Thursday, October 27, 2005
I'm taking a break from the reality of checking papers...
Caught the last part of Discovery Channel's Cutting Through
, a documentary about an old Chinese peasant woman who finds local fame as a paper-cutting artist. She shucks the ears of the corn she grows and tries hard to put food in the mouth of her growing family. But she has a secret life chronicling her days and her hardships -- hunger in the family, the death of her husband, and others -- through papercutting
What insight I got from this unique artist's life is in the way the world around her reacts to her art and her fame. At the end of the film, she goes to Beijing to attend her first one-woman show, and while she delights at the attention, she later has to bear with the pompous grandstanding of the "art experts" in the panel immediately following the show. "Living informs art..." the panel members went on and on and on. And while I agreed somehow with what they had to say, I was piqued by the old woman's reaction. She was just slumped in her chair, a bored and sleepy look on her face. It was telling.
I had to reflect on my own tendency to display my own intellectual bullshit, and I asked myself, "Do we sometimes just produce too much hot air in the name of artistic discourse?" Yup.
Later on, after the obviously excruciating panel discussion, she has to meet with some of Beijing's art entrepreneurs. One fat Chinese man shows her a book and flips to a page with a Renaissance period nude painting of a woman reclining in the daylight. And the businessman tells her, "I want
you to cut me a picture of this, only bigger." The old peasant artist is obviously shocked by the nudity, but she can only smile nervously while the man eggs her on and on. "This is artistic, too, you know," the man says, sounding more like a pervert every passing second. Then she finally says, "You cannot
tell me what I want to cut." So there.
At the end of the day, she retreats to her hotel room's terrace. She smokes and reflects on her day, and her art: "However hard life may go," she says in the final voice-over, "I will never do away with my scissors. I will cut anything I want."
Which for me is a good summation of the life of artists. The artist is not excused from the bite of everyday living, like what Butch Dalisay said recently. His art is his escape from the common dreariness of living; ironically, he uses his art at the same time to comment on that very life. Then somewhere along the way, he meets pompous art experts and their theories, and sometimes he has to struggle with the temptations of commerce, as well -- to the point where his artistic integrity is threatened, or questioned. But at the end of the day, there is only the artist in his solitary space, where he knows full well how his art transforms him and where he becomes cognizant of his responsibility to that art as well.
Labels: art and culture
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