggle of power between institutions, from the religious to the political tries to undermine the role of the artworld in the conferment of the artifact or object into an artwork. As previously cited, at least three art institutions verified Poleteismo as art–the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines. As far as the art institutions are concerned, Poleteismo is art. Can this conferment be undermined by other critics such as F. Sionil Jose, the religious institution and the political institution? Perhaps the conferment of Poleteismo cannot be undermined as an artwork but certainly the threats received including the threats of violence, the removal of funds and the removal of positions was enough to close down the exhibition. The problem is not precisely on the definition of art but the power play between institutions, the art world, unfortunately, having the least power compared to religious and political institutions of the Philippines.
Part II 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.
This is a familiar battle cry. What kind of UP student are you, if you have never heard this chant, everywhere in the university. They even chant it outside of the university–to the senate, the congress, the palace… This often shocks or at least overwhelms new students. Yet, at the same time, the older you grow in the university, the older these cries become, until such time that it grows devoid of meaning. The once passionate, powerful cry for freedom, becomes nothing more than an empty statement, lacking even the slightest of fervor. How did we become this, the most powerful and emotional aspect of rebellion and revolution, turning into a deadened piece ideology?
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were wrong when they assumed that capitalism would end immediately and that socialism would soon begin. They were very much mistaken in these assumptions. They lived at the time when capitalism was just beginning, and if they were right about the process and evolution of society’s political-economy, it doesn’t look like socialism would follow, especially after the trauma lived through by the contemporary population. What would then, come next?
For now, no one really knows for certain what would come after capitalism, largely due to the fact that no one really sees an end to the present-day capitalism. Socialism and even communism is a failure for the most part, in the countries that forced them into practice. China, initially one of the more successful communist countries, is now one of the most successful capitalist countries of the world. This very fact itself, shows that capitalism is inevitable, at least in the present circumstances.
Given the inevitability of being trapped in the capitalist political-economy of the current circumstances, one may wonder if there is still a place for the Marxist ideology. Raymond Williams quotes William Morris, “Even supposing he did not understand that there was a definite reason in economics, and that the whole system could be changed… he for one would be a rebel against it” (283). Does Marxism still have a place in today’s ideology, or is it merely a representative of hope for a better system and even a better future? Is there a point, still, for rebellion?
Then I remember Mideo Cruz, and the Kulo exhibit in the wider context of Philippine history. Once, people were willing to die fighting for the freedom to speak, the freedom to express. Once, the streets of Mendiola were bloodied by the deaths of rebels, fighting for equality, fighting for a voice. Now, people are no longer willing to die for a cause, rather, they threaten, and are even willing to kill, in order to oppress. Are they not aware of the trap they have fallen into? Have we fallen so far from the hopes of Marx and Engels to the point that we would kill, or at least threaten to kill, in the face of a shocking voice unacceptable to a religious elite?
“In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production. the sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society–the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness… With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations the distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic, or philosophic–in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out” (284).
One would often wonder, whatever happened to the Filipino consciousness, for them, for us, to become a nation of oppressors. For an entire nation to result to violence and threats, just to silence another person’s voice. Is the religious superstructure in the Philippines still that strong, to enable its people to band together and scream for silence, rather than scream for a voice? Instead of being freed from the repressive state apparatuses, Filipinos were fighting to be closed-in, into the empty spirituality and religiosity, trapped within a materialistic symbolism, rather than being concerned with the state of reality of the Filipino life. Again, one can ask and wonder, what happened to us?
Such attitude almost reminds one of the internal conflict in Leo Tolstoy‘s character Konstantin Levin from Anna Karenina, “Maybe all that is good, but why should I worry about setting up medical centers that I’ll never use and schools that I won’t send my children to, that the peasants don’t want to sent their children to either, and that I have no firm belief that they ought to send them to?” (Tolstoy 244). There is this pervading conflict of fighting for what is right, for what is necessary; and for selfish desires, and even the exhaustion to have compassion for others, “I only mean to say that I will always defend with all my might those rights that I… that touch on my interests. When the gendarmes searched us as students and read our letters, I was ready to defend those rights with all my might, to defend my rights to education, to freedom. I understand military service, which touches the future of my children, my brothers and myself. I’m ready to discuss anything that concerns me. But to decide how to dispose of forty thousand in zemstvo funds, or to judge Alyoshka-the-fool–that I do not understand and cannot do” (246). Such statements come from Konstantin Levin, the more exposed brother to the life, thoughts and ideologies of the peasants. It is Sergei Ivanovich, the brother out of touch from the life of peasantry, that maintains a dream-like ideology of society, “Well, you should leave philosophy alone,’ he said. ‘The chief task of philosophy in all ages has considered precisely in finding the connection that necessarily exists between personal and common interests. But that is not the point, the point is that I must correct your comparison. The birches are not stuck in, they are planted or seeded, and they ought to be carefully tended. Only those nations have a future, only those nations can be called historical, that have a sense of what is important and significant in their institutions, and value them” (247).
Is it really those who are detached from the realities of life, that are able to imagine a more ideal world? A world that common good, the common interest will pervade in the human imagination? Is still useful to fight for the freedom of the oppressed if it is they, themselves who want that oppression? Do you fight for something that they never wanted in the first place? Where then, do you place Marxism in the everyday consciousness of the Filipinos?
Perhaps, it is useful to remember the times when the population is fighting for their freedom. Dexter M. Santos’ Rizal X reminds the audience of the difficult time of the Marcos Regime, the time where the Communist Party of the Philippines was most active, the time when Filipinos are willing to leave their families, sometimes even in the pain of death, just so the nation can regain its voice. Act II, Part V, Fili Revolution pertains to this era, as Filipinos fought oppressors, yet seem to still fall into the same trappings all over again. Curtain Call was performed by a character living in UP village, in memory of those who lost, despite winning:
“When the lights start fading in
and the sound caves itself in
I’ll be right beside you
Wherever you are
I’ll stay with you,
until the night falls
I’ll be with you to
to face it all
you don’t need to worry.
I’ll be with you…
until the curtain call
I’ll stay with you,
until the night falls
you don’t need to worry,
I’ll be with you…
until the curtain call.”
Is it curtain call for idealism, for communism, for Marxism? Is it an empty ideology now as it is robbed of meaning in the life of the proletariat, the everyday Filipino? Or is there still hope? Rizal X, after all, was ended on a positive note, with a song Pabalik sa Palaruan:
“Hindi ba’t nais mong lumipad
Sa rurok ng langit
I handa ang iyong mga pakpak
Ang liwanag mong taglay
At diwang malinis
Mula sa Maykapal ay gagabay
Lagutin ang gapos ng iyong diwa’t damdamin
Taglayin mo ang lahat ay ginigiliw
Lagutin ang gapos ng iyong diwa’t damdamin
Hindi ba’t nais mong sumakay
sa mabilis na hangin?
Landas ng puso’y iyong lakbayin
Angkinin mo ang pangarap
Ang tungkulin mo’y iyong tuparin
Ang puso ko’y iiwan ko sayo
Lagutin ang gapos ng iyong diwa’t damdamin
Taglayin mo ang lahat ay ginigiliw
Lagutin ang gapos ng iyong diwa’t damdamin
Though we are nowhere the end of capitalism, it is not reason enough to stop fighting for idealism and what one believes as right. There is still no reason to be subjugated and oppressed, despite the fact that most people, particularly of the proletariats, accept such subjugation and oppression. It is still a matter of fighting the strong currents of the oppressive cultures. Going back to the Kulo controversy, F. Sionil Jose’s position, reminds us of a romantic criticism, as opposed to Mideo Cruz’s materialistic critique of society. Raymond Williams cites Alick West’s Crisis and Criticism:
“Romantic criticism was a great achievement. Its conception of social relations as constituting beauty in art, of a conflict and antagonism in these relations and of the same conflict reconciled in art, of poetry as the voice of humanity against oppression and injustice and the duty of the poets to cooperate in ending them– all these ideas are of the highest value. Instead of abusing them, or divorcing them from their social meaning, or preserving only their idealism, we have to use them. We cannot use them simply as they stand, because of that idealism. As indicated earlier, the romantic poets were unable in the particular circumstances to give a material meaning to their social conceptions… Hence, in romantic criticism, the social relations which constitute beauty in art are not the actual social relations, but the conception of the relations” (Williams 291).
F. Sionil Jose, was ahead of his time, at the height of his writing career. But in the face of a fast-changing world, he was not ready for the ugly, for the grotesque, for the decay, as actual tools for social change, rather than the concept of art and beauty that he was conscious of. He, along many others and their limited views of art, did not fathom and absorb the concept of the current consciousness of the Filipinos. Things changed, fast, and they were not ready for such changes. Art, good or bad, beautiful or not, is capable of changing people, of changing societies, whether they are ready for it or not. Williams looks into Christopher Caudwell’s definition of the value of art, “The value of art to society is that by it an emotional adaptation is possible. Man’s instincts are pressed in art against the altered mould of reality, and by a specific organization of the emotions thus generated, there is a new attitude, an adaptation” (297). People are meant to adapt. Though numerous Filipinos were not ready for the kind of art Mideo Cruz created, yet, they are meant to adapt to it, as artistic creation continues to move and to evolve, and sometimes, become powerful enough to shake the seemingly solid, yet oppressive conditions of society.
If the artist has this power, to shaken and even weaken established systems and beliefs, and more importantly to effect change, what exactly is their role and where does one draw the line, if a line can be drawn? Williams refer to Lenin’s words, “Every artist… has a right to create freely according to his ideals, independent of anything. Only, of course, we communists cannot stand with our hands folded and let chaos develop in any direction it may. We must guide this process according to a plan and form its results” (302). Then again, where does one draw the line of freedom of expression, responsibility of the artist, and the conditions of social consciousness and the desire for change? There never was and perhaps never will be a clear dividing and definitive line for this, perhaps there may be no need to. Yet, where does an artist, an artwork and even an audience position themselves in these circumstances? How does one fight for freedom at the same time bearing responsibility towards their fellow human beings?
During the academic forum hosted by the Department of Art Studies, a Catholic student gave a very Marxist argument on the issue of Poleteismo and the Kulo exhibit. She insists that artists should start creating works for the ordinary Filipino, for the poor, for the oppressed. This is the social responsibility oftentimes forgotten by exhibiting artists. How do you free the oppressed through your artworks? Does one go to the extent that Lenin did, create works for the sake of manipulating them and pushing them to want their freedom, or does selfish desire and a degree of self-expression out weigh this? There is no simple answer nor solution to these issues. More than a hundred years may have passed since the height of these arguments, yet, there is still no answer for it.
How do you free those who are content with their position as the oppressed? How far can you take your social responsibility in line with your freedom of expression and your own desires? Perhaps, simply trying is enough, until such time that society is really ready for a socialist and communist ideal. It is a possibility that socialist and communist movements were failures because it was forced. It may also be that there’s another form of political-economy waiting for people after the end of capitalism. But these values and beliefs, whatever they are and wherever they may take the population relies heavily on the ideals of art, because such beliefs can mostly be understood and accepted in the arts before anything else. It is a heavy weight of social responsibility for the artist.
The time, perhaps, is not yet ripe for revolution. After all, majority of people are comfortable where they are. The wealthy are unlikely to be willing to give up their riches and property for the population. The middle class, though often unhappy with their jobs and with what they have, are unwilling to move away from it. The poor, though oppressed and lacking opportunities, also seem comfortable enough on where they are, or at least unwilling still, to do something, in order to change to social structure of the Philippines. For a long time, we have been here, and by the looks of it, we would be here for a longer time still. In the meantime, art has a key role to play in preparing people for social change. Art, may in itself, create and inspire ideologies that would be key in the creation of a new political-economy, a new social structure. Though still dependent on the current political-economy, it is after all anchored strongly enough to an independent structure–the imagination.Though artistic production may no longer be as intentional to create ideologies as in the conception of Lenin, it is still a big influence on the imaginary of the people, and artists can always take advantage on that imagination. They can take it beyond “the true, the good and the beautiful” towards the ugly, the grotesque, and even onward to an actual social change. It is unsure, whether socialism and communism would take hold of the world, but for now, a social imagination of change may be useful. Marxism, is not an empty and dream-like ideology, but perhaps may serve as a tool for the creation of an ideal imaginary, that may eventually pave the way to real social change. For now, society and art have to survive capitalism at its height and with Marxism, still, at the ideological level of imagination.
“Critical Theory.” Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 462-473.
“Marxism.” Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Vol. 3. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 185-191.
Santos, Dexter M., dir. Rizal X. Dulaang UP, August 2011.
Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Penguin Books, 2002.
Williams, Raymond. Culture and Society 1780-1950. New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1960.
150 years. Did the world really change? Most times, I feel like life is spearing ahead too fast. But if you examine our history, our legacy, you may ask, did it really change?
150 years after. We celebrate Rizal’s 150th birthday with exhibits, shows, parades and many other commemorative exercises. We celebrate the hero. Yet, are we really free from the things that he was fighting for, more than a century ago?
Today, we are faced with things that I didn’t think is still possible, especially in the age of internet and new media. CENSORSHIP. Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, do the Filipinos still know that these novels were censured by the Spaniards? Why? Because it was offensive to the church. Do we not remember that? Do we not remember so many of our heroes, persecuted, tortured and killed because of causing offense to the church, because they were fighting for our rights.
Why then, that after more than a century, this hard-fought battle is still ongoing. Sadly, now, it is Filipino against Filipino. Mideo Cruz strikes at our culture, at our beliefs. He makes us think, he offends. But he does not attack a person; he does not curtail anyone’s right. Yes, he offends, but it is never against the law to offend. He challenges our society, is that so wrong?
What hurts more is that the Philippine press, the very institution that should be the bastion and supporters of the freedom of expression, contributed to its curtailment. Irresponsible journalism runs amok in the country, selling even their fellow artists out for increased ratings and earnings. XXX completely misrepresented the exhibit, without any objectivity in their reporting. This was followed by other columnists and newspaper writers. Do you know your crime? Do you not honour your brothers and sisters who died fighting for just that—for the freedom of expression? Yet now, you sell us out.
The church started calling us sinners, calling to arms their supporters. Is that not a bigger problem of our society? The followers of Catholic belief, of Christianity—creating hate pages, threatening death and violence, attempting arson, vandalizing and worse demonizing Mideo Cruz and other cultural workers, yet the CBCP thinks that the art is the problem? They never even called to their people to stand down, they never asked them to be calm, and instead, they instigated this hatred and violence. Amazing, for people who say they follow one of the most peace-loving persons that ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth himself.
Expectedly, the Aquino Administration supports this. PNoy himself, called the board and let them know of his displeasure and of “concerns” over the issue on the exhibit. Democracy, yes. But if you are the President of the country, there is an obvious imbalance of power. There is a big discrepancy of the expression of my own personal opinion and the opinion of the President of the country. Is it really your democratic right? To censor? More so of our atrocious Senators. Senator Sotto threatens to use his power as Senate Majority Leader to deprive CCP of its budget. Along with Senators Enrile and Estrada, they demanded the resignation of the CCP Board. Over what? Do they not know that they are committing a Grave Abuse of Discretion? That according to the Doctrine of Prior Restraint, they are not allowed to go through with a Senatorial inquiry because it is a curtailment of the Bill of Rights?
This is not the Middle Ages, we can offend the Catholic Church, there is no incidence of Offending Religious Feelings according to the Revised Penal Code—the work was not done inside the church, no religious service was interrupted and no one was prevented from practicing their religion. No public fund was spent by Mideo Cruz, it was a Venue Grant. He exhibited inside CCP but he was given no money by the government to create his work, he was not paid to exhibit. It was simply his artistic expression. The people breaking the law are the abusive fanatics who vandalized, threatened life and property, and even the Senators and the President who are abusing their political powers in order to censor, a crime against our human rights, as stated in the 1987 Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Ironic, that a law established by the first President Aquino is being destroyed by her only son, the second President Aquino.
We Filipinos have fought long and hard, so we can attain the democracy that we have now. Yet, this democracy is being destroyed by denying us our basic human right. Even Rizal, the hero for whom the Kulo exhibit was for, died fighting for that right. People keep on missing that point, that exhibit was not about the RH Bill, it was about the struggles of Jose Rizal. We now get to experience firsthand the kind of oppression Rizal suffered from the church. What’s worse, we are suffering oppression from our fellow Filipinos rather than from foreign colonizers.
Rizal died for us, for our country; he died fighting for this freedom. He died to show us and the rest of the world our reality and suffering. Do we continue to be oppressed people? Do we continue to be ruled by an oppressive religion? What do we do now? I can my fellow Filipinos to continue fighting this struggle. It has been too long. Too many centuries we have been oppressed, it is time we break free from it. Rizal tried, but is it all in vain? Do we all in that same trap? Or do we fight?
I say no to censorship, as many others say no to censorship. Let our voices be heard. Let us not stand by and watch as our basic human right is denied us. It is not about Mideo Cruz and the Kulo exhibit anymore. It is about oppression, censorship, irresponsible journalism, misrepresentation of religious doctrine and most of all, abuse of power. We should not accept this sitting down. We should stand up and fight.