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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

entry arrow8:31 AM | Delusions

By Conrado de Quiros

This one got swept aside by events this last couple of weeks but is too important to let pass. That is the elevation of Carlo Caparas and Cecile Guidote to national artists, a thing that has the other national artists up in arms.

My take on it is this: I don’t buy the distinction between “artist” and “entertainer.” Nothing prevents the artist from being an entertainer and nothing prevents the entertainer from being an artist. Preferably, the two should go together. Art that is disdainful of audience ends up being more hoity-toity than artistic, or ends up being more a pain in the ass than a joy to the soul.

I myself have never thought of entertainment as something that “whiles the time away” or “diverts.” I’ve always thought of entertainment as something that uses time well or gets to the point. Or gets the point. From an artistic point of view, that’s entertainment.

I do buy however the distinction between commercial and artistic. The artistic adds to the sum of human wisdom, or our understanding of the human predicament. The commercial panders to the lowest common denominator, and adds nothing to, or even subtracts from, the sum of human knowledge. That is my answer to Caparas’s supporters’ charge that his detractors are merely being elitist. I myself have no problems with Caparas being an entertainer. But I have problems with him being a commercial entertainer and not an artistic one.

As accomplishment goes, he will have to fall in line behind Mars Ravelo, Nestor Redondo and the other komiks greats. And their own claims to being national artists will be in serious dispute.

The distinction between an artistic entertainer and a commercial one is easily seen by comparing Lino Brocka and Carlo Caparas. I still remember something Brocka told a group of us sometime before he died. His first line of defense, he said, were his maids. If his maids didn’t like what he did, he would change it. Only when they were satisfied would he be satisfied. You can’t get more masa than that.

But he didn’t stop there. He made sure too that his maids got something they hadn’t seen before. Something new, something different, something better. He made sure his maids went away not just delighted about what they saw but asking questions about what they saw.

Brocka did melodramas, but he sculpted full-blooded characters out of them. Caparas did komiks, and made komiks out of characters. Artistry has nothing to do with whether your material is “hi-class” or “wa-class.” It has everything to do with what you do with it.

Guidote’s case is easier. Of course she helped build the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), of course she, in the words of her defenders, “showed lifetime dedication . . . in leading the movement for national theater and its development to forge our cultural identity and preserve our heritage.” That is a reason only for theater to be grateful to her, that is not a reason for her to become a national artist. The National Artist Award is given to artistry, not to patronage. If it weren’t so, then Imelda Marcos should be proclaimed National Artist, having built the CCP and been a great benefactor to Cecile Licad. Organizing, however it is done indefatigably, resolutely and even heroically as in times of death and fascist rule, is admirable and deserving of honor. That honor is not the National Artist Award.

Now, for the more extrinsic issues, which are in fact the more important issues here.

At the very least, the way Caparas and Guidote have been named national artists is tasteless. Guidote says that though she is the executive director of the National Council on Culture and the Arts, the body that oversees the grant of the award, she had nothing to do with the selection process. What can one say? The GMA virus must be more contagious than A-(H1N1). Guidote’s patron has nothing to do with the Ombudsman either, or shouldn’t, but see if Merceditas Gutierrez will not nominate her saint. As to Caparas, his legend lies only in the way he helped GMA pull down the house Ang Panday built during the last elections.

That brings us to the heart of the matter, which is Malacañang fiddling with art. I have a special fondness for art and artists, and that I truly mind. If there’s an urgent and compelling need for Malacañang to have nothing to do with the appointment of the justices of the Supreme Court, there’s an even more urgent and compelling need for Malacañang to have nothing to do with the appointment of national artists. I don’t know that the appointment of justices should be left to lawyers alone. But I do know that the appointment of national artists should be left to artists alone.

Malacañang has no business decreeing artists. The spectacle I see is that of Josef Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev visiting art museums in the former Soviet Union and proclaiming which things there are art and which are not, a presumption as vast as the Urals. Given in particular that they were as much a gift to art as FDR was to the marathon. The notion of Arroyo doing the same, when her palate is limited only to wine and caviar and steak costing $20,000, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Expense is not a sign of art, or of taste.

I don’t know which is worse, Imelda explicitly claiming to be the handmaiden of the true, good and beautiful, which are the hallmarks of art, or Arroyo implicitly doing so. Imelda at least had the external trappings of beauty, even if her and her husband’s rule was uglier than the portrait of Dorian Gray. Arroyo doesn’t even have that. Her own rule has become only, well, the artistic representation of all that is not true, good and beautiful. For her to decree who should be national artists is for her to decree who should be national heroes.

That’s not just a Carlo Caparas fantasy, that’s a delusion.

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer

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