Monday, August 08, 2011

Ars Gratia Artis

During the 70's, sex movies flourished. If I remember it correctly, what started the band wagon was a documentary film entitled "Language of Love". This was the first movie that showed two people having actual carnal knowledge with genitals and all being shown on the big screen. This brought mild porn to the mainstream with movies bearing titles like "Marsha" and the like giving rise to the term "Bomba". Naturally, Filipinos cannot be far behind. The first Filipino movie that showed nudity, to my recollection was "Uhaw", a Merle Fernandez film. Then things went haywire and the movies became bolder and bolder. Foreign films like "Lush Combo" and other smut began to show up. Old movie houses which would have double shows, triple even, became the favorite choice of movie enthusiasts of this genre for these cinemas had what was termed as "singit" or "in-between" screenings which were usually the porno stuff which were best shown in the privacy of someone's bedroom. I was a sophomore then and classmates who had cheated their age to get a driver's license and had been issued cedulas became very popular not because they were able to purchase beer but because they could enter the movie house at will even if the show was "For Adults Only." What we usually did was have them pay for the tickets for us and we were allowed to watch under the premise that we were all "adults". During martial law, these genre faded but made a comeback when Gloria Diaz and Elizabeth Oropesa made a film that would showcase their wet braless blouses showing their nipples. This was the birth of the "bold" era. Then the "pene" era arrived.

Why did I suddenly begin remembering these events in my life? Well, because of the oft repeated argument that these films were done for art's sake. Be it bomba or bold, the starlets would be heard justifying the display of their naked bodies onscreen was inevitable since the role called for it - as if that was okay making and that made a lot of sense. Like art was a license of some sort to do dastardly things and it would be alright.

What has that got to do with the present? A lot! I have been reading in the papers about a very controversial exhibit now being shown at the CCP of supposedly "art" which causing an uproar with a lot of people, especially Catholic church officials because said exhibit, they claim, is a desecration of Jesus Christ and the Holy Family. I am referring to "Kulo" an exhibit of some 30 artists from the University of Santo Tomas led by Mideo Cruz.

I have not seen the exhibit personally but I know that it includes the image of Jesus Christ with a male organ right on His face, the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary given horns and whiskers, etc. Based on the reports I have been reading, what can I say, as an artist and an Art educator?

During the 60's, John Lennon caused the ire of the public when he said that the Beatles was more popular than Jesus. Quickly, people burned their albums condemning the British singer as an arrogant bastard whose popularity got over his head. Later on, John explained that he never meant to displease the public. He never said that he or the Beatles as a group is more powerful than Jesus Christ. All he said was that it seemed like people idolize them too much that they are beginning to be more popular than Jesus. There's a big difference there.

Anyway, having that in mind, my first reaction is to be non-judgmental especially that I have not seen the exhibit personally. I tried to rationalize and asked questions like, "What is the theme of the exhibit?" "What is it's message?" "Could it be that the artists are depicting the abasement of religion in modern times? That they wanted to show their audience that we are losing our faith and this is how they know how to show that message?" If this is correct, are they right? Are they using the right method to show their opinions? At any rate, I have to see the raison d'etre of the exhibit before I can pass judgment.

On the other hand, I cannot discount the possibility that one of the ploys of artists in order to be popular is to launch a piece that has a super shocking factor. A piece that shocks the world enough to make the people talk about it. That would definitely place someone in the map. Definitely, "Kulo" is one that has uber shocking effect attacking the primary religion of a land that even Presidents and other political leaders kowtow and listen to its priests.

Objectively, what do I think of the works on exhibit? While it did manage to cause fire, like true art should, I believe that it has overdone it. The question remains - Is its shocking factor sufficient for it to be considered as good art? Will it be enough to exonerate the artists of said exhibit from the prelates' ire? Can it be considered good art even if it denigrates the sensibilities of the faithful? Is it alright to insult someone's beliefs for the sake of Art?

For me, I would have not been troubled by genitals on display not because that is quite ordinary these days but because it is part of the human body and hence could be the subject of art. However, I have problems when art is used to insult someone else's beliefs. We should treat each other with respect. If there is something I feel passionately about, I expect another to respect that even if he or she does not believe it.

What about the artists' freedom of expression? Isn't there a constitutional guarantee for one to exercise this freedom? Yes, but then I believe that the right to freedom of expression carries with it a concomitant amount of responsibility. Every kind of freedom, as a matter of fact, does. We do not want freedom to go haywire for it may cause mayhem for everyone and anyone can claim having the right. As an Art educator, I think the freedom to express should be exercised with caution. Art should transcend thought, thought that is productive, a thought that stimulates the mind but nevertheless the same should promulgate goodwill in the end.

I don't know what the charter of the Cultural Center of the Philippines is but based on its title alone, I think its main purpose is to showcase and propagate Filipino culture. The present exhibit is not representative of the culture of the Filipino people. As a matter of fact, it is going to the opposite end. Also, it is probably a first of its kind, ergo, is not within the Filipino psyche. I would have understood had the exhibit been shown in another gallery for it is, after all, at this time alternative art rather than the mainstream.

In the end, is it good art for me? Again, I do not have the exact data on the exhibit. I don't know its theme or its reason for being. However, in my opinion, art is still about good taste and good taste is one that does not involve leaving a sour flavor in the mouth.


Anonymous said...

Totally agree with you Tito Rolly... Art is a production of what is beautiful and appealing or of more than ordinary significance.

rolly said...

Anonymous Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. You failed to identify yourself. :)

BlogusVox said...

They said "Art is anything you do".
They also said "Knowing art is when to stop".

I've seen on the internet one of the "art" exhibited in CCP. Remember the "dada" movement of the early 1900? That was anti-social anti-establishment. But this one seems to target only one specific sector of society. And they are doing it, IMO, in a very tacky way.

commuter said...

i agree totally...i haven't seen the exhibit (and there's no way of seeing it now) and I don't plan to see it even if it was still there. Provoking is different from insulting.

rolly said...

blogusvox The dada movement caused the emergence of surrealism. That was political, this one insults the sensibilities of a certain religious sector. I don't want that. To me, religion is a very personal matter.

commuter Neither do I. Art can sometimes be provoking but provoke good thoughts, one the promotes good thinking and introspection.

Mickey said...

Di ko talaga trip yung ganyang klaseng art kaya naging designer ako kaysa artist. (para sa akin: artist-walang paki kung ano sabihin ng ibang tao sa artwork mo. basta maganda ang art mo para sayo, maganda yan; designer-susundin mo ang gusto ng client mo pero siyempre sasabihin/ipaglalaban mo kung ano mas magandang design kaysa sa iniisip nila)

Pero siyempre nirerespeto ko yung art nila. Tama ka nga naman na hindi pa natin alam talaga kung ano yung gusto sabihin ng artist. Nakakainis lang dahil napaka narrow-minded ng ibang tao at hindi muna pinakinggan yung artist/s.

Buti na lang pag gumagawa ako ng painting, pang practice lang ng skills ko. XD

Keith said...

Tom Lehrer once said:
"I do have a cause though. It is obscenity. I'm for it. Unfortunately the civil liberties types who are fighting this issue have to fight it owing to the nature of the laws as a matter of freedom of speech and stifling of free expression and so on but we know what's really involved: dirty books are fun. That's all there is to it. But you can't get up in a court and say that I suppose. It's simply a matter of freedom of pleasure, a right which is not guaranteed by the Constitution unfortunately."

I believe in voting with my pocketbook. Some "art" offends even liberal me... By God's grace I usually know which exhibits I need to avoid...