Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Lessened Hobbesian View on Our Inferiors

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I DO NOT know why the Mr. Bean animated series on cable TV’s The Disney Channel is popular with kids. Maybe it’s because cartoon drawings function like doll or mascot figures, referencing reality distortedly and thus not realistically, which makes cartooning the more honest portrayal of The Real qua progressing problematique in our continuing learning. Cartoon people likely come on not like office work problems, but more like crossword or sudoku puzzles we definitely need.
    Mr. Bean is an evil but fumbling character with the face of a stereotypical retardate. That personality combine (evil/funny) is probably what makes him amiable instead of despicable, enhanced of course by a recurring atmosphere that declares the "saner world" to be no less evil and corrupt than Bean's funny person.
    Now, if by Thomas Hobbes we can admit that man is by nature an evil animal only struggling to be virtuous (for one realized reason or another, which reasons still couldn’t make him selfless), then in the light of a world requiring bits of evil in order to survive Mr. Bean must be to adults a symbol of relative goodness in spite of his evil, if only because a face of sheer innocence or ignorance or retardation or stupidity might be considered exempt from the Hobbesian jungle-smart premise. Yes, Mr. Bean not the merely laughable but the ultimately amiable---amiable because how we wish we could be as innocent as he in both our rancorous mistakes and our cunning!
     Or is it the spirit of comic animation as an aesthetic that allows us to forgive evil, being a spirit where evil can get away with it because it, this evil, has become an animation or exaggeration of a hated object, that is to say, has been made demented or stupid or impossible?
    Christian authorities mostly stand by this declaration of innocent sinfulness, as being forgivable, in contrast with the knowledgeable's sinfulness as being unpardonable . Apart from that, what are animated beings but beings inferior to our presently perfect real-human selves?

BUT there are moments when we become "inferior" to ourselves, and to others watching us in those moments we become manifestations of saintliness. Perhaps God is an aesthete, then, for after watching way too many movies I’ve come to the conclusion that man is in his most saintly and beautiful state during those hours of extreme vulnerability, whether these span a few hours or---as in the case of the realistic character Robinson Crusoe---a few years. God should win at least a billion best director awards for giving us these images of saintliness and beauty based on true stories.

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    In the movie Cast Away (where the businesslike among us might notice only the production value of putting some all-star cast away for a while in making this one-actor blockbuster of a movie), the hero played by actor Tom Hanks is amiable from the start, even while at his most cranky-boss frame of mind. It seems like this modern-day Robinson Crusoe wasn’t exactly unaware of his crankiness as a put-on, consciously allowing underlings to make fun of him so he could get a desired result of projecting amiability on his person and extracting efficiency in others due to this combined amiability and fearsomeness they read in their boss.
    Hanks' amiability is of course enhanced a hundredfold by his later isolation in an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And it’s not just because we love to see people put in spots that weaken them but also because we kind of miss those spots in our lives. In present-day drabness amidst routine, the enjoyment of watching such movies as Cast Away are both a celebration of our good fortunes within our lives’ drabness as well as a vicarious adventure for our repressed-yuppie Survivor-ish desires to be put on the spot.

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    It’s the same double-edged and contradictory enjoyment that we get from action heroes in deadly self-assigned missions. It’s the same double-bladed knife that cuts our hearts while reading stories about heroes or anti-heroes who have gone through an oppressive treatment from a majority in a village, city, or country. It shouldn’t be a mystery therefore to find ourselves, every now and then, rooting for the underdog. Our rooting for a likely winner, in contrast, is often due to either our having perceived or witnessed or known some oppression upon this person’s person from somewhere in his story, otherwise to a tensive vulnerability through this likely winner’s limits-testing tragic vanity.
    Politicians have an all-too-conscious feel for this PR reality concerning the public’s attraction to the pained. So that when a most hated political opponent dies, they offer their possible presences or sympathies lest the suddenly-softened public steer away from the surviving politicians' hardened souls.
    Gossips also suddenly feel both triumphant and sympathetic and afraid when a subject of their hateful judgments begins to cry.
    Many women even possess a backhanded sexism towards their own/selves with the recurrent expression of pride in their being tagged "the weaker sex". For instance, in the Philippines, where women can freely wear mini skirts and can run for president, many Filipinas still believe that Real Men don’t fight with their wives but merely allow them to be the emotional and articulate ones. As if a woman’s outbursts are to be equated with a child’s tantrums, best left relatively unattended or reacted to not.
    That said, we can now perhaps conclude that humans are quasi-masochistic beings in the sense that they would have to imagine themselves pained in order to qualify for love solicitations. For they know that they, qua subjects to others' eyes, become truer persons in the tension of possible death or during cinematic moments of slow passing away into obsolescence in life.

THE REASON why we can easily fall for the gibber of actors in real life is because we’ve seen them play most vulnerable and oppressed characters in fiction or fictionalized cinema that have endeared them to us. To the public eye, too, artists and poets---once introduced as so---are often seen as likeable soft personae, despite the swagger or tough look that some of them might display. Rock stars became stars because they dramatized themselves as vulnerable gods forever on the brink of destruction.
    A national hero is a mere emblem of some political mythology that we generally can’t really relate to emotionally nor consign significance to as individuals, until we see a movie about the hero’s mistakes and demoralization. Then he becomes a true hero to us, almost a friend.
    This reaction doesn’t stop at our impressions upon others. It also extends to our regard for our respective selves. Although many find it hard to admit this truism, still it is not hard to remember that the moments where we have been most proud of ourselves were those wherein we faced a truth, admitted a mistake, or had to wear modesty (with a smile) like a torn suit.
    Races-wise, small Asians may prove themselves equal in political or military virility to superpowers’ braggadocio and bullying when they begin to feel comfortable about their difference to the Others, with their shorter penis or body height, thence taking strides forward in the aftermath of this humble acceptance. Its like the realization that not everybody has to be a tall power forward in a basketball team; one can be a great shooting guard shooting from outside and from underneath. The Japanese, prime examples of Shintoist-Buddhist courage within humility and selflessness, demonstrate/d this pride well, at one time even extending it to arrogance within a different kind of mythical and nationalist humility.
    In the case of the social oppression of the individual, he, the individual, usually begins to take strides in a process of freely moving on when he finally concedes to the impossibility of enlightening a majority that is always wrong (or always right for the wrong reasons), proceeding thence to take care of himself and cease and desist from trying to help a public that refuses to be helped.
    Stories of a weakened existence, of tension threatening annihilation, or of an Achilles heel that took a step towards love, . . . these are human signals that make heroes real, enemies friends, the earlier-despised Malèna in the year-2000 Italian film suddenly adored. Never mind if it’s sometimes too late an acknowledgment, because it couldn’t really be otherwise.
    Given all the above, it is perhaps safe to say that the ideal human being would be that one who sincerely acknowledges, or is forced to acknowledge, these human characteristics of constant vulnerability and weakness, acknowledging them even while struggling to control the self’s righteousness or even its recurring greed. Christians call this being reminded of a higher God even while pursuing Mammon.
    Now, just today, Fernando Poe Jr. died. Before his demise he was declared, by his opponents of course, as a symbol of the Filipino supposedly good, however flawed, but all too willing to forgive all those who stood for greed, larceny, and hedonism, allowing himself be surrounded by these unrepentant male and female whores that comprised his disciples and puppeteers.

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    The party of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did indeed voice out the thoughts of that above paragraph at their political sorties in recent history, in the heat of the last election's campaign and after, never mind if they were wont to put aside their own questionable dealings and shortcomings in governance and power.
    Macapagal-Arroyo, however, recognizes that today Poe will presently be the people’s good man, having been weakened by Death and been Christianized completely. So the former called him a good man, and so on and so forth, never mind her party’s likely guffaws at the thought of Poe’s wife Susan Roces’ being touted by the opposition as Poe’s possible successor.
    This recognition is understandable. After all, politicians also understand that in the eyes of God and humanity we are all Mr. Beans. We are all, both the generally evil and the generally good, sooner or later exposed as but fumbling characters in funny lives, amiable as learning tools and as reminders of ourselves. That inevitability is what will make us to others amiable instead of despicable, on earth as in heaven; that amiability will further be enhanced of course by the cynical atmosphere of a sane world of governance replete with godly ambitions, evil, corruption working us, influencing us. At least while Hobbes' truth remains, God should win at least a trillion best writer-director awards for creating such affable characters, however true the fact is that these characters have at one time or another been friendly to self-appointed gods, those enemies of the poor and oppressed humans, or otherwise been too saintly and iconic for popular appreciation. These characters can't be other than our friendly dolls, being our educational clones.
    When the day comes, even the godlike Gloria Arroyo will be an affable Mr. Bean cartoon character. Even if only for a day, as the day's Sesame Street-word of a TV special. [END]

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Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Colors and Politics Are Like Apples and Oranges

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THE YOUNG MAN I hired to cut the bamboo in my yard is now painting my ceiling. The ceiling is going to be painted orange, the color presently making the rounds of restaurants and fastfood shops in the country, not to mention the streets of Ukraine in an ongoing so-called Orange Revolution. Orange seems also to have only recently become a popular color among makers of button-down-collared short-sleeved shirts (polo shirts) and their buyers. And although gays seemed to have wanted to claim the color in the mid-‘90s as yet another of their flag and sofa/couch colors beside the traditional lavender or the recurrent pink, heterosexuals in their turn seemed to have acted in defiance of the virtual appropriation, thus denying gays the privilege.
    Pink itself has recently been liberated from the gay fences by corporate taste, thanks perhaps to Japanese TQM gurus and their pinku waishatsus and to the members of golf clubs in the US of A sporting pink shirts, to pink films and the Pink Grand Prix, to Pinky ofPinky and the Brain , and to John Edwards' use of John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses" in his presidential campaigning. Pink used to be the official color assigned to socialists in the USA and South Africa---the pinkos , remember?---and was the flag color of Hitler's panzer divisions.
    Deep purple, meanwhile, used to be a hippie band waxing psychedelic rock, but it---the color---was later re-assigned for gay usage, if only for being near lavender. Latinos, however, would every now and then proudly parade the color as a symbol of their race qua masters of color boldness and handling, but more likely because it is a decidedly liturgical color as well as part of the anti-Catholic Second Spanish Republic's flag. It later became the color of feminists, but heterosexual males' interior design plans for their offices are also slowly reclaiming it, as if to reassert the color’s early associations with male royalty. Hippies used the color, too, to allude both to Jesus' royalty or simply for psychedelic completeness. . . . So, having said all the above, what’s obvious is this: the quirky use of colors is almost at the level of people wanting to copyright them, if only they could, and all for certain political statuses.
    Anyway, some of the bamboo I and the young man I hired had earlier cut . . . well, we used them for scaffolding. But I'm still a little embarrassed with the cutting, being in this year and month when the Philippines once again figured in CNN's top three headlines with the news about the flash floods in Quezon province, the Bicol Region, and the Central Luzon area, which killed as many as 400+ Filipinos as of last accounting. A total logging ban was enforced, and I suppose bamboo shouldn’t be exempt if located on hills overlooking towns or otherwise inside flood-prone districts of a city or municipality.
    But in my neighborhood there might be that no-need-to-ask demand for the bamboo to be cut to help, please, the corrugated galvanized iron sheet roofing lengthen its life and likewise save on energy drink required for the daily sweeping of fallen bamboo leaves on my and my neighbor’s lawns. So, the bamboo had to go and found new function.
    The new function was as scaffolding, as we mentioned, initially for some decorative or psychological purpose, the painting of an orange ceiling.

ALL DECORATIVE things are psychological items, the reason why I've always put a premium on decorators in my lifetime, no lower a valuation than my regard for the great men of science and the philosopher-kings. But there are good decorators and bad decorators, or there are good decorations that are not good for you and so therefore do not serve their psychological purpose, unless their purpose is for psychological warfare, decidedly with the intent of hurting someone's eyes and make him want to go to sleep.
    So, back to my orange ceiling. Yellow-orange, to be precise. What are the politics around it, accompanying the politics of the bamboo used for scaffolding? Well, there is the quasi-science around it, the psychology of the décor. Orange makes you feel warm, a function handy in a city-subdivision that receives constant winds from the Pacific in the east bouncing off the recurrently damp hills in the west with their bamboo and coconut vegetation. One cannot anymore be suspected of being gay with an orange ceiling, unlike five years back when a Boy Abunda would visit the ad agency I worked for and exclaim "this orange sofa of yours is just so . . . gay. Only somebody like that can think of a color like this." Maybe because it was a more pinkish kind of orange, and at least one of our influential bosses was openly gay. No, especially with the proliferation of restaurants and doughnut or burger shops boasting of its supposedly appetite-enhancing function, orange is now for everybody and anybody. Recently also, as we mentioned above, the Ukrainian opposition carried the orange color as its symbol, and CNN averred this was probably intended to avert possible violence in the restless country, for reasons unknown to me. Anyway, orange has chiefly been associated with social democrat, Christian democrat and populist parties, whether liberal conservative- or conservative liberal-leaning. But we can't limit it to that, since in Northern Ireland it's been associated with unionism, while in the Netherlands it's the color of the monarchist right wing. Anyway, there is orange and there’s orange. The saffron kind is usually associated with pain and Hinduism. But put that same color in a Dunkin' Donuts shop and you’d get an entirely different context, more gustatory than yogi-tory. Put the same Dunkin’ Donuts scheme in an Indian shop and it’s another thing again.
    What does all this say? If color can be an indication of a person’s or building’s personality or mood, the opposite is also true---it cannot categorically say anything. The statements of certain persons and establishments can actually re-contextualize a color. If, for example, a neo-Nazi group were to be born somewhere, their displaying an orange flag with a black and white swastika circle in the middle would certainly displace the warmth of orange, as it would the Hinduist sacrifice context the color offers. It will become the new color of disguised or explicit hatred.
    Therefore, I could list down all the values the color orange will reflect into my living room and dining room and bedroom from the ceiling. But what I do in this, my parents' deserted Tacloban house, in the coming days when glossy yellow-orange remains my ceiling's color, will carry all the political and cultural shades of that color to several possibilities. Should I, one night, start throwing plates, hurry out of my orange house challenging my neighbors to some bolo knife-play, the color orange will certainly be stamped in my neighbors’ memories as that color once seen running amok in the city-subdivision. I could be tagged with a new nickname, Datu Oring the Bolo King, or something like that, even if my inspiration for the color was merely the sunset color from the hill in the west that would hit my white kitchen wall from 4pm onwards. I had that wall painted orange and green, too, to sort of meet the sunset orange and mimic the orange and green of the papayas on my kitchen dining table.

I MOST noticed and felt this flexibility in colors, swinging from banal amiability to social assertiveness, in corporate Manila. Manila offices have increasingly become more experimental with coloration. Undoubtedly, office designers of chicness have transformed some of today's offices into friendlier spaces.
    But, again, it all depends. Unsmiling faces manning the receptionist's or customer service desks could turn the whole atmospheric amiability of colors into a sort of fearsome plastic Trojan horse that, from your offended point of view, could suddenly look contrived, merely in it to get your approval. You'd then step back and withdraw your application or customership.
    A beautiful office with probably the best feng shui design may suddenly expose labor restlessness, quickly converting the friendly-colored establishment into a political arena containing mental gladiators and lions and possible blood vampires. Conversely, the worst-dressed lady executive despised by all for wearing that cheap perfume of hers on her horrifying violet and flowers-patterned office dress may actually suddenly turn out to be the champion of a corporation's workforce and become the union's heroine, her abominable coloration there instantly turning adorable.
    There are colors, on objects, that carry "intrinsic" psychological or cultural values. Such as those universal carriers of color-moods as fruits---for instance, the papayas we mentioned. However, there are also mental colors in gestures and body and facial language and in speech that will synaesthetically blend with the visual colors of the physical surround of any establishment during these human-derived movements' moments of special assertions. And that combination will be noticed, consciously or subconsciously, for a logical conclusion---much like how premises function for logic. Thus, perfect black worn by yuppies in coffeeshops makes for a different mood and signification against the fading black worn by those rock music fans who can’t afford P30 beers. Beyond black's classiness as well as silent dissent, that difference transcends the color's umbrella meaning, or rather divides it. The black of corporate people are usually new black, while punk and grunge rockers and underpaid artists may favor---for obvious reasons---the fading kind of lamp black that’s almost just soot. But yet, notice that when the yuppie wears the faded black color and the rogue rocker wears the perfect black one, neither the yuppie's yuppieness nor the rocker's rogueness changes, in the same way that a rich kid studying at Ateneo de Manila University won't exactly get his image changed by a pair of jeans ripped at a knee.
    Let us place ourselves in a fine arts college. A student who is often seen in light gray shirts could be regarded as a drab young person. After a certain college recognition of his prolificacy and creativity, however, the gray becomes a symbol of a modesty and moderation blanketing a flamboyance in his inner person. Most successful painters, after all, avoid colorful clothing in the same way that models pick up their blue jeans and white t-shirts after a glamorous ramp show.
    Ultimately, therefore, in the same sense that the BAD feng shui of an owner's soul may overshadow the GOOD feng shui of his building and office, a nicely-painted house may anytime be overwhelmed by a horrifying behavior from its inhabitants.
    Colors and you. The you will be the achievement, the colors the mere psychological facade. The colors you choose, with their politics and psychological effect, could speak of a truth about you, but also possibly a lie.
    I suggest we save money for the re-coloring of our houses and lives as our lives move forward, all in the service of truth---it is this truth, after all, that can in a blink of an eye re-contextualize the politics around a color.
    But I grant that a welcoming color is apt for guest-welcoming in a house. But, then, many offices (and some restaurants) also operate on lies! So, be careful with the contextual predetermination of your domestic use of oranges and apple greens. For, remember, that warning has proved true for the past's use of political colors. ###

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Art as Politics; Politics as Art

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WATCHING SAMURAI X or a similar anime series on TV the other day, I noticed a certain resemblance to the Peter Jackson-helmed The Lord of the Rings trilogy effect---effect on me, at least, as a passer-by viewer. So, you can just imagine its effect on the anime fan! The effect I'm talking about is anime's potential propagandistic charisma value that the Japanese probably are aware of. Now, I am not so much talking about the content, which may vary from anime to anime (albeit a constant pattern may be gleaned by any curious social scientism). I’m more inclined to talk about and celebrate the virtue of fantasy in the hands of The Good, wherein some Hitlerian (or Hirohito-ish) grandiosity must be restrained from temptations that might allow it to express either some inner Big Hate or some Gargantuan Intellectual Philosophy of Greed. Because, believe me, this charisma value can be quite charming.
    Anime cartoons are fantasy cartoons in more ways than one. They neither pretend to be realistic comedy cartoons nor do they kowtow to the category of children’s programming. Anime is considered an art in itself, involving a fantastic plot and a fantastic power object portrayed via another Japanese fantastic achievement: the anime eyes.
    Now, anime eyes are a Japanese vehicle for escape from the global stereotype on Orientals as squinty-eyed, but its design goes further than the Western man’s larger eyes to produce in the end a different nation that’s ultimately quasi-Japanese and quasi-Western, the citizens of which Different Nation inhabit a globally-marketable art. Add to this, anime characters’ hair color try to eschew ground level by exploring the possibilities of dis-blacking. This style propagated a trend in Japan of color-dyed hair among the youth (and later the middle-aged) previously only plausible in the urban planet among so-called fashion punks.
    Much has been said by many a lay philosopher today about the escapism of fantasy literature and art vis a vis the boldness of realism and allusive expressionist passion. The Lord of the Rings trilogy of the Lord Dunsany school of literature which was delivered through the genius of J.R.R. Tolkien have influenced fantasy lovers way before the book's story was made into three special-effects breakthroughs, as had the pioneering progressive rock of Yes and King Crimson and Uriah Heep and the psychedelic blues-rock of Led Zeppelin, as have later oeuvres of high-tech special effects such as the George Lucas-written and -megged fantasy classic Star Wars. However, in the liberal press today, fantasy art is given credence as serious art only when driven by artists and authors surrounded by a traffic of political oppression (within a geo-political or ethnic boundary); these artists’ works supposedly hide or enhance a political satire or symbological value. When flaunted by artists in happy surrounds, however, fantasy art is often deemed by the liberal or even conservative snobbish critic as simple fantasy devoid of any socially-redeeming significance as art.
    In the age of post-structuralism and Marxist criticism, however, reviewers have been given easy license to read (or over-read) almost anything into anything, thus the term cultural studies, the only universal rule being that the reading maintains integrity within the construct. This certainly went further than Marcel Duchamp's now-lame proposal that anything exhibited in a gallery may qualify itself as art. (Certain thinkers decry integrity in reading, meanwhile, celebrating entropy and disavowing criticisms against "unintelligent" readings by the masses.) So Star Wars can now be taken into a classroom and deconstructed to fit any personal or political agenda into the work, and that is not anymore considered shameful. Indeed, we can say that in our age artworks are liberated from the author-dictated (or New Critics-proposed) moral, and are now surrendered to the intelligence or lack thereof of the masses or the masses’ favorite authority critic (who may then offer various readings or approaches to the consumer masses), thus, finally, dis-glamorizing snobbery. So why, we ask, does fantasy art still manufacture frowns from authorities at Cannes or Stockholm? Perhaps because post-structuralism, supposedly masses-friendly but ridden with academic gibberish of a new snobbishness, didn’t exactly create a trickle-down effect upon magazine reviewers. In the end, it's as if post-structuralism has yet to happen and history continues to flow on unhindered as a manifestation of the law of God consisting of repetitions and second comings devoid of academic views and lessons. Devoid, that is, of both the fantasy of a hermeneutics from a campus distance or the social hermeneutics delivered through a distantly fantastic construct aided by alcohol or drugs or the naturally imaginative individual.
    There will always be the divide between realists and expressionists, but the divide between these readily-popular alluders and their fantasy art counterparts are wider still. And this will remain an interesting kind of divide, with the former not confronting the latter but ignoring the seriousness of their lot, never mind that this lot comprises the higher percentage of the mythology of the populace.
    Realists will, however, not begrudge fantasy artists their "rightful" place in society. Today's anime cartoons, along with fantastic movies like The Lord of the Rings, not only create entertainment offering momentary escape from our dirty laundry and the depressing art films from the festivals and the subtle artistry from Congress' halls, they also inspire creativity with measure. Such measure is easy where the art (with its accompanying creativity) is almost an end in itself. As in clothes fashion. L'art pour l'art. Many fine cinema techniques can be traced to comics art, in the way technology traces its achievements to basic science. Were anime not fantasy, I doubt that it would come up with the visual quirks (lighting, color, lines, etc.) that are in the level of what theatre people and fashion ramp aficionados proudly refer to as meaningless creative faggotry beloved of Broadway.
    But what do we make of it when certain fantasy artists, beyond the academicized critics, proclaim on their own their arts’ realist side, that is, their social significance beyond the merely entertaining or l’art pour l’art (read: decorative) value? Do we take them seriously? Have we really taken science fiction seriously beyond the claims of the college curriculum, at this same podium where we’ve regarded magic realism with awe?
    Perhaps the answer is that fantasy is simply too much of an achievement of metaphors. The "real world" already abounds in perceivable metaphors . . . so, why create another mythological world? And, conversely or accordingly, everything is fantasy anyway. A paragraph that describes a coffee break in a Milan sidewalk café might read as fantasy to a University of the Philippines Diliman student from the province who saves up on his allowance to be able to sip at Starbucks on his weekend.
    As for realism, I wonder how realist it really is. An early literary movement called Naturalism claimed more real realism in the portrayal of the helplessness of the individual as victim of his surround, beyond salvage by the fantasies of revolutionists. And although this genre (as in the talents of a Eugene O'Neill or Alexander Solzhenitsyn) clamored for a kind of counter-revolution (Solzhenitsyn against a continuing communist "morality," for example), the Naturalist’s art itself had to portray a reality first; not the reality of omniscient organizers of reality but the reality of the imprisoned denied vision of anything beyond the four walls of his cell (and inner cell). Therefore, to the Naturalist, so-called Realism is fantasy. Ernest Hemingway’s own type of quasi-inner naturalism already regarded realists as suspect.
    But fantasy art's role, like anime, will continue to be equated with the functions of background music, chandeliers, relaxant drugs, tapestries, or postcards. Entertaining tools, mere artisans’ produce. Which does not exactly sound demeaning or insulting, but yet decidedly relegated to a lower echelon in the kingdom of criticism.
    Perhaps this is all cultural. The miracles in the Bible are not viewed by Christians as fantastic but rather as historical (or quasi-historical). And as for being a matter of degree, with realist art having more reality in it than fantasy, fantasy having less, this theory likewise turns suspect when we start to consider the claims of science fiction or fantasy literature authors that humanity exists purportedly not in the world of the "real" but in the inner landscape we carry with us everyday. This inner landscape could actually be in any setting at all, they'd say. So, a Milan café is no more real than a cave in Mars. And wherever fiction is located, the same real human principles apply, as it did among the power-brokering and struggles developing in The Lord of the Rings or Spiderman or Winnie the Pooh. As it does in the amazing cartoons of anime art. They might claim that an utter removal from readily-allusive reality creates that distance that allows humanity to focus on the principles by themselves, not on some trivial facts of everyday politics.
     For, sure, imaginativeness or creativity is probably exercised fully in fantasy literature and art (being armed with a freedom like those on the shoulders of basic-science researchers, unless pressured by a direct corporate or market demand). But one’s understanding of human behaviour is also exercised here. Wouldn't present human behaviour be better exposed in a sci-fi novel? These same exercises among fantasy authors and artists are also operational in fantasy readers and viewers. After all, when we come right down to basics, seeing the category "Fiction" in a magazine automatically relegates pieces in this zone to the level of fantasy vis a vis the claimed realism or objectivity of the news, and the reader accepts this fantasy, suspending disbelief in his submission. It’s time we admit that all art is nothing but fantasy, and that therefore our first obligation as artists is to art itself, avoiding being boring or un-fresh, especially when ready realist allusions realistically point to boring trivia about figures in current history, veering away from the distance of the mythologizing process of art.

THE RECENTLY-concluded US elections were full of fantasy and realism. A lot of real facts about George W. Bush’s and friends’ businesses in the Middle East were touted by his camp’s defenders as mere lies, and a collection of political measures and war-machine restraint in contender John Kerry as unrealistic. Meanwhile, some of us in the social liberal side of the globe were amazed at the restraint that Kerry displayed in avoiding mention of such red meat potentials against G.W. Bush as United Defence or Unocal, which Green Party candidate Ralph Nader (armed with the l'art pour l'art freedom to spill the most conservative-offending beans) would have no qualms mentioning and offering to the media head-on. Which filmmaker Michael Moore, as critic of both Republican and Democrat meta-narratives, had no reservations in exposing. Which Fox News, for all its denials of being a Republican propaganda bus stop, made open efforts to deny.
    Fantasy and realist portrayals are two approaches to the same thing---Art, which draws the myths and illusions of every profession and its accompanying uniform, of every business enterprise with its marketing, of every political career with its restraints and compromises, of every greed with its blueprint scheme and impending grand architecture, of every religious mission, and---finally---of every nation’s delusion, escapism, or self-imaging designs.
    But the only truly realist portrait is an inner one, because it draws the mythological and propagandistic face of a winner. This winning, however, is made possible by the art and lie of the imagination, combined with a restraint towards realist allusion. It is what makes all fantastic realities succeed. They succeed by virtue of an acceptance of their own mythology, which acceptance gives them the moral license to bare others' myths.

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Passion for Profit (and Vice-Versa) Part 2

photo borrowed from

CROSS-STITCHING has arrived at a level of popularity among women in the late ‘90s that had shops catering specially to the cross-stitching market cropping out everywhere. What were sold in these shops were patterns for the hobby, threads, needles and accessories, and of course such shops would usually offer framing services (largely outsourced beyond most people's knowledge).
    Many a provincial art-gallery visitor must have become accustomed by now to those constant walk-in wives’ whispered comments to their husbands regarding the steep price of paintings compared to cross-stitched works sold at cross-stitch shops. Yet the art gallery goer would simply either smirk or guffaw at these possibly middle-class- or nouveau-riche-class-deriving comments, comments therefore coming from positions of unworldliness, as it were. But, of course, those art gallery goers' guffaws would just be nervous guffaws from the art-loving world.
    Kitsch or not, when certain clients prefer to spend their hard-earned-overseas dollars-now-pesos on large cross-stitched Mona Lisas rather than on either medium-sized originals by a local artist or style-rich still life pieces from a prestigious gallery in Manila or Cebu (offered perhaps for the same modest price), neither tastelessness nor a threat should be read into this relatively mechanized reality.
    Instead, the symbols dangled by the cross-stitching presence ought to be culturally valuable to artists, gallery visitors and gallery owners---for symbols these are the significations of which should stop us now from either ignoring or condescendingly smiling towards that very presence. These symbols do provide, after all, a rethink on the position of gallery art in our society, and might lead artists and academic critics to reform their aesthetic braggadocio.

CROSS-STITCHING is supposedly a trendy pastime that took over the role played by the crocheting of doilies. However, its continuing presence now seems  to have added itself into the roster of commodities threatening the art commodity, regardless of whether the galleries and the not-yet-established artists want to admit it or not. By the way, it would be the more affordable struggling artist who'd be most threatened by this unacknowledged competition. So what is this trendy folk art that's threatening to take over the wall space that’s supposedly better served by (and ought to be reserved for) the allegedly more intelligent or tasteful formats of painting and frieze-sculpture?
    Here is our cue. When we talk about the service of art to present society, we seldom inquire about art’s function---beyond its claim---in reality. But let’s do it conversely, examining instead the function of the framed cross-stitched work, so to arrive at the allegedly opposite function of its "high art" space bully.
    The cross-stitched work actually provides one function it shares with painting art, and that is in entertaining the empathy a buyer or viewer feels toward the implied artistic labor or action upon a piece---cross-stitch-work viewers often talk about the difficulty of certain combinations, of certain crosses, so similar to discussions about the difficulty of superimpositions of color in an oil glaze or watercolor masterpiece or the artist's patience over a hyperrealist bottle. Perhaps not so similar, if we are to be snobbish, and here is where we should nudge ourselves to now begin to talk about our beloved art’s other function and the popular knowledge about that function.
    The decline of popular appreciation for the studio arts can be likened to the alienation the common Filipino feels toward the elements of the ballet. Painting has become so esoteric (painting has become the painted word to Tom Wolfe, to conceptual literary-manifesto illustrators, and---above all---to knowing critics) that it can now be safely borne in our minds as an upper-class (or educated class) art. And even among the upper classes, how certain are we about the value they are placing upon an artist’s celebrated work? Are the popularly-purchased art of an artist, the way GSIS President Winston Garcia defended the institution’s art acquisitions, being purchased more for the love of resale investing than for the love of the purchased art? If so, then we could say that cross-stitching has become the more real art of the real people, appreciated for their postcard and almost-decontextualized (Western or Southern American or English or European) beauty and for their implied "action" (remember action painting?). How is the common man (or woman-wife) expected to approach the distortions upon reality of Ben Cabrera’s drawing lines? Unless somebody gifted him (or her) an expensive coffeetable book published by the Cultural Center of the Philippines discoursing on the BenCabs’ academic worth, we shouldn't expect much enthusiasm from a "correct" academic approach espoused by traditional art criticism! Cross-stitched work appreciation, on the other hand, has created a sort of people’s art, a new Moravian Church against Rome's elitism. And even if this art may fail the test that would give it license to call itself art or even a sport, it has become a nasty bit of paradox in the industry of creating wall pictures. 
    And don’t tell me that most framed cross-stitched works are just decorative, implying that paintings in the prestigious galleries are mostly not. Even pieces that pretend to be in the service of some theater or poetry (on canvas) necessarily function in the age of the interior designer as mere interior design-friendly colored objects, no matter how "ugly" or "bad" an artist tries to make his paintings look (the act of framing alone already elevates any intended ugliness to the level of glamour, like placing real-punk fashion in the hands of Paul McCartney’s daughter).
    Don’t tell me, too, that the paintings in the galleries are the more serious products. I doubt that the buyer of the skull paintings of Ronald Ventura would be more interested in the artist’s mental activism than in the fact that one of the paintings’ skull echoes the buyer’s father’s dental mini-skulls collection on a narra antique cabinet inside that father's home clinic. I doubt that the buyer of a dreamy Chagallian composition in a recent Marcel Antonio is more interested in the artist’s visual song than in the way his coloration echoes the buyer’s curtain-and-sofa-and-rug combine. I say paintings have actually become the expensive tools for the charlatan "interior designers" in the painting-acquiring class---ever heard how artistas and other celebrities talk about their homes and the way their paintings fit into their personality groove? Like buying a Horowitz CD to softly background a party noise.
    I have no doubt that many artists in our country deserve more recognition than what they’re getting from the buying class. I would doubt, however, the claim that the buyers of what may be great or good Filipino art have already given their artists ample recognition. Beyond the sole fact that celebrity artists have been given the capacity to continue to paint via the mercenary support of their clientele, I also have no doubt that others in this roster do not deserve the recognition they're getting from the art world, at least as regards some of their works or periods, although it can indeed be a world mostly dictated by equally ignorant purchasers and corrupt dealers. 
    In the cross-stitching field, in contrast, cross-stitching "artworks" have had the same effect on their customers as our galleries' great or good paintings on their critics. This effect, which I may academically and snobbishly term "correct appreciation," may even be more "real" with the cross-stitches than with some sold gallery paintings, if only because the purchase of a cross-stitched work almost always have no regard for resale value or an elite market's approval.

SO WHAT'S a serious artist to do? First, he should stop laughing at the cross-stitched-art buyer. The buyer of this sort of "art" could be one of those "real people" from the working class who sometimes walk into high-art galleries, likely armed with the knowledge that the pieces here are grossly expensive, entering these nonetheless for the sake of breathing in the actions implied in the art there as well as the drama espoused by those art. No, resale value's not going to be in his/her mind, and rugs and sofas most likely only secondarily in his/her mind. The cross-stitched "painting," therefore, in its buyer's eyes, is respected for itself and not as semiotic interactive material for what may be the pretentious artist-eye in the buyer.
    Otherwise, assuming that the buyers of serious gallery art are an "academicized" lot, that is, well-armed by art-historical readings for an art-historical valuation of their purchased art, then the cross-stitched work’s buyer can be appreciated as a product of a culture alienated from the complex significances of this European art called oil/acrylic painting, alienated from an education system that distributes such knowledge within levels of privilege and underprivilege. That’s not even saying anything yet about the economics of the art, how painting was transferred from the patronage of a royalty or a papacy to the patronage of the wealthy merchant class starting with the guilds and the Medicis, on to a patronage by a wealthy few who are making sure the art remains inaccessible to the masses both financially and intellectually. Such a reality would thus put into question the validity of a Marxist direction in, say, an Antipas Delotavo social realist commodity. Did the patrons of the Mexican Marxist painter Diego Rivera share a certain amount of Marxism with the artist’s celebrated and purchased works? Were they purchased from positions of opportunism in opposition to the existing Mexican regime of the time, or with sheer decorative intents?
    A more radical question would be this: does the bad context of a purchase of an art make the art less of an art? And so, therefore, can we say that art buying is a practice external to the art, itself an art, and that the art of layman appreciation exists on a different field or plane separate from the galleries' marketing activities and movements in auction shops? For it would seem that even the valuation of a van Gogh within academic and critical circles are drastically different from the valuation placed upon it by an auction with coverage by Bloomberg TV. So that we may safely say that the passionate affair between art and the critical art appreciation of art magazines is a necessary affair that has also yet to coexist with the one-way marriage between artworks and their investor-purchasers (who are nonetheless happy about the complexity placed on their patronized art).
    If such is the typical arrangement, then we can say that the relationship between the cross-stitched work’s buyer and the cross-stitch work is no different from the relationship between a gallery painting and an everyday-you-or-I-who-can't-afford-paintings but have the critical eye to fall in love with it. Between them and their art could be unadulterated, real love. This is not the sort of relationship that occurs between a Christian artwork and a corrupt medieval church imposing an art valuation by fear; this is the sort of relationship that occurs between that work and the parish’s God-fearing populace far removed from the strict dogmas of religiosity. So, to paraphrase, this sort of relationship's approach to all sorts of art and "art" can be the big cultural difference between the expensive painting's real appreciator (those who can't afford the painting but can sentimentally love the painting and those who can academically appreciate the painting) and that same painting's market-value appreciator (whose appreciation is likely contaminated).
    Ergo sum, our laughter towards the cross-stitched work’s buyer may have been misplaced, considering the possibility that such a buyer may both have a real appreciator's as well as a market-value appreciator's approach to that kind of art. The buyer probably values his/her purchased cross-stitched piece as art and as a precious gift item, the reason being, most likely, that he/she does not belong to the merchant class or a similar class that could use such an investment qua resale investment. So that the small cultural difference between the cross-stitched work’s buyer’s approach and ours in the art-critical niche laughing at him/her, then, is only that---cultural. It would be a cultural difference devoid of a hierarchical difference. It's not even the difference between the painting fan who loves a painting for its colors and the painting fan who loves the same painting for its meanings. The meanings a cross-stitched work buyer attaches to his/her new purchase can be as complex as that in the well-read buyer of a new and allusion-rich pseudo-narrative Marcel Antonio oeuvre.
    Therefore, to repeat, it might do us a lot of good to henceforth take a diplomatic stance and bridge that gap between the cross-stitched work’s buyer and us, the snobbish culturati, considering that the difference between him/her and us is small. We can perhaps to easily share our culture with her, hers with us, which latter culture we could "elevate" by our snobbishness to fit into our masturbatory intellections.

HOWEVER, might such enhancements on artists’ and critics’ affairs with the cross-stitched work buyer endanger the necessary loveless marriage between serious artists and their market-value buyers and turn these buyers into fits of jealousy? And would art (and its artists) die (the way Poetry died) without that marriage? I doubt it. For I believe the marriage has been aware of the affair with the real appreciators, and has in fact been using this affair to put a premium on the marriage. The market-value buyer (husband) has actually been putting his wife (the artist) on sale. The pimp pimping art like cross-stitched work and supplies to fellow pimps are part and parcel of the sustenance of the gratified wives' tales that surround our cross-stitched artistic criticalities. Such is the economic reality in the art industry involving worshippers, loveless Pharisees, dilettantes and buy-and-sell merchants that is no more sacrosanct than the reality happening in the cross-stitched-work shops. And both of these scenes would be deemed respectable in the merchant-capitalist centuries.
    And so, if the cross-stitched shop business pimping cross-stitched work and supplies is no less respectable than your friendly neighborhood doughnut shop as well as your friendly neighborhood high-art gallery, then the cross-stitched work buyer is no more laughable than the respectable high-brow passionate element of the minority that subscribes to Artforum, visits the Art he can't afford at galleries, and forces himself to swoon to Art's delights in the coffeetable book in his living room. He is also no more laughable than the respectable high-end passionate element of the buying class that subscribes to Artforum issues that he barely reads, buys Art, and forces himself to swoon to Art's delights in his living room. The cross-stitched work is no more of a wife honestly pimped to an itchy cross-stitched-art consumer market than the high-art painter (who studied art theory and art history and sold taho on weekends just to finish college) who's now being contrived and peddled as genius by the economic science (and art) of art valuation. [END]

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Passion for Profit (and Vice-Versa)

THE prolific Filipino ceramic artist Ugo Bigyan (he prefers to be called a mere "potter") has always espoused a 1:1 ratio for his entire output, the one part being on the side of business, the other on the side of art. This is not an alien doctrine to most successful artists, although some of them would deny having placed an equal premium on "commercialism". Bigyan's commercial items (he supplies three Glorietta stores, among many other mall stores) are neither crass nor condescending in their exploiting and feeding a supposedly less "academic" market. Quality is distributed to all classes and markets, that's his production's policy. And as for my use of the word "exploiting," we must remember that in marketing management the word is seldom used in its negative, irresponsible sense. And as for my saying "supposedly less academic," I must apologize as we must likewise remember that the market of higher-end artistic products are not necessarily always academic in their approach to sensual objects of purchase.
    In a capitalist environ, or -- if you will -- a free enterprise system, all art necessarily becomes commercial. Or, to be more blunt, all art is commercial. Anti-commercial art can be categorized into two: one patronizing a limited (therefore unprofitable) "cognoscente" class market which may actually include both learned and merely pretentious elements, the other exercising a form of rebellion against the role money plays in art, or otherwise flaunting a freedom from the necessity of selling. Some so-called installation art (a genre which blossomed in the '70s) have not always decried the money influence, for we might remember that the US' National Endowment for the Arts and such other funding institutions offer hefty sums to artists who wish to practice in this traditionally non-profit genre. But some who have been vocal in their installation-art practice about the supposed corruption of painting and sculpture have been able to declare their stand from positions that either maintained day jobs or otherwise solicited maintenance fees from their family wealth or from private contributions.
    I happen to be in a similar art practice, with my six online books of poems and one online short story collection, all being products sans profit. My day job not only allowed me the weekend luxury of writing but likewise access to office internet facilities. :-) When Dr. Zhivago (or rather, Boris Pasternak) wrote in a poem "And for your noble work no payment claim,/ Your art alone your wage", I wonder what sort of poet was in his mind -- a doctor-poet like him? A carpenter-poet of social realism subsidized by the state? Pasternak's medical practice, a half-commercial venture, sustained his art, making his art one with a possibly quasi-commercial source. The only true anti -commercial art, therefore, is the one that's produced only once and with the intention of dying, to be thus intentionally disabled from doing any further art or any future acceptance of a remuneration. Art that wishes to make further art would indeed solicit the question as to how one might be able to keep on doing it, what should sustain the artist's nutrition through the weeks. In the same way that no communist can survive in a capitalist society without partaking of the processes of capitalist exchange (including one's labor as one's capital), so the anti-commercial artist cannot claim freedom from commercialism until he leaves the face of that same consumer market's capitalist processes.
    Of course, what is often disparaged as commercial is art that has been downgraded, perceived to have compromised with -- to satisfy the profit motive of -- producers, patrons, and/or dealers. A sellout art, it's often called. Or the patron or dealer himself is the one labeled as a commercial dealer, as if there is such an animal as a non-commercial one. Now, such downgrades as we've mentioned do not necessarily produce lesser art. Picasso's ceramic plates have often been touted as some of Picasso's commercial works, never mind that a pejorative radical criticism would eventually regard Picasso's entire body of works as wholly commercial for their patron-friendly colors. Picasso's plates would now command serious study from many an art critic or art aficionado, and so does that mean that the commercialism has disappeared by virtue of their academization?

    Picasso plate
(photo from

MARKETING men offer us this good advice: make good products as a first step to market success. However, in the same breath they'd also say, if there is no market for our products we can always make one. From Piccaso, let's fast-forward to the '70s and '80s. Why several artists marketed their stuff as "ugly paintings" in the '80s, or Bad Painting in the '70s, whether from a disgust for a burgeoning trend using, say, patron-friendly pretty coloration in many of the paintings of a decade, or whether from an awareness that there was a growing part of the market that had that punk rock-inspired disgust and had become bored with paintings in general, I do not remember. Was that de Kooning-ness a demonstration of the opposite of selling out? How many of their paintings were sold in the process? If they got sold, were the non-commercial painters unwitting participants as waiting commodities of an in-progress commercial marketing process?
    And as for art that is not art, so to speak, as in "popular cinema" (as against "art cinema" or film festival cinema), there exists such prejudicial tags as suspense thrillers, horror films, romantic comedy, and so on. Quentin Tarantino delivered the loudest statement at Cannes on this issue with Pulp Fiction, demonstrating that poetry (linguistic as well as visual) is possible within established Hollywood pop cliches and formats better known as pulp (meaning "cheap"). Katheryn Bigelow has done it too in her lesser-known films. Recently, in Kill Bill, Tarantino demonstrated further that there can be such a thing as art-for-art's-sake cinema that utilizes Hollywood formats and formulas. Not to use  them for some serious artistic end, really, other than to appropriate them for some redirection of audience reactions from these same-but-twisted formats or genres. These utilizations, by the way, while of artistic value can also be regarded as pure, blind entertainment, if only for the reason that the elements used were by themselves major parts of the source formats' entertainment value. Here, then, is the corollary idea that Hollywood formats may perhaps have always been more about the art of their genre than the stories and the plot; therefore, actions within may have been more important, to audiences as well as the filmmakers, than what all the action was about and for. Therefore, not exactly more commercial than Art.
    Consider that up till Kill Bill, such art-for-art's sake claims inside Hollywood were still only being associated with French and German short films (filmic films) that showed a lot of those blurs, scratches on the film, editing flairs, double exposures, swinging cameras, and so on, that seemed fraught with the obsession to bring painting and Pollock into the photoplay medium as materials, even while Kill Bill is not filmic. Tarantino had to bring art cinema out of the art cinema houses. Tarantino thus achieved for the turn of the millennium what the pop artists of the '60s (Warhol, Lichtenstein, etc.) achieved with kitsch, pushing pop and kitsch and the trampy up to a level wherein they became valid material for artmaking.
    But maybe I'm wrong. For how many Hollywood houses marketed their films for the special FX involved, or for the martial art choreography developed therein? The only difference, however, was that instead of these films embracing such elements for "art"-making, the elements were enjoyed for themselves. And would that make for art? Perhaps not. Nevertheless, here is still not a question of the difference between pure art and commercialism, but simply the difference between art (which is entertainment) and elemental entertainment as an "art" or art.

wallpaper for Kill Bill 

    And so, we may say art remains art when it utilizes the little arts of the world (special effects, cinematographic craft, etc.) for holistic expressions. But should we say that in holism is integrity and in its absence is selling out? Nope. Creating "shallow crafts" is not equivalent to commercialization, either, the same way that commercialization is not the devil that ruins art. Consider kitsch, a longtime enemy of art and good taste and one of the products of commercial merchandising interests: there may be a lot of art that are simply bad and derivative and deserve to be lambasted as kitsch, but using (consciously or unconsciously) the kitschy sensibility as material for good art is a different thing altogether. Laying Mona Lisa tiles on one's kitchen walls may be kitschy to one critic, but to another critic doing so and doing it in extremis  to come up with a so-aware or not-so-aware contextual statement on the kitsch-ification of the Mona Lisa in the age of Roman tourism would be using kitsch practice as material and thematic content for an art concept. It is possible for such art to attract a wide audience, which will not make it commercial, or attract no audience, which won't make it non-commercial.
    Statements and concepts abound in good art today, whether in New York or Berlin or Manila, and many if not most of these are for sale. In the same manner that novelists sell their novels and filmmakers their films, painters get rich by the commercialization of their art. But the critical wrongness of a painter's heavily-selling art would not be due to its commercialization but due to its own wrongness. Any form of "non-commercialization" would certainly not redeem it, critically.
    All good art that struggled in the market place is still commercial art that simply didn't compromise to a formula of commercialization but chose a different commercial direction, say, a long-term profit over a short-term one. As Tarantino has loudly shown, one can be "commercial" to achieve good art out of that commercialism. The painter Piet Mondrian produced a similar resultant with his work in a probably less-aware fashion. Five large paintings by Mondrian and his statement would already have been clear in that age when art was still covered by journalism. But no, he had to paint more, and still more, all under that same reductive thesis of his!  "Commercialism"? Perhaps. But in the end he demonstrated that the simplest, most basic formula can attain a rich number of variations to ultimately make up a collective output that can be regarded by the forgiving as one single artistic epic of an opus, profit-motivated or not, profit-motivated and  not.
    Many an artist have been practicing what business and product marketers refer to as positioning. And this with a brave struggle. Having come up with a painting that moved him, one may have decided to do more of the same and so position himself as a painter of a type of painting similar to what he's produced. Commercial? Perhaps. But so is everyone else in choosing a career, a success path, an area of expertise. Therein lies the motor of our merchant society within which we make and sell art. It should be commendable enough that each of us struggles with a brave fight.
    Commercial motivations, admitted as so or not, subconscious or vocal, have produced the best and the worst commodities in our time. An inescapable capitalist curse, we say. And yet "commercial motivations" have not been absent in communist states; in fact, these same motivations had kept many there working for societal or state approval.
    So, it really shouldn't be hard to understand that the artist's own profit motives are no different from the artisan's or the engineer's or the critic's. But not a few painters hate themselves for being pawns of a commercial system, and they ought to be made aware of the virtue (over the evil) within it. Some, meanwhile, in oft-unaware and thus not so self-critical positions towards the commercial facets of their art-selling, can only be looked upon in awe, in the same way we feel stupendously gratified by the coffeeshop-owner's sincerity in personally making our cappuccino (his mind off the fact that he'd personally take our payment later). When you love your coffee, do you call it a commercial cappuccino? It is when you hate it that you should.

SO, commercialism and non-commercialism ought not to be the cop-out idea of a dilemma that attempts to explain bad and good art. Bad art will remain bad, commercialized or not. Sure, it's poor quality that dictates our suspicion of a high degree of "commercialism" or corruption. But what if the cappuccino barista thought he/she was making really great coffee? In contrast, the artist who designs his art for both critical and commercial success ought not to be faulted for the virtue of finding mass appeal appealing. Conversely, the bad artist who has been patronized by an infinity of buyers who thought they knew what was great art, may have found
 his mass appeal appealing. But it must not be waylaid that the real reason we hate the bad artist's art is not because of the patronage but because of the absence of criticality around and within his success
    All art is commercial, especially from the buyer's point. When your buyers are happy, they call you "non-commercial," an artist full of integrity. But since intrinsically all art is positively commercial whether we like it or not (whether we're aware of it or not), so-called negative "commercialism" or corruptibility in artists or coffeeshop restaurateurs becomes nothing more than a subjective view in the art and in the practice of art-buying, a cop-out explanation for our bad judgment. And since a buyer knows full well that all art is commercial, he ought not to complain that he got the sad end of a bargain, responsible as he ought to have been as a judge qua buyer.
    Recently, there's been this brouhaha over a supposed mercenary spat between a Church's authorities and the folk painter Nemesio Miranda. Miranda, commissioned by the Church elements to do a painting for the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue Shrine for the Holy Virgin, allegedly had been consistent in bidding for a high price (PhP400,000 plus) for the simple cleaning, and a much higher price (PhP1.5 million) for the full restoration, of a painting he made for the same Shrine. The Church allegedly haggled with Miranda (news the painter denies, claiming the Church could have actually negotiated). The spat came forth when the Church elements concerned decided to proceed with their own restoration, claiming they couldn't afford Miranda's quotation. The Church elements said that they had every right to do with the paintings whatever they wished since it was theirs, that they paid for it. Miranda cried foul, saying it was his artwork, and the restoration omitted certain parts of the original (no, practically erased these parts with a white daub). It was his concept, he said, and by the restoration his concept was denigrated.
    Clearly, Miranda (and his defenders in the press) missed the point. Forgetting he had consistently been acting the part of the artist aware of his commercialism. Asking to be paid for the restoration of his own concept already presupposed his concept to be less valuable than the payment, or coevally valuable as the payment, Then, Miranda insisted it was an ethical question. Suddenly, Miranda was on the side of artists who keep on claiming that their art is purely conceptual and only secondarily commercial. Obviously, Miranda failed to see that the issue was a purely commercial question. The question is this, which I shall henceforth illustrate by way of an idea for an art project:
    I will create a painting and exhibit it at a gallery. Before anyone can buy it, I shall buy it myself. Then I'll paint over it. Then I shall exhibit the redid painting, go through the same process of buying it myself and ruining it. And on. And on. Till I tire of it. I can do whatever I want with the piece because I bought it and therefore it's mine. I bought it and re-bought it, and every time I bought it I redid it. Also, I can do whatever I want with the painting because I was the artist. That would be the height of ethics, then. Permission unnecessary because nobody asks permission from oneself. Especially if that oneself is both artistic and commercial over his concept.

patron-delighting Warhol painting
(photo from

    And if I can do this, I shall have demonstrated a truly non-commercial art that -- in the manner of Tarantino -- shall have successfully used commercialism as my material and thematic content. I might thus achieve for the middle of this decade what the pop artists of the '60s (Warhol, Lichtenstein, etc.) achieved with kitsch, pushing pop and kitsch and the trampy up as valid material for artmaking, in my case pushing what I'd probably immodestly perceive as the work of my own genius (reworked every time in a kind of self-criticality) as valid material for a portrait of artists' passion for concepts. But I won't be so hypocritical and claim freedom from commercialism, for I shall remain aware that what made me buy my own paintings and abuse them was a certain luxury in my convent, free from hunger. I will thus not deny that I can afford any quotation from any expensive school of art that shares my taste (since that school of art that shares my taste is my own, cheap self).
    If all art is commercial and we cannot escape it, from living with it in art, then, we can see one final enveloping moral here. In the commercial world, one is judged by what he sells. Also by what he buys. In this sense, then, who we buy is a reflection of ourselves. Who we choose to sell to reflects who we look up to. We are judged thus, but mostly by ourselves, in the now and in the later. And the reason why there is no law against an art patron's right to ruin an art piece he bought (save a contract of sale specifying conditions) is this issue of trust between the buyer and the seller who in essence have been morally (not legally) married to each other by their similar taste in art. Being married thus, we can judge the relationship by the presence or absence of a continuing happiness in it. For, as we said, if you like your coffee, that coffee can hardly be called a commercialized cup of coffee. The sad thing is with the Church, which hates divorces. For it could have been made aware that when one enters a marriage, one also risks the possibility of future separation. Such happened between the above Church elements and Miranda.
    So, let's get back to the legality of it, of this separation. The difference between a wedding and a buyer-seller partnership is that in the latter there are no conjugal properties, there is only a product sold which was the product bought. In such a commercial arrangement, the critical appreciation of the buyer has made the art. The buying was a form of criticality without which commerce or exchange would not have been possible. It's not the other way around. All art is commercial and an art's value is relative to a market's criticality. An art's success or failure depends on this criticality. Therefore, this criticality is Lord; it is not the seller who is. This surrender by the latter is demonstrated by the act of exchange -- the money for the artwork. Once out of the artist's hands, the artwork becomes the sole possession of the criticality. If a millionaire buyer chose to leave my oeuvre in the rain, that was his prerogative and privilege.
    But what about the issue of good art and bad art? Those, too, are subsumed within the dynamics of a market, not within the dynamics of production. Again, commercialism is not the evil factor, it is in fact the sole measure of a market's degree of criticality. [END]