A CRUCIFIX dunked in a jar of urine — and it is called “shock art.” A phallus painted a sickening yellow and letting off a few, pathetic drops, like a drooling centenarian in the final stages of dementia would painfully produce in a final attempt at reassuring himself of his gender — and an actor who decides that he can paint unveils it to his admirers as “art.”
And vandals on a rampage take to the streets armed with spray paint, defacing walls and public structures with graffiti — and dignify it as a political statement, a legitimate exercise of free expression, calculated to draw attention to a “just” cause.
Confucius blamed the mayhem of the China of his day — the Period of the Warring States — on the failure of people to be true to their names: Kings did not act like kings, subjects presumed the prerogatives of royalty, the elderly behaved like the young, and the young treated the elderly like their equals, while the wannabes were, well, wannabes! His solution: Rectification of names. Let all act as their names or their titles bid them. Let none exercise the prerogatives of office he does not have, nor be remiss in the duties to which he is bound. And when “art” becomes the pretext for vandalism and wanton destructiveness, then it might be helpful to turn to the wisdom of the East.
Whatever one’s political stripe may be, the fact is that Mayor Isko has done tremendously well in cleaning up Manila and ridding it of at least some of the squalor in which the decaying city is wallowing. He rid the underpass of its shady denizens and wrecked their dens, washed it clean and flushed all detritus from it. But coming on his heels and his team that has scrubbed statues and walls, bridges and skyways is a horde of ill-disciplined, ill-mannered, ill-bred youths who deface and dirty with tired, hackneyed phrases about “US-China imperialism,” “Sahod itaas, presyo ibaba” and a variety of other plaints, of which their list is endless. They proclaim themselves as the righteous and the “conscienticized” rousing the nation to awaken from its apathy to determined action.
Quite moronically, media outlets give them the attention that they crave so that they can say, “We are sorry but not quite, because what we produced for Manila was art.” So we, the unenlightened, are now taught that this is the “art of liberation,” the “art of freedom movements,” and make our way through all the defaced walls, smeared structures and unpardonably unsightly graffiti with the same awe as we would through the Louvre, the Museo del Prado or the Vatican Museums. But we have been at this business of self-deception through a perversion of terms for some time now. Squatters are “informal settlers” and “juvenile delinquents” are “children in conflict with the law.” Sluggards at school receive empathy as “teachers’ victims,” and a man who insists that he should be a woman is a “trans-man.”
Art is not anything anyone calls art. Art is what art catalogues list as art. The Venus de Milo is art because its missing hands and its antiquity notwithstanding, it embodies all the qualities of a brilliant piece of sculpture that make it a masterpiece to this day. Art is what museums will be willing to purchase for hefty sums and that critics will find worth their attention in reviews. Dali’s paintings are art because no matter that they are difficult to grasp when one meets them for the first time, one soon catches on to the profound subjective experience that they objectify. Art, Aristotle taught, is the ability to perform a difficult operation with ease and with perfection. Any child can thump on a piano, but only a pianist can play Chopin’s “Fantasie Impromptu” with ease and with the flourish that warrant a standing ovation. Ramon Orlina’s works include a beautiful representation of a breast sculpted in translucent light green glass. Between this and the actor’s semi-flaccid, hardly erect phallus is the chasm separating art from its counterfeit!
One does not proceed in art appreciation as one does in checking the validity of argument. But there is method, and there is truth in art. Only a fledgling piano beginner with hardly any promise would play Bach with a rubato, and one who would play Chopin’s “Romance” in his “Concerto No. 1” with the exacting meter with which one would play Mozart should never take to the concert stage. Habermas to whom I frequently refer, the patron of rationality in an age that seemingly prefers to be insane, lays down this requirement: When something is so idiosyncratic that no one else but its proponent can affirm what he affirms, then he does not communicate.
Because I had called “cretins” those who had the audacity to justify their vandalism by proclaiming it to be art, I was challenged to call the DDS who had expressed their preference for Duterte “cretins” as well. By all means, they were vandals — no less condemnable than the recent horde, as were those who announced by spray paint their undying faith in “Daang Matuwid.” But there is one crucial difference: the DDS did not attempt to pass off their graffiti as art. But that does not make it any less detestable as an assault on our sensibilities.