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Uploaded July 18, 2016

CRITICISM


 

A Touristic Guide to
Producing & Appreciating Art
(Through the Hypermarket Desires of
the Powers That Be)

 

Or; contradicting or extending my first essay (titled “Blind and Deaf Men around an Elephant”) on the role of art writers, art editors, art publication publishers and the entire art community in the formation of a living art critical culture, wherein I now enter into the discussion the role of power and counter-power, after which I close with an elliptical pessimism.

 



 


 

 

 


 

 

 

by Jojo Soria de Veyra

 



PERHAPS THROUGH some fear that products of the studio arts might go in the way (and value) of handicraft commodities, the plea continues: the art community, while suspicious of art critics, persists in being convivial to the latter’s ongoing—no, demands their more active—presence in the art industry (for as long, of course, as these critics would write mostly positive, sweet things about the products of this industry). In fact, it’s not only a few times anymore that we hear the community complain about critics’ waning—their shortage, or their near absence. It's an everyday blurting out of a love-hate longing.

 



"But, you see, one must ask: how were these passed on or published (or, again, in the terminology of Marxists, “produced”)? Through whose approval? Through whose provision of pen and parchment? Through whose Gutenbergian press?"

 



     Art critics, meanwhile, complain of 1) a declining support for them by the publishing industry, the galleries, artists, the publicly-funded institutions, and universities; 2) a lack of outlets (newspaper and magazine pages, journals, online publications) for which they can write 
and get paid; and 3) a low wage/profit. This is all tiresome and boring, because . . . it puts a premium on professional art criticism as a crucial part of a healthy art culture, thinking critics’ role truly paramount in the field of intellectual aesthetic and thematic treatment valuations (beyond being important for the often industry-advised semblance/show of intellectuality). I might argue that art can actually flourish without art critics, particularly when everyone involved in an art is already a critic in that art, which was perhaps how it was during the days of the royalty (and their nobility) as well as the Roman Catholic theocracies, both for whom scholars were employed as part of the household and for whom, therefore, the idea of independent professional critics would be ludicrous. To lords and ladies, or the Papacy and the bishoprics, professional art critics outside of the household would not only be non-necessities, they would have to be considered as rebel entities.
     But we inhabit the time of free enterprises, wherein art journalism can exist free of the diktats of noble art patrons. Or does it, really—exist free of the diktats of art patrons today? For the art patrons (from the art dealers to the art market) of our era, usually of the wealthy class, can easily ignore any voice of scholarship outside of their “households” anytime. It might be conjectured that perhaps Philippine art patrons have been ignoring the opinions of a number of Philippine art scholars for a long time now, and embraced only those types of scholarship that they’ve directly or indirectly subsidized (if they even read 80% of what this latter group has written). If that is true, then it’s no wonder that some of these independent (or academy-subsidized) scholars now talk to each other solely, in a language akin to bekimon that only their very small social niche can digest.
     Sure, today’s art critics (qua critics with critical takes perhaps better, smarter, or keener than Everyman's takes on symbols) play a large role in the shaping of our everyday taste, even our intellectual appreciation and scruples, for art. But that would be true only if we read them (get to read them). Our reading of their writings is crucial. And I would here quickly assert that it is highly probable that they are seldom read by us. Thus my corollary assertion that because of our failure (or inability) to read them, they can therefore hardly be considered as the prime movers of the birth (or rebirth) of any “living art” or of an art hereabouts that would be discussed by many (discussed, ideally, in the way we discuss politics). No; not in our time in this place. Not in our time. But then again, perhaps they were never ever the prime movers, anywhere, at any time.
     I’ll be quick. Art products—of the far past, the recent past, and the present—, along with the criticism around them, have always been commodities wittingly or unwittingly produced as reflectors of the flow and accidents of their time, of that historical moment that allowed their production, or their sort of production, or their sort of production for an established means of consumption. That historical moment encompassed them, whether it was within a big history of mankind, within the evolution of a nation, or occurring within a city’s art-interested niche. I’m not just talking about that moment as manifested in its contemporary art’s subjects or themes; I’m talking about these art products’ very reason for having come into existence, how they came about, or, in the preferred terminology of Marxists, what produced them. Let me repeat, art products—or “notable” art achievements—, along with the criticism around them, have always been products of the collective powers that realized the applause on them, the celebration of them, or their simple notability within that society that decided to give them that badge (or decided they were worth talking about). After all, you would notice, for instance, that something notable in Manila might be cause for guffaws or indifference somewhere else, proof enough that art products are not good or great by themselves but dependent on their cultural location in time and space, dependent—to be exact—on the concerns of a certain locus in our planet.
     I do not wish to here examine the validity or, in turn, notability of certain communal appreciations or accolades on a given art product, nor the truth about the notability of those products that some critics have highly talked about in their writings or blurbs; I am merely here trying to introduce an anthropological eye for a judgment on the real function of art criticisms beneath the blind idealization of their mere presence by an industry. If the blindness in that idealization of presence has been ingested by the community, the community that went along with what the idealizer served on a hazy spoon, then that would be a sorry situation, indeed; that blindness will keep us from seeing what truly is happening, some bankruptcy of a culture of honest consumption of critical valuation in spite of the presence of our few art critics (or precisely because the deceiving comfort provided by these art critics’ presence, as mere presence, is all but seen qua a deceit).

 
YOU SEE, even notable art of the past were not established by professional art critics, at least as those art’s independent champions. The critics, whether existing as scholarly whispers behind the ears of art patrons or embedded within the art patrons’ own bodies, were themselves mere products of their developing intellectual or ideological environment. Thus, whatever critical approaches might be concocted by art enthusiasts towards the art of their contemporary (say, the banker Giovanni Villani’s on Giotto, or by Hieronymus Bosch's collectors in The Netherlands, Austria, and Spain during the artist’s lifetime) would have to admit to being nothing more than products of the intellectual or religious mental environment of their time. Precisely why, when these pieces of written appreciation are passed on to succeeding generations, they come out as either of a surviving (aesthetic or political or religious) philosophy or as a historical memento of past intellectualisms or aesthetics--in Giotto’s case as writings from the advent of Renaissance philosophies in the late Middle Ages, in Bosch’s case as of the then-Netherlandish taste for breathing in the late influx of Italian Renaissance thoughts and simultaneously the newer imagery of International Gothic. Let us remember, also, that Giotto was mainly a public painter, paid by the comune, while Bosch profited from his rising popularity among a horde of collectors, both therefore definitely manufacturing a collective or communal impact with their practice given those support. [Notice the words I use: their “impact”, while resulting in public support or applause, also happened because there was already ready “support” or sympathy waiting to be given.]

 



Nativity, from the Scrovegni Chapel

 

​     Now, one might surmise that maybe, just maybe, some of the various art critical thoughts of the past were really mostly up to some revolutionary art authorities’ analytical genius or aesthetic utopia that influenced the gentry or general society; perhaps so. But, you see, one must ask: how were these passed on or published (or, again, in the terminology of Marxists, “produced”)? Through whose approval? Through whose provision of pen and parchment? Through whose Gutenbergian press? In days of old, support (and hegemonic opinion) mainly came from royal patrons, members of the nobility, or the Church, never “art authorities” alone by themselves independent of the households that conscripted them, unless these art authorities were themselves royalty or noble or of the priesthood. The same arrangement survives in our day with certain critics operating for certain conscripting institutions, institutions either owned by powerful tastemakers or otherwise conscripted by the same.
     And, again, from where do the art authorities derive their thoughts on art objects? Yes, art criticism (and art, for that matter) has mostly been culling its attitudes on and towards art from their era’s emerging philosophies, theologies, political thinking, and/or scientific thinking, and in fact some of criticism’s (and art’s) practitioners were themselves philosophers, social thinkers, theologians or scientific thinkers, if not professionally then at least as amateurs or academics-sort-of. Thinkers from various fields of thinking would certainly be treating of social or scientific or industrial products other than art, but would yet influence the art authorities’ prejudices for art. In short, in as much as there is no such thing as an independent field, so there is no such creature as an independent hero for an art vision, removed from the push and pull of social constructs and powers within those constructs. And the reason for the critic’s or aesthetic philosopher’s profession? Well, wages from the lords of the realm would not play a secondary role in his judgments concerning the good, especially if some of these lords were bishops who often know better than anyone about goodness. I’m not talking about the critic’s corruption here; I’m only talking about his what-would-be-natural unconscious capitulation to the real shapers of trends, unless he chooses to remain obscure with a form of extreme rebellion, to be celebrated only posthumously by a later philosophical or aesthetic trend after the discovery of his writings in some cave. And, again, I am not merely talking about powerful people but also about the power of society upon powerful people, both of whom collectively shape the cult-hero critic via their power to choose to either listen to him or ignore him. This influence or power dominates even when the critic seeks to influence society back to some degree. But, of course, the power of the powerful people is doubly paramount, if only because theirs are the sort of power that delivers the messaging medium to the messenger.
     Now, this capitulation to the real shapers of trends, to the zeitgeist, is unconscious most of the time, thus cannot be counted as a corruption of the participant, as I said. Nor is it always a sublime capitulation directly to a powerful individual or group, despite the fact that zeitgeists have often been established or run by powerful individuals or groups. It is simply what St. Augustine might call man’s original sin, what Hobbes or Rousseau might call his natural need to avoid coming out alone or becoming in extreme conflict with others. It’s what I would call the unconscious pulse-meter for belonging (as a mostly thumb-upper sort of “belonger” or even as a mostly thumb-downer one), the unconsciousness of which, by the way, would make it something nobody can escape. The zeitgeist has nothing to worry about the dynamism of this capitulation, for whatever this capitulator to the zeitgeist does with his life, either for or against certain objects within the zeitgeist, it would still be operating within the zeitgeist; that is to say, within the paradigms and commodity valuations of his time. In the literary movement called Naturalism, man’s fate—containing his avowals and his rebellions—is determined by his surround. One could say that artists and art critics inhabit the same zones as those inhabited by the bodies of the characters of Naturalism, although one can beautify one’s contemporary role by saying he’s just answering to the needs of the market (or his kind of market) and is thus above it. Oh yeah? But he’ll remain unconscious of the fact that he has been eaten by the paradigm that had demanded of him the continued acknowledgement of a necessary market, even though he’ll refer to this market as a mere necessary audience.
     For examples we can better relate to today, let’s stop referring to very early centuries and fast-forward our view to the Modernist period and all the arguments within that period; after all, many of the manifestations of modernism continue to inspire the practice of art today. Now, I ask: where did the modernism and the modernity of the modernists come from, if not the burgeoning modern philosophies of the time that found reflection in the modernist works of the modernist artists? And isn’t this the very reason why they were appreciated by the people, or at least the newspaper readers or those interested in gossip about the then new art, precisely because these art were not art-critical revolutions by themselves—care of the artists’ or an art critic’s sole genius—but were present as reflections or products of the (philosophical) revolutions of their time? Not, therefore, as art removed from the world’s progress or evolution but as part of it. Wasn’t it the Cubist artist’s period that adjudged the ripeness or timeliness of his Cubism’s wow effect on the audience/market, on society as a whole, that was impacted or touched by his brilliant “joke” or “poke” of a visualization on canvas? Wasn’t it that period that prodded him to do what he found himself doing in the first place? Wasn’t it that same sort of zeitgeist that decided that Dada’s or Surrealism’s cynicism should be the fashionable new look on the walls of that season of the new intellect, to there stand against the established things that already needed to be debunked? You who scoff today at the value of such produce as Malevich’s White on White, or Jackson Pollock’s enamel drippings, scoff in ignorance at the rebellion or polemics behind those paintings’ production and consumption stirring within the concerns (aesthetic and not) of their time. You should scoff at your own present art or taste in advance, noting that people in some time future could—like you to Malevich and Pollock—also not understand tomorrow the serious concerns of the appearances in your serious art today, your present visual obsessions. Like you, those people in the future shall in turn fail to know anything much about the aesthetic issues of the past (our present).

 



Kasimir Malevich's White on White.

 

​     But back to the Modernist age. We all know now that the emergent attitude in this era was really just a radical offshoot of Romanticism’s earlier revolt against the nobility’s Industrial Revolution (the Industrial Revolution that was itself an evolutionary resultant of the end of feudalism in Britain after the British Civil War between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians), wasn’t it? While Romanticism (or early modernism) as an attitude was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, it was in fact (mainly or also) an overwhelming intellectual movement already widely questioning traditions in historiography, education, and the natural sciences. Romanticism was the recipe boiling in the centuries inhabited by such hot influencers as Napoleon and Charles Darwin. Later, in the transition period to Modernism, we’d find writers like William Makepeace Thackeray—within Britain, which would remain royalist up to today—who would question British society’s systems and classes, almost in sympathy with Napoleon’s mainland European ambition. Here was a true manifestation of a growth of an attitude from the Romanticist period, unbridled and unafraid. And it would be no surprise to soon see such brave characters on the scene as the French Impressionists, who found themselves rebelling against the standards and aesthetic parameters of the official Académie des Beaux-Arts (France’s CCP) by putting up their own shows for the bourgeoisie to appreciate and invest in. This Impressionist venture amused the bourgeois market, not least because of the show’s paralleling rebellion against strictures, paralleling their own rebellions as merchants, but also because their shows would be attacked, as a matter of course. And whose was one of those notable voices that attacked the painters in the Impressionists’ show? Well, we all remember that it was that art critic and painter sympathetic to the Académie’s standards, Louis Leroy. Leroy, do you remember, mocked the group in a review where he called the painters “impressionists”, didn’t he, to insult the painters’ system of painting! But instead of dismissing Leroy’s tag—do you remember now?—the group appropriated the tag. It was an act that would later be repeated by the Fauvists, this time against the comments of the art critic Louis Vauxcelles, who also seemed to be sympathetic to the conservative standards of the Académie’s Paris Salon exhibitions and called this later group les fauves (the beasts). The Fauvists’ show was placed within architect Frantz Jourdain’s Salon d’Automne annual exhibition, an exhibition put up by Jourdain and his friends as a reaction against the shows of the Paris Salon. Jourdain would be part of the Art Nouveau movement, while Vauxcelles would go on to later call another group’s shows as containing bizarreries cubiques (cubic oddities), which—again—would prompt that group to call themselves Cubists to mock back Vauxcelles’ attitude. . . . So, you see, Modernist art works and movements were appreciated by their European market for being part of a burgeoning social and intellectual trend, not as mere visions separate from an overall shaping culture. It’s the same in looking for a reason for any art celebrated in history, from Diego Rivera’s popularity with the Mexican people during that post-Revolution era to the salutes upon Chinese artists that emerged from the post-Deng Xiaoping new Chinese industrial revolution.

 



F Grass by Ai Weiwei.

 

     And what about the powers that be that shape zeitgeists again? Okay, let’s talk about them now. Uhhm, okay: let’s talk about the recent past. The notoriety of the Young British Artists, for example, didn’t actually “happen” because the artists involved single-handedly found a formula for shocking people with conceptual jokes that would lead them to success in the art market as the new spirits of their time; nor because a critic decided to rejoice at their arrival against common belief. In fact, commercial galleries refused the group’s early show offers, which was precisely what prompted the group to resort to warehouse shows. Nor did the group gain any major press attention with these shows. Their notoriety “happened” on the scene because millionaire Charles Saatchi nodded to the solicitation of curator and gallerist Carl Freedman; it also “happened” further when, soon after, Saatchi told everyone that these were artists more valuable than any of their peers. Talk about provenance. . . . So, in this case, art criticism didn’t really directly advise Saatchi, art criticism found itself debating on the artists after the wake of a Saatchi decision or celebration or self-promoting awe. You know what I always say?—when a poor intellectual talks, everybody ignores his insignificant voice, but when a rich man starts talking, it doesn’t matter if he’s an intellectual or an idiot, but everybody grows silent and listens. Well, one can argue that Saatchi was influenced by art critics he’d read, Freedman likely being one of them, but, you see, Freedman the gallerist and Saatchi the patron had to be there for art criticism to be so suddenly supportive and re-celebratory of shock art conceptualism, didn’t they? José Vasconcelos had to be there in order for Rivera and Orozco to be heralded by the Mexican post-Revolution enthusiasm, didn’t he? And as for international recognition, the new international Chinese art figures of our time needed the politics of the art patrons and art media of the West to gain significance in the West, didn’t they?

 



Mural by Diego Rivera, at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City, showing the pre-Columbian Aztec city of Tenochtitlán.

 

     The politics behind art reflects an arrangement familiar to artists in pop music. Although it’s true that many great pop music names were first introduced to music journalists by a small communal following before they were manufactured for mass production by the powers of the record industry, those who came out of the industry’s mills in turn were not made by the artists’ greatness alone; record executives in their turn would wield the power of marketing to send back to the original public sources of any type of  music the industry executives’ final choices: we in the consumer market will be faced with who the executives chose to market well (through a hefty budget), we’ll not come face to face with who they chose to de-market or forget about. In fact, one could say that music reviewers only pin their reviews on the products of this marketing, often without being conscious of it; unwittingly, they would also pin their forgetfulness on the products of the executives’ de-marketing decisions. Spin magazine used to come up with a yearend chart of “the best albums of the year that you didn’t get to hear,” separate from its list of simply “the best albums of the year”; which was weird, because why not just do a single yearend list with entries sourced from both the well-marketed and the not-well-marketed and even the not-marketed-at-all packages? Record executives have that power on us, in the same way that American Idol judges have the power to decide (on a whim and by their guts) who gets to go home and who gets a chance at commercial success, through a “salability” (often derivative) sensed by these judges in some contestants’ aura. We’re not even talking yet about losers’ talent getting locked up in producers’ right-of-first-refusal clauses.


ARE ALL these things that we talked about above happening too to our artists and art critics in our present time and place? Well, as regards society’s overwhelming culture and the institutions within that culture that are influencing the contents of contemporary art and art criticism, I bet you they are. Art criticism does not exist in a vacuum, as it were, but just as much as products of existing popular intellection. And when art criticism chooses to rebel from the standards of the official or the popular, often it would still move around and within the same overwhelming paradigms of its society. And, more importantly, art criticism must be equally deemed as products of the system it operates in, the system that pays its wages.
     Who power these existing mental agenda again? You got it right: the Saatchis of the world (who may choose to nod to or rebuke the Freedmans of this same world), as well as the power of the majorial view (who may choose to unconsciously capitulate to the taste dictates of the wealthy or rebuke them). I don’t say all this with the emotion of envy or repugnance or impatience or celebration, simply with the silence of a whispering aha of anthropological recognition.

 



Charles Saatchi with former wife Nigella Lawson.

 



"Now, you’d ask: but aren’t there cities abroad where art criticism is so alive and well-respected, respected in the way restaurants in those cities respect their food critics’ opinion?"

 



     So, when artists today complain that there seems to be an abundance of “commercialism” around, well, we should know why: that’s because that’s the burgeoning culture trend motored by existing standards or pseudo-standards peddled by the powerful sources of the art hype in our time, standards or pseudo-standards somehow supported by hacks of art criticism. And what’s the art community’s part in it? The art community’s part in it is as nodding participants to the standards and pseudo-standards set. So, again, if there seems to be an abundance of such “commercially viable” art products (and an urgency in their production) today, you’d be well advised to consider it as a phenomenon merely mirroring what’s happening in a society, or a niche of society (the art-producing and art-consuming community), within a given period of flowing history as manipulated by the powerful forces who have the handle on it. Are there oppositionists to these new Paris Salons of our age? If there are, those opposing forces don’t have a handle on it, at least not yet. Interestingly, too, it so happens that many of the complainers against this commercialism are themselves unsuspecting participants in the intellectual (or de-intellectualized) trend of their period, sadly only seeing the role others play in it and not seeing their own selves’ partaking in the maintenance of the overall paradigms responsible for this current state (whatever this state is). For instance, the complainers might protest against auctioneers’ false hype on “unworthy objects” of art representing a certain genre, or auctioneers’ focus on mere shown skill, a focus never minding an absence of any significant conceptual value in the works. But what about the hype on these complainers’ own art’s real conceptual value as per their own peddling rhetoric or their gallerists? And could the complainers against some auctioneers’ focus on mere drawing skill themselves be among those loudly decrying artists of non-figurative art? Who are here as representatives of a cultural revolution, willing to stand up to our age’s Paris Salons? Or who are here merely sublimely complaining due to the absence of a cultural revolution that they’d like to see but can’t think of coming up with, a cultural revolution that whatever it is could be one that they can follow after its arrival? In which case, that should be our cultural revolution: in the defeat of the possibility of the emergence or re-emergence of any one.

 



Formally dressed patrons at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1890 in this drawing titled Un Jour de vernissage au palais des Champs-Élysées (1890) by Jean-André Rixens.

 

     For I doubt that the complainers complaining of a waning art criticism fail to see that in our time—as in many other time in history—art criticism as intellectual outbursts can only be beamed up to the focus of spotlights when a powerful Saatchi decides to do that beaming up. If there is something the complainers might be unaware of, it’s likely their being innocent participants to that Saatchian sort of diktat on their minds, which participation would be due to their choice to merely complain and do nothing about it (since their complaints might not really be for this Saatchi to go away but simply for this Saatchi to reform). Furthermore, they would fail to see that the reason why art criticism provided by serious art critics on exhibit walls has remained as mere bric-a-brac on these walls that nobody reads is precisely because the powers that be have decided that that should remain as the tradition, to which tradition the complainers could only propose that everyone should read the bric-a-brac from now on while excepting themselves from this requisite. You see, we can protest at the hypocrisy or stupidity of whatever tradition, but is that about all we can do, really? Can we go further and try to imagine its opposite in ourselves, and imagine if that opposite is our ideal? Remember, the Saatchis of this world are few and the communities that go along with the Saatchis’ taste diktats are numerous. And the reason why the Saatchis of this world can easily dictate their taste on everyone is because they know that it’s easy to dictate one’s taste on everyone if one is wealthy. And if any art within a nation is more or less a product of the collective culture of that nation, revolutionary art criticism can go at changing the art scene in only one primary way: the appreciation of its revolutionary thoughts by another powerful manipulator of society, which incidentally could be our community’s overwhelming desire of the moment. Of course there is the alternative way: it’s that one coming through art society itself, art society which has that innate power of numbers. But we must likewise know this: revolutions are not made by a desire for change and a hatred for the present; they are made by ideas for change.
     Now, you’d ask: but aren’t there cities abroad where art criticism is so alive and well-respected, respected in the way restaurants in those cities respect their food critics’ opinion? But, again, those are other cities. That is not how our cities operate today. And our cities operate today the way they do not because of art critics’ waning numbers, nor because artists refuse to be their own art critics, nor because the art industry in our parts doesn’t care for the language of art critics, but because of the combination of all those and more. The combine creates the city. The manipulator and those who allow themselves to be participants in the manipulation (via the designed paradigms that flaunt art criticism as bric-a-brac) create our city’s art.
     So, how do we change our environment?
     Well, from an anthropological perspective, I would not. Well, sure, maybe we can—after seeing the anthropological truth, perhaps. And that is just where my very question in this essay lies, precisely. What (or where) is the anthropological truth about our art community today, our art systems and our art culture? For now, I don’t have an answer, except the advise that we can start by being realistic, being documenting anthropologists, documenting storytellers. Then, armed with gathered data and anecdotal evidence, we can decide if the problems we hypothesized were really problems, or the problems.
     In the meantime, we wait for those data. So let me now repeat the gist of this essay:
     The current trend in celebrating skill at the expense of ideas, as per a common complaint bandied about, is not due to the presence of the auctioneers (who, in fact, have also been busy auctioning abstract works). It’s due to the collective mental act of everyone, directly or indirectly: artists’ statements, the art critics’ choices, the art appreciating-community’s choices, the gallery’s choices, and so on and so forth, but largely the majority’s alienation from art as products they can’t make purchase of other than as products of skill.
     As an aside, let me ask this: How did this alienation, and other alienations (toward other factors in art), happen? And what do artists care about the majority?

 



"Perhaps the reason why we can’t come up with a cultural revolution for everyone now, in the same manner that Vasconcelos’ mural revolution became a revolution for every Mexican during his time, is because we are now alienated from each other."

 



     Here’s the aside: it is also a common complaint that the artists of our time cannot anymore become true popular figures the way movie actors have been the popular figures since after the arrival of cinema, or the way the modernists were popular figures during their time, or the way poets and novelists were popular figures before TV sets became widely distributed. It’s true, today the poet Jose Garcia Villa and the novelist Nick Joaquin may still be familiar names to many high school students, but not because the students have all read a Villa poem or a Joaquin novel before; only because they’ve read these names bandied about like empty political slogans by a paragraph in a textbook before or because they’ve read the first paragraph of the Wikipedia wiki on these literary artists in some Internet café while working on a homework. How did this happen? Well, the last famous writers whose faces regularly appeared in Life magazine were the likes of T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Ernest Hemingway, some Russian poets, etc. This was during a time when these people’s products were popular, not just their names; because they had verses or stories more street-based than professor-endorsed in that time when TV sets were still few. Poets would continue to be popular in communist republics, for obvious reasons, and still popular in technologically-advanced republics where they wrote in the same language the technologically-savvy people used (and I don’t mean, like, the same Japanese language the Japanese people use, but, like, the samekind of Japanese language that Toyo Shibata also used) and on the same subjects and themes the people continued to be crazy about or cry about (thus the bestsellers The Mersey Sound, Maya Angelou, or Mattie Stepanek). In our environment here in Manila, we have famous Palanca winners’ names and National Artists whose products are alien to Filipinos’ appreciation. Well, actually this phenomenon is global. I believe that the postmodernist trend in literature is actually writers’ conscious or unconscious way of providing an answer to the esotericization of the literary audience (if it’s only intellectuals who are reading our novels, then maybe we should make our novels more interesting for them alone). Wait, am I really doing an aside here, a subtopic in this essay? Let’s go back to the question: who cares about being popular to the majority? After all, isn’t our populous city so fragmented already, made of various Facebook interest pages?

 



 

     You are right. That is a subtopic and almost entirely another matter for discussion. But, just in case we’re interested in finding that connection between our art and the environment that produced that art of ours, the clue might be in that alienation. Perhaps the reason why we can’t come up with a cultural revolution for everyone now, in the same manner that Vasconcelos’ mural revolution became a revolution for every Mexican during his time, is because we are now alienated from each other. In our department store culture celebratory of the multitudinous and the plural, our art has been fragmented into micro-genres with various concerns conflicting or not, making everybody talk about a topic different from the other's, with no one listening to anybody within the simultaneity, and with everyone mocking something or someone because one can’t really listen to anything or anyone. Aesthetic rebellions of the past are now mere styles that artists can dedicate their lives to for the sake of style, style being equivalent to a brand or a product logo. We have thus exposed art to the interests of exploiters of the multitude of micro-interests for micro-markets, the grocers of the age of the art hypermarket. Is there even a mental environment out there cohesive enough for our Sherlock Holmesian curiosity to trace a certain big revolt to, whether in art or music or philosophy? And if our search is for a flaw, how do we reverse (or fix) whatever it is we might find as in need of reversing (or fixing) for whomever?

 



"And if our search is for a flaw, how do we reverse (or fix) whatever it is we might find as in need of reversing (or fixing) for whomever?"

 



     Again, I say we can’t reverse anything nor fix anything. Not yet anyway. What we can do for now is continue to be who we are, doing what we’ve chosen to do, just as the Conceptualists on the other side cannot escape their urge to do their anti-art art in spite of the fact that not many get their anti-ness . . . because this is what we are about. What we can continue to do according to what we've been used to doing defines the zeitgeist of our political and economic present, whether it be a good or bad zeitgeist. Making changes to our body will have to ride on a changing wave of the spirit of our time, and at the moment there is no oncoming change that we can think of. Who we are in this period of our history, therefore, is reflected in the manufactured produce or branded products that reflect in turn our various micro-politics, the diversity of our micro-philosophies, the contradictions of our time and aesthetics, the religious vagueness or hypocrisy of our hipster era, our alienation as sellers from our markets, our alienation as producers from our dealers, and our alienation as consumers from the products we have been told to purchase (after falling into the belief that we need those products or need to own them), all in the service of the hypermarket. We should not reverse anything or fix anything. We should not. That, if only for one reason: we cannot. We. Cannot. And, actually, hypermarkets are not necessarily bad. In fact they comfort us with the utopia of having everything, the ultimate utopia of seeing "all genres available" for all sorts of need. The ultimate vision of wealth, which is what we are all dreaming of. Nothing wrong, therefore, with handicraft commodities in our hypermarketed culture of product plurality for the multitude.
     Now, . . . actually, maybe we can reverse things. Maybe we can make fixes on where some things are broken. Yeah, sure we can. For, certainly, one can anytime prove me wrong with his looking to establish his own anarchist Salon d’Automne somewhere. If he's a Kosuth-type of Asian Conceptualst, he may now or tomorrow be in the process of already taking advantage of a sudden moment wherein he finally met his Saatchi. But in case you’re one of those who are still seriously looking to do stuff like that, from whatever ideology outside of the existing paradigms, let me congratulate you now in advance. And let me leave you with this: it was likely you got to where you now find yourself in, mentally or physically . . . because you’ve seen the entirety of the period and place you inhabit, pare/mare, known all art therein as their period and place’s products. You find yourself here, today, not among those who complain and aim to do nothing about anything (except to ask the object of the complaint behind its back to reform itself). You now know, here, what it is you want to do to replace the objects of the status quo (or to replace the status quo’s obsession with objects) or what you want to do to replace the status quo’s way of treating all those objects that have been produced. You have ceased your complaining and pleading as well as recognized that you have yet to meet your Saatchi. And here you are with me. Here we are:
     We chill awhile, resuming to look at the things happening around us. You’re like a notebook-toting urban anthropologist on a new pair of Nikes, jotting down the ways art stuff are peddled around in the shops of the art department store. You’re amused, though empathetic, like a tourist on a rented Segway, aiming for a blog. You’re doing the right thing, you’re doing a nice thing. For you never know what post-new modernism you could end up shaping further and well from those sketches and crude plans in your humble and honest Che Guevarian Segway diaries. What should I call you when you arrive, monsieur/mademoiselle, other than “l’beast”?
     But in case you have time before your next flight, you may want to look too in the other direction. There are those who are not complaining and are happy to be here, hugged by the utopia of the art hypermarket. In this utopia, the art critics happily get paid writing for (auction) catalogues.  [d]

 

 

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(c) 2016 Jojo Soria de Veyra

 

 

 


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diskurso is an independent, Philippines-based online magazine on art aiming to veer away from a present mental landscape replete with the customary peacock and weasel words that continue to service the art industry.