It just depends on how one wants to define “art.” F. Sionil Jose is something of a traditionalist and critical of the Cultural Center of the Phillipines for agreeing to display the work done by Mideo Cruz in the first place.
There is so much anarchy in the world of art today and much of it is due to this dictum that there is “a new way of seeing things.” If I covered the Batasan building — all of it with black cloth — that is not only searing commentary, an achievement — it is also something new. But is it art?
If I put my excrement in a tin can, sealed it like a tin of sardines, that, too is interesting; but again, is it art? If I cut two huge pipes, fused them, is it art? Yet, these have happened and it is for us who know to point out that such happenings, such constructions — as they term it — are not art at all unless we give a new and ridiculous definition of art.
How I wish our artists would stop claiming freedom of expression all the time that they are criticized. To me freedom of expression is not involved with the CCP exhibit. Artistic sensibility and rigid critical values are the norm and they should prevail if our culture is to develop.
I can think of a few installations that got an artistic pass in Canada, too, for perplexing reasons. In Regina some years ago I’d gone with a friend to the Mackenzie Art Gallery. A woman from Manitoba had a display in there of vintage shoes and handbags she’d tossed into a neighbour’s hives and let bees wax all over. She then packed them up in plexiglass and that was her “art.” There was also a glass wedding gown featured that bees had been allowed to build a hive in, with hollow tubes inserted through the box and walls of the building so the bees could go outside and get some work done. To this day I can’t handle the scent of beeswax. I thought there was someone else in the country who got an art grant to hang meat and let it rot, someone other than the creator of this meat dress, maybe.
I’d agree with Jose in terms of questioning CCP’s decision to use his art. Why wouldn’t they care about making sure they’d put quality work on display to highlight their country’s talent?
We have done it when we were young, put beards and blackened teeth on pictures of people. If I were to criticize religious faith visually, I would do it much better, more creatively than what this artist had done. The cross alone — I can do so much with it with allegory and symbolism. And this is what is precisely wrong with so many of our visual artists: for all their superb craftsmanship, they lack imagination and they don’t think hard enough.
That’s probably true but I wonder if it’s almost too late. We’ve created these cultures with such low-brow standards for artistic expression. It’s like too many people with not a scrap of talent have been told that if they believe strong enough and want it bad enough and ask the universe enough times then they can have all they dream of. What winds up sucking is how often that really seems to work.
He brings up the notion of abstract art and what he used to do when he ran a gallery:
When I was running Solidaridad Galleries and some young punk came to me with a sheaf of his abstract drawings, I would give him a pencil and ask him to draw my fist to find out if he could draw. Some of them didn’t come back.
Harsh or fair? I don’t know if it’s fair to say that something can’t be classified as art unless the artist can make other art that looks like something real. Then again, I’m somewhat on the fence when it comes to abstract counting as art in some cases. I can do it and I know I don’t have a scrap of talent for art.
Unrelated, but interesting diversion: elephants in Thailand have been painting for years. Do they have any sense of symbolism or meaning in their heads that they wish to convey when they’re given a brush and paint? Probably not, but those who’ve shown them how to do it say the elephants seem to think it’s fun. It’s also a good way to highlight the plight of the Asian Elephant and raise money by selling the one-of-a-kind pieces. And, it turns out, they aren’t all abstract artists, either: