Wednesday, August 10, 2011

when is art ART?

This is basically one question which I make as I plow through the two major dailies of the country, both which convey the news that Mideo Cruz’ controversial work entitled “Politeismo” had been taken down by CCP officials. This was part of the art exhibit named “Kulo” which a group of artists from the University of Sto. Tomas organized on the occasion of the four hundred years of the first-ever established university of pontifical character in the Far East. Just a clarification, it’s not officially sponsored by the UST, one of the foremost Catholic institutions of learning in the islands (this position was later made clear by the same establishment when it disowned the artist and his work). The exhibit was also made in honor of the 150th anniversary of the José Rizal’s birth (though the Rizalistas have declared that they didn’t have anything to do with the exhibit. Ever since the work had been put on display, and most especially after it was covered by the TV Patrol in the evening news, not so much public appreciation as public outrage has been heaped upon it, making the exhibit worthy of its name, as “Kulo” means “to boil or to reach a boiling point” in Tagalog, and this has lead many sentiments to boil over. The reaction is understandable, if not predictable, as its images present traditional Christian icons of Jesus Christ and the Saints and other Christian symbols equipped with condoms and phalluses, or masquerading with Mickey Mouse masks. In the face of public outrage, especially coming from Catholics and other Christian denominations, CCP officials and perhaps understandably the curators of the exhibit have these demonstrations as products of “moral hysteria” and “religious myopia”.

But I do think (along with other people with common sense, which, as the cliché says, is not so common nowadays) that the reason for the outrage is neither really complicated nor difficult to comprehend.  Mideo Cruz the artist, working under artisitic license and giving free reign to his artistic expression, has shown brutal callousness and disdain to icons which was very dear to a lot o people’s religious beliefs and sentiments. Well, just to cut it down to the core, he has done what no civilized and educated person would ever consider doing. Many people likewise had defended the artist and his work, and they had expressed their reasons for their solidarity, which would span from fundamentalist dogmaticisms declaring that the Catholic practice of the veneration of images as idolatrous to reasons stating that contemporary art is in the eye of the beholder or of the artist or whoever, and that all artistic expressions, for as long as they come form the artist himself, should be respected since they come from him, however insulting they may be to others. It’s an understatement that liberals, anticlericals and freethinkers are having a fiesta over this hullabaloo, waving the tattered flag of “freedom of expression” and decrying the “tyranny of censorship” as always, while trying to convince the public of their martyred status.

Anyway, going back to my rant, the reason is very simple: who among us would be very happy to see a picture of our mother with a condom attached to her ears as earings or a  statue of our grandfather drapped with a condom? Or would you feel drawn to the heights of artistic ecstasy when you see a picture of yourself with a penis for a nose? Get real. To say that the work is blasphemous and morally offensive is an understatement, something that doesn’t need to be said as it is so evident. I’m glad the CCP officials have ceded to public pressure and have withdrawn the exhibit.

So I was thinking: what is art, especially considering the brouhaha which a bunch of mutilated images of Christ and the saints have caused? I think that it’s the expression of the nobility of the nobility of the human soul. It is the plastification of man’s highest and noblest aspirations, and man’s genius in showing this also shows the imprint of the Creator’s hand in his soul. This is the reason why I really believe that it’s really impossible for man to be an artist and yet not believe in God, to be an agnostic or, as what many people trying to appear smart at best would say, atheist. Man could come up with something ugly, repulsive and utterly insulting, such as Cruz’s work, which is something that leads me to conclude that not everything that comes from man as an expression could be considered “artistic”, no matter how much he would wish to call it as such. Sorry  guys, but the expression “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, whoever said it, was not meant to be an absolute statement. There is such a thing as an objective beauty, one that is of a metaphysical nature, one that the human intellect graps and that which becomes the object of the will, which will seek after it. One doesn’t have to be a trained and sophisticated artist to see how cute a baby is or appreciate the beauty of a sunset. On the other hand, you don’t need to study at UST to know that one thing is a piece of crap when you see it. 

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