Beauty has always draped the universe with its sublime mystery. And art was discovered by man and used it ever since to capture that beauty and its perversions. Arts have been one of the most affective and powerful things invented by man that stirred humanity’s senses, intellect and emotion. We are surrounded by art in the most apparent and subtle way, sacred and profane, sublime and sordid, deep and shallow, perfect and immature. It is of course natural for man to look for beauty. It is probably innate for us to seek that aesthetics. According to Maslow’s theory on hierarchy of needs, we have a natural need for aesthetics, and it is the third highest needs. This would explain why people make artistic creations, that even the most primitive societies before was able to provide themselves with their own art forms and appreciate it.
There was a time in human history when art became the life of the people and it was during the renaissance period. It was a time when human lives made art and art made lives. It was a time when everything was beautiful, even the perversion of beauty itself was found to be beautiful. It was said to be a time of materialism, when people fell in love with the beauty of their own creation. However, materialism back then was in a positive context of attempting to preserve their possessions for their cultural identity and heritage, which actually they became very successful at, and a message that says that art can change the world.
Now, in the present, it is not only that the people fell in love with their creation, but also fell in love with their selves. Materialism had gone awry. People possess things, yet little do they know that slowly their things possess them to the extent that they are willing to lose their dignity and their soul just to hold on to their possessions, and no, I am not referring to Imelda Marcos, or to those priests with cars popularized by the news, and yes, I am being sarcastic. But this goes also to ordinary people who feel that their cell-phone is an appendage of their body, people who uses or tramples on other people to get that elusive promotion or get what they want. Also, even art itself has gone awry within the focus of people. One reason behind these might be observed if we compare the renaissance in Italy and today here in our country. Back then (even until now), Italy was rich, and this was not just in culture. People did not have to worry about food, shelter, and security, and they were also intellectuals. So their attention was focus on their aesthetic needs and taste. Today in our country, people are so preoccupied about how will they eat, how will they get their food, and where will they stay if the demolition squads arrive, to think about art. However, some of them are also intellectuals, but in conning other people.
I am reminded of the questions Lourd De Veyra raised in one of the episodes of his show WOTL; do people from Smokey Mountain know who Nick Joaquin is? Or who Jose Garcia Villa is? Do they even listen to the music of Jose Maceda? How many people do even read the works of those who won the Palanca awards? And how many of them will be understood by the common people?
In a country with innumerable revolting stomachs, who would really give a damn about culture and arts? This could be why materialism in the modern context has been reduced to mere owning or having, and why culture and arts have been reduced to Kris Aquino, Willie Revillame and Justin Beiber, Pinoy got talent, and Vice Ganda. The abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock, the cubism of Pablo Picasso, the realism of Fernando Amorsolo, the abstraction of Pancho Piano, and recently the installation art of Mideo Cruz have probably alienated people, which could be why people raised their eyebrows when they see their works, and ask WTF?
This leads us to the question; does art really have a purpose, especially in alleviating the quality of lives of people? Well, the answer lies on those same starving artists who really want to change society through their arts. The purpose of it is to deliver a message, emphasize the struggle of the people, to make visible the invisible, to fuel people to move, and to express the truth of the artists, or the truths that he sees and the truth people don’t see or refuse to see.
The question of up to what extent is the artists’ license on expression is another story. Recently, there has been a stir in the art community regarding the installation art of the artist Mideo Cruz entitled “Politiesmo” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). His artworks which include images used by the Catholic Church such as the face of image of Christ was attached with a wooden phallus and many other installed arts created quite a commotion to the public especially among the members of the Roman Catholic Church. As an artist I find it hard to give an opinion on the matter.
There is a very thin line that slices the territory of freedom of speech and respect for faith. All I can say is that his art is “immature” to use the word of the national artist for literature Jose Sionil, it was a formalist criticism, and nothing on the message of Cruz. As Oscar Wilde has put it, “there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” The problem with art is it is very subjective, that is why it is really difficult to judge the message of the artist’s expressions. While Cruz was trying to emphasize materialism in the Catholic Church, and to some of its leaders and members, most the public did not see it through that perspective. The blatant value of his works was naturally seen more over its subtle message.
Art is a tool, so it can be utilized in various ways. I would like to believe that morality in art is simply a matter of perspective. It depends on who is looking, because it is not life that art truly mirrors but the spectator. It is amazing how two people can see at the same picture but see things differently. I think that is art. When there is a diversity of opinion in a particular art piece, then that means that the art work is new, intricate and potent. I just hope that people could be more open-minded about art, develop more understanding of what truly art is, and learn how to use it to start change.