Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Social Liberal's Disclaimer on State Art Subsidy

photo borrowed from

(this 1,183-word mini-essay is adapted from one that I posted on my official website in the year 2001; the last four paragraphs that I added to that essay here derives from a conversation I had with Manila painter and gallery owner Simkin de Pio and veteran journalist and columnist Sylvia Mayuga this morning)

IN SEVERAL blogs of mine (such as here, here, and these seven blog essays with the label "art and the state"), I mainly carried my earlier belief that art should not be the business of government that shall have to use tax money for art's promotion. I went against the hidden rationales for such institutions as the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and the concept of a National Artist of the Philippines title award. My main argument was that these all subsidize a lie, and promote a reflection of an art not of the people these pretended to be for but merely of an elite set of artists and art aficionados serving the aesthetics of the elite.
     Another aspect of those blogs implied a truism, such as that in literature concerning the politics of publication. Within a clique-prone Philippine literati that leaves no room for a totally dissenting standard of younger literary aesthetics, for example, the young---ordinarily counted as part of the nation---may either be marginalized or forced to conform.
     However, I now happen to have a different macro-view of both these matters, despite my retaining certain facets of my old angle.
     My change of view on the first matter is not borne of any interest in an endowment or grant from such an institution as the NCCA, the CCP, a state university, or a government entity; nor has it been prompted by a meditation on the possibility of being offered any such help which may come, say, in the form of a publishing grant.
     This change has simply been promoted by a realization. I've realized that perhaps my initial reaction was due to a complex combination in me of 1) an arguable populism and 2) a simple disgust at the overt patronage system I saw around me that seemed to advocate adherence to established aesthetics. The change came thus: a later self-assessment of my point of view led me to realize that government cannot avoid engaging itself in the promotion of what it deems to be the nation's art, or what it idealizes to be the nation's art, as what ought to be its art. It cannot.
     My realization said to me: perhaps our individual protestations are more towards details of a ruling clique's actions, actions which would involve sins of omission or sins of wrong inclusion, and so on. For in the end one might not protest too much if one's interest, selfish or partisan, is drafted into this same system. For, certainly, all regimes cannot ignore the authority of controlling a nation's art collection and subsidies in the same way that it cannot ignore the necessity of holding on to a Department of Education and its consultants.

FOR WHAT would happen indeed if we leave everything to the people (or a corporate elite)? Especially among a people rendered helpless in clamoring for a more socialized education, albeit from a government which has its hands tied to the interests of creditors?
     All governments must and do involve a modicum of elitism, if only---at best---to guard the populist philosophy of serving the people. This, because the people, one might say, and this is a lesson even the Communists have learned throughout their insurgency, are not always likely to have the capacity to know what's good for them (or even know who's truly on their side). Businessmen who practice the daily art of hype know very well that people will try to learn what any hype advises them to know, and it is only government that can apply the virtue of turning its elitist influence into a pro-people program, as against corporate patronage the motives of which may either be solely profit, coursed through subtle cultural propaganda, or tax rebates.
     There will remain conflicts over a government's sponsorship of certain art, mainly on what should be up there and what shouldn't, who receives aid and who don't, and changes do occur through the dynamics of history. But no one can argue against the fact---I believe now---that all governments have a need for symbols and monuments, whether solidly manifest or invisible/intangible, and the art each regime promotes, bad or otherwise, mediocre or great, shall be a reflection of its (sometimes fraudulent) populist vision.

MY ONLY wish is that every regime's espoused art fully acknowledges and declares itself as part of the regime's art intended for the nation. The state ought to require this acknowledgement and/or declaration, as government ought to be fully aware of what its appointed cultural and arts people are doing in the cultural and arts departments, with the same concentration it is putting on the education front. The cultural and arts departments of the state are, after all---whether the state admits it or not---, part of the state's propaganda machine for advancing its ideology (and aesthetic ideology, if any).
     Conversely, critics must likewise accept the fact that there is always that direct correlation between the state-supported art products displayed and endorsed/awarded during an era and that era's regime's ideology (and aesthetic ideology) or lack thereof. Noting this, therefore, the context of a social realist's receiving an award during an oppressive neoliberal era would be entirely different from the context of the same occurrence during a socialist or social liberal government's era. With critics aware of this relationship, whining is put aside and mere recording of the contexts becomes the only necessary order of the day.
     In a Business World article circulating in Facebook this morning regarding a supposed golden age in Philippine art, the issue about a necessary government support for art was likewise discussed. In the article, art critic and curator Patrick Flores was quoted as saying, "The legacy of art is to instill imagination. The government is not investing in art as a product, but (it is) investing in imagination. A population with imagination becomes more critical, not sunud-sunuran lang (not just mindlessly obedient). They are suspicious of convention, of norms. Art goes against norms. Of course this will not be immediate, but it can shape the world."
     Patrick is of course wishing upon the state. My view is that we can't really whine against the state's intense or otherwise lackadaisical role in/with the arts, because the state will always do what it pleases as regards the cultural and arts departments under its wing, according to its ideology or lack thereof. Again, the role of the critic is to record this correlation between the state and its art programs (or lack thereof), not impose on it or protest against it (which imposition or protestation only amounts to whining from a lack of understanding of the regime's own philosophy or aesthetics). Thus, we cannot whine against a Gloria Arroyo - Carlo Caparas correlation, for instance, as what happened in Arroyo's last year in office. It is, instead, the critic's better option to record that correlation as apt to an Arroyo ideology. You can't criticize the correlation, for the simple reason that it's a correlation. You can't criticize data, simply because data is data. You can, however, criticize the ideology that produces that correlation. [END]