Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gloria Arroyo, Underappreciated Patron of the Arts








1. The Underappreciated


GLORIA ARROYO IS an underappreciated, no: a mal-appreciated, individual. Her role in the evolution of good Philippine governance has yet to be recorded by future historians, who might then be able to likewise acknowledge her contributions to that evolution in the Filipino's unconscious psyche.
     But this mal-appreciation is understandable. This is the reason why there is such a course in schools called History, and that academic course presumes that History's lessons are not learned by its characters' contemporaries but by those contemporaries' great grand-offspring inhabiting future time. In short, the History course is vicarious experiencing which, by virtue of its being vicarious, elicits learning; it may even be deemed the opposite of true experiencing, and, by virtue of this, elicits objectivity. Totally understandable, therefore, that no one learns from Current History. So, to repeat: vicarious experiencing through past History is the key to learning, and it is therefore our great-great-grandchildren who can be expected to evolve after having learned from all that we experience today. To repeat, we can hardly be expected to learn anything big from unfolding current history; thus, our mal-appreciation of Gloria Arroyo's actions. (But make no mistake about it. Even future generations won't have their learning on a silver platter. They would have to expose themselves, in Sesame Street-like fashion, over and over and over to the lessons of past History for these to sink in.)
     Now, having said this, just for the hell of it and for those who might want a glimpse of what the lessons of the future might look like, simply from my modest ability to create a form of sci-fi with the gift of an aging imagination, permit me the indulgence of guiding you through this Star Trek to the archipelago's future learning. My sci-fi reader, I offer that the future will look back (perhaps through online books and videos) and say: Hey, look, look at those moves by Gloria Arroyo in 2009, A.D., made for the benefit of Philippine arts, moves that totally couldn't be understood or appreciated by Arroyo's countrymen during her time. She was, after all, a revolutionary mind. In what way? Let me count the ways.
     Here is that glimpse.

IN 2009, GLORIA Arroyo insisted on the proclamation of that instant-film maker Carlo Caparas and that theater organizer Cecile Guidote-Alvarez as the new National Artists of the Philippines Archipelago, a move that, we've no doubt in our minds, was made by her to teach artistic circles at that time a very good lesson—a lesson we certainly cannot expect the Sesame Street of Philippine arts to have seen until it was repeated a thousand more times to the present; the lesson being, for us now in 2099, that if Bienvenido Lumbera or F. Sionil Jose or any other stalwart blessed by the national coffers can have the right to dictate their opinion of who the national artist for the Philippine archipelago should be, then anybody with a right to the national coffers, the President no less, can have his/her say on who the people should gobble up and emulate as their national artist. We harp on that today. They could not harp on that in the past, and allowed the Sesame Street of history to teach their great grandchildren its lessons more subtly and more patiently. After all, even Congress hearings on the issue of protesting the proclamation, attended by all sorts of historicist fellows from all sorts of persuasions, dared not question what they were fighting over; they could only question who was fighting for whom. And as for the claim that Caparas was not worthy of the award, was not that the very point of the hard lesson? If any clique can claim to be right about who they think is worthy of the award, then by a simple stretch of that logic we'll get the logic of getting a Caparas. Brilliant Arroyo.
     Almost simultaneous to the initiation of this lesson in 2009 A.D., Gloria Arroyo also had a luxuriant P1 million dinner, with frustrated culinary artists and national Congressional gourmands, in colonial New York and Washington DC; it was a dinner which hungry and not-so-hungry and not-hungry-at-all Filipino artistic circles interminably protested against on social networking websites and blog sites. Little did they recognize that this was exactly what they themselves wanted. Gourmand luxury! She was the president, after all, and so if a national grantee of an individual could even have the right to dispose of a P2 million annual budget on his research-grant-hungry person care of the cultural tax collection from the people and his competitors, then why not a president, rightly entitled to a million-peso dinner, being a president and not a mere artisan of state-guided or state-approved art?
     A bit later on, the government of Gloria Arroyo, through the Cultural Center of the Philippines, accorded the former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcoswife of the then-already-deceased, previously-exiled dictator Ferdinand Marcosa tribute evening entitled "Genesis: Seven Arts, One Imelda," as if to teach the artistic culture by implying: "Look," the tribute seemed to say, "if any of you can dictate who to honor among your friends, certainly I, the president of the republic, can dictate too who to honor among my friends." And who can argue with that? Oh, some did argue with that, saying their dictates were "collective," having passed through a Commission of artistic dictators, er, connoisseurs. Total crap. But no one could harp on Arroyo's lesson on that crap then, and history simply allowed Darwin's Sesame Street of slow, historical evolution to have its way and say on the matter in our education in the future, our education today.
     So, today, let us not forget what happened a few days later after the brouhaha. You see, the activist National Artist Lumbera had been one of those quite vocal about the perceived scandal Ms. Arroyo wrought on the National Artist of the Philippines title award with the film maker's and theater organizer's instant proclamation. One morning, Lumbera's housemaids called the guards of their high-end village to accost suspicious persons hovering about the front of the Lumbera house, persons who turned out to be members of the Philippine Marines. The military personnel were caught, but they had their alibi, alibi that . . . but the artistic community would not have any of it. If their suspicions were right, that Lumbera was being made to fear for his life and was therefore expected to cease all activism, then there again was a precious lesson that the government was generously trying to teach the art community. Anyone of you who dares oppose an authority's choice, the lesson seemed to say, will be harassed, just as anyone among the citizenry who dares oppose an art authority's choice, whether that authority comes from the CCP or the National Commission for Culture and the Arts or the art establishment or the small arts society's majority, is promptly harassed by the art authorities' cliques either by ugly rumors, media-coursed black propaganda, collective dressing-down or simple threats of isolation. But, no, that lesson wasn't to sink in on that season of scrambling for arts grants on Pinoy Sesame Seeds Street.
     A day later, what more happened? Gloria Arroyo appointed an accountant to man the helm of the country's Cultural Center. The arts community, quite naturally, went berserk. But they couldn't appreciate the logic of it. Gloria Arroyo was teaching the Sesame Street of artists in the archipelago a very important lesson: a lesson about funds. The existence of an artist's haven dangling subsidies and stipends means that there will continue to be parasites looking out for these grants falling down from the haven's tall walls. Sure, Ms. Arroyo could have appointed a ballerina to be the new president of the CCP, or a brilliant lighting designer, but what would they do? They would usually just end up calling their friends to get hold of this or that grant that the institution is releasing. By appointing an accountant, Gloria Arroyo wanted the archipelago to learn this: when you wait for droppings called grants, you're waiting not just on the blessings of your patron in office, like a respectable-looking waiter waiting for tips, you're actually a fly waiting for tax money to land in front of you as your pie piece. Apart from ad execs and marketing men, accountants are the very people who constantly talk about pie charts and pieces of the pie. You see the significance of the metaphor Arroyo gave them? But who could have seen all this in the moment of real experiencing in the year 2009?
     Look, in 2009, they couldn't even see the lessons during their lifetime of certain happy occurrences. That very year, the charm and grandeur of the CCP's "Daloy" event, an exhibition and party celebrating 40 years of artistic patronage by the institution, was praised by all, friends and foe of the current CCP clique alike. A masterful historical documentation-of-sorts of that event was written by newspaper columnist Sylvia Mayuga. "Its red carpets are frayed where they once sank luxuriously underfoot," she hauntingly wrote. "I found some windows stuck when I tried opening them for fresh air in long hours once spent here on a theater project." But it was a party. Filipinos loved to party in 2009, and to them all parties were great. It was therefore no surprise, being a true experiencing of unfolding history (and within an enjoyable party at that), for Daloy not to be accepted as a demonstration of where the CCP was better at—at the recording of past and continuing culture. The lesson to be derived was: if the CCP is to transform its function from being a haven for artists (hungry or well-to-do) hankering after grants to being a repository of past and continuing culture, in short a true cultural center and not a state arts center, it might go through centuries without any major opposition.

2. The Underrepresented

WE COULD GO on and on. But since it’s history, and we already know that a lesson was not learned until ninety years later, let us just get down to the present, here in 2099, and listen to an interview on a CNN-like station in New York hosted by a Winnie Monsod-like program host named Lila Shahani III, Oxford University PhD, as she interviews an alien who has been identified as one of many rebel leaders in the ongoing war to take hold of the CCP in the Philippine archipelago.
     CNN-like NY Studio is catering to the Filipino expat community in New York City, and presently the program's interviewee is that above-mentioned rebel leader who, we found out, is also currently headquartered in the city. However, CNN-like NY has agreed, for security reasons, to hide the real identity of the rebel, knowing that a civil war has just erupted in real time in the archipelago between a hundred artistic cliques, each with a standard bearer for a National Artist of the Philippines title and a proposal for a year of CCP state sponsorship, each fighting the other therefore in one of the bloodiest battles in the Southeast Asian region. We'll just call our rebel guest "The Greenman," since anyway that's what Philippine legends and gossip call him, and in fact that's the name he used as author of nine poetry books, and he loves rainforests along with the color green and green forest jokes (known in New York as blue humor).
     Oh, and what are those lessons again that we learned from Gloria Arroyo that we should be thankful to her for? The lessons enumerated in Part 1, Big Bird brain, along with the fact that everyone recognizes now that this ongoing war is a result of our not heeding Arroyo's parables! Lessons learned the hard way were they, if you will. Some mutual tough feeling there, too; for, after all, these were lessons Arroyo herself had a hard time teaching us, lessons which she could only communicate by holding a big mirror up to reflect the corruption in the arts at the time. Unfortunately, the art cliques looked at this mirror but could only see Gloria Arroyo behind it. They totally could not see that she was also there to act as their reflection.


     We might also remember that the host of our CNN-like show is the great-great-granddaughter of a former Filipino lady senator who once fought for the retention of the CCP, even as her fellow senator—one Heherson Alvarez, husband of a later National Artist of the Philippines title awardee named Cecile Guidote-Alvarez—preferred to see the edifice disabled (perhaps in deference to the stalwart opposition senator murdered at the Benigno Aquino Jr. International Airport, then known as the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, who loved to tag the dictator's wife as a persona with an "edifice complex"). Senator Shahani won the argument, if only to liberate CCP from Imelda's arts and thus institutionalize a new CCP ostensibly embracing the arts of the people. Whether that ideal was achieved (or is even achievable) is the crux of this interview with The Greenman in this year of Shiva 2099.
     Here is that interview, which—although it starts off with the National Artist of the Philippines title award issue—actually mainly circles around a debate on what the CCP should be about:




     Lila Shahani III: Good afternoon, Mr. Greenman.
     Greenman: Good afternoon.
     LSIII: I watched you on Barcelona TV and one of the callers, the Filipino consul-general named Eddie de Vega IV, was asking you a question, and you were interrupted by commercials followed by breaking news, so naturally I couldn't catch your answer. Let me just repeat that question. He was saying, and I'll just read it here: “I was wondering why it was questionable to name composer Ernani Cuenco or actor Fernando Poe Jr. as National Artists. Anyone who could compose such a song as 'Gaano Kita Kamahal', and anyone who makes successful epic films that encourage the Filipino to appreciate their historical past (and preserves copies of those films he made), is a fine artist to me." And, you know, before you answer, let me just say that I think the issue with Ernani Cuenco was that he didn't really have a significant body of work (although the same could be said of Alejandro Roces, etc.). FPJr, on the other hand, always played the same stoic hero of the masses' proto-stereotype but was never really (in my humble opinion, at least) more than a B-grade actor. So I don't think it was their nationalism being questioned as much as the artistic form they worked in (or maybe at least in terms of how other artists in those respective genres were generally assessed). I agree: they both played a big part in forging our sense of nationhood, and I say this as a half-Filipino, but I guess the point is that the National Artist title awards should also be about artistic craft.
     G: (to the audience) Hey guys, what’s up! Great to be here. (to the host) Uhm, okay. I say let's subsidize artists, but let's subsidize everyone else too! Let’s subsidize solar-powered-jeepney drivers, and actors, and magicians, and Facebook bloggers, so everyone pays their taxes and gets something in return too. And I think National Artists should be chosen by a national referendum, under an autonomous Commission on Referenda. I don't think a committee comprising solely of Eddie de Vega IV and Lila Shahani III should risk logging horns with the largish official committee members of the Arts Commission of the People's Republic of the Philippine Archipelago who have decided a long time ago to dictate to us who they think should be our National Artists, whatever the hell that means. But, you know what, I think I want to take back everything I wrote in my earlier manifestos already. I think now that all Filipino artists are National Artists since they are all Filipinos and therefore all of the Nation. Mabuhay ang mga National Artists! (the audience responds with ‘Mabuhay!’s) Oh, and I'm an Ernani Cuenco fan, by the way.
     LSIII: (laughs) Sira ka talaga, e! You don't even bother to answer Mr. de Vega IV's question. Ba't hindi mo type yung dalawa as National Artists? I'm a fan of Nora Aunor but don't think she should have been a National Artist, so whether you're a fan of Cuenco or not is neither here nor there. And what's wrong with subsidizing production (as opposed to achievement)? Wouldn't having cheaper books and materials make your life easier? It sure would help me out, since I'm a voracious reader.
     G: First of all, yeah, oo nga, oo nga, sorry, Mr. de Vega. Pero sorry di ko type si FPJ except sa Aguila. I'll answer your question later. First, Lil, dapat talaga walang National Artist. Kahit sarili nating favorites wala tayong gustong gawing Number One natin, di ba? Lahat ng favorites natin gusto natin number one sila lahat, di ba? I say, subsidize production in reverse, that is, by giving the production mode tax breaks; that way mas egalitarian, hindi special people lang ang meron. . . . O di kaya, para masaya at wala nang away, idadaan sa wrestling o sabong. Ang may nanalong manok, siya ang National Artist. At least pag ganun alam natin ang Diyos ang nag-decide by the divine mystery of sortition. . . . And now, Lil, and Eddie in Barcelona, to answer your question, I have no beef at all with Cuenco or Poe Jr. or Caparas and all their followers through the decades who have established churches in their name. I was just reporting/recording/reminding every one involved in this ongoing war in Luzon right now of those protests in 2009, because I think those protests are at the root of this Luzon war now in 2099. In all this, I was just looking at things as an outsider, one without a religious affiliation or clique. Wala akong pinapaburan na kandidato for the National Artist of the Philippines award in the near future, from whatever school of thought. I'm not saying the Caparasites or the Poeics or the Cuencoenes should win next year. In fact, hindi ako pabor sa National Artist of the Philippines title dahil ayokong i-impose ng state o ng isang commission ang mga gusto nito para sa akin, and vice versa if nasa akin ang power. The issue is, bakit ba tayo mahilig mag-power trip over the underrepesented, sa politics man o sa arts?
     LSIII: Tama! Finally, a serious answer. Agreed! (laughs) Ay, pero ayaw ko ng sabong, ha. Ikaw naman, dadagdagan mo pa ng animal abuse! Pero, actually, mas marami nama'ng pera ang economic elite natin kaysa sa gobyerno, so dapat sila nalang ang mag-fund ng mga private awards. Like Lila Acheson Wallace in the US or the Rockefellers. Ayan o, sina Henry Sy IV, Lucio Tan V, and Jaime Zobel XIII!
     G: Tama ka. O artists mismo. Actually nga, magaling na exercise ng imagination sa isang artist ang wala siyang resources, di ba? Bakit ako, poet with eight books na rin kahit wala naman akong perang pang-publish ng P65,000/500 copies na book? Resourcefulness should be a part of the art, matagal nang itinuro ng Marxist criticism iyon, the politics in/of artistic production.
     LSIII: Ba't ikaw ang magbabayad ng P65,000? Dapat yung publisher mo, di ba? Pero ang point mo, in short, walang patrons. Ako naman: let the market do its work, but we can help to make it more equitable. Parang welfare economics ni Amartya Sen. Did you know that Sen's wife is an expert on Adam Smith at Cambridge? And he, Sen, definitely believes that the market should be allowed to operate, though we need to directly address its inequities. We need competition, so artists strive to have a competitive advantage: that can only breed excellence, Mr. Greenman. Awards would be a kind of incentive, given that writers these days have so few readers; it's really not that much to ask ... a few carrots, that's all. But I agree that they/we all need to strive to be more resourceful. Hey, guess what, the Filipino consul-general at Barcelona, Mr. Eddie de Vega IV, is on the line. He was watching our show, Mr. Greenman. Let’s have him, let’s have him join in. Hello, Mr. de Vega!

3. The Underfinanced

EDDIE DE VEGA IV (phone audio): Hello, Lila, yes. You know, I agree with Mr. Greenman that resourcefulness and surviving under the most difficult conditions could elevate the artist's inspiration. A lot of the greatest artists in the world at one time or another lived in relative poverty (Schubert, Balzac, etc.).

Franz Schubert
     Lila Shahani III: Yes, yes, Mr. de Vega.
     EdV IV: I think I shall listen now to my recording of Puccini's La Boheme. Or perhaps the modern version, Rent the musical—wonderful depiction of the artist's life. That was all, really. Just wanted you to know I'm a fan of your show.
     LSIII: Oh, thank you, Consul General, thank you. B'bye, have a good one. Hmm, La Boheme. . . . Okay, where were we? P65,000, Greenman. Why you, why not the publisher?
     The Greenman: Ah! Sa National Book Store of the Republic of the Philippine Archipelago, ilan ang poetry books na published ng publisher itself, ilan ang co-publishing ventures? Statistical question. We might not get an honest answer, unless we're talking to friends in the industry. Co-publishing ventures are: you pay for the printing, publishers distribute. It's universally referred to as self-publishing, via a vanity press. Same with indie recordings. Mas matindi nga ang sa recordings, kaya mga bands ngayong sikat sa Pilipinas ay mayayaman (middle to upper-middle class)EMI would demand meron ka ring pang-marketing. Sila, distribution lang. Magkano mag-advertise sa isang billboard? P65,000/week sa main avenues. Marxist criticism on artistic production, you say? Well, kahit Marxists sa University of the Philippine Archipelago ayaw i-discuss 'yan e. Now, I agree that artists and patrons and the market should all be part of the equation. Government, nil dapat, zilch dapatdun na lang sila sa museums at education. Dun na lang ang controversy sa kung sino dapat ang nasa lobby ng film museum, halimbawa, si Caparas ba o si Lino Brocka. At least malalaman natin sa ticket sales ng museum kung sino ang trip ng citizenry. And Puccini's La BohemePanalo, Mang Eddie, sir!
     LS III: Look, guys, Mr. Greenman, our audience, all I'm saying is: what if you have a brilliant young girl in Palawan who's gifted in music? But her parents can't afford to buy her the violin she so desperately wants. Ikaw, Mr. Greenman: you can nurture your talents because writing is the cheapest art form, after all. E, paano na ang mga filmmakers at lalo na ang mga musicians who have to start young? Paano kung type niya si Jacqueline du Pré at ang cello? Sino ang mag-babayad? All I'm saying is that, in such contexts, artists could use some help from the government. Maybe you and I will just have to agree to differ on this, Greenman—okay lang.
     Greenman: Kaya nga, the culture of government-subsidized art practically produces such mis-alignments. If art is left to the private individual struggling for her/himself, s/he will not have been trained in the art s/he couldn't afford or the art that has not been in her/his neighborhood in the first place. Ang culture natin ngayon, magdadala tayo ng ballet performances sa mga rural barrios, tapos pag nagustuhan ng mga anak ng magsasaka at wala silang pambili ng pang-pirouette na sapatos, patay na. Tsinelas nga di makabili e. Ayoko ng mga tatay na tinuturuan ang mga anak nilang mag-appreciate ng violin, tapos pag nagkagustong mag-violin, di maibili. Ang culture kasi natin pilit. Pinipilit maging cultured sa mga bagay na di natural sa atin, when we should be nurturing the art na nasa neighborhood natin. If it's a neighborhood of violins, great. Pero kung rondalla, wag nating piliting magkaroon ng cello. Tapos manghihingi tayo ng funding sa mga kapitbahay natin? Kung magbibigay, okey. Kung hindi, pa'no? By law? . . . Now, literature. Literature for publication is one of the more expensive arts in the Philippines, since most writers get published through co-publishing ventures better known elsewhere in the planet as self-publishing ventures, as I said earlier, the funding for which do not even return to the writers in terms of royalties or sales profit, at least in our parts. In that sense, pangmayaman ang writing, unless mayaman ka sa connections among Readers Editors sa publishing houses, readers and editors whose bosses may finance a couple of non-profitable books a year. Walang cheap na art. . . . So, anyone can say his art is underfinanced. Kanino ba ang hindi? On the other hand, all art can be cheap if you do art that is natural to you. Ang pangit kasi sa atin, meron tayong tinutukoy na high art, so jeepney sticker art ayaw natin i-sponsor o ayaw i-cover ng media ang isang magaling dito the way NYC covered magaling na graffiti artists in the 1980s. Colonial pa rin kasi ang sukat natin sa all right na art as against sa hindi all right. . . . By the way, regarding Amartya Sen's wife nga pala, the economics of liberals naman (say, New Keynesian) are not necessarily anti-market, di ba? Kahit nga si Paul Krugman dinifend ang oil speculation, di ba? Necessary components yun. Ang point lang ng liberals like Krugman, i-regulate ang dapat i-regulate. Even Milton Friedman often agreed on this. Kahit sa politics ganun din, a liberal is not necessarily left-leaning in all issues. So, okay sa mag-asawa magkaibang poles, parang Shriver-Schwarzenneger. Si Ninoy, halimbawa, socialist, probably progressivist; si Cory, anti-Freedom from Debt Coalition, likely conservative-liberal or liberal-conservative. . . . And speaking of conservatives and liberals, many will look at my advocacy of a State-less arts as a conservative position, depriving socialist artists of support. But I see it as a liberal one. In fact, it is the State-infiltrated arts that are related to the nobleman- and scribe-supported arts of the monarchic period.
     LS III: Okay. . . . But now I want to put you to task on something you said earlier. Huh? I'm sorry? Oh. Yeah, our director is saying we should hear first from our audience. Okay, audience, what do you have to say? Your own views on this ongoing war in the archipelago. Oh, yes, what's your name, ma'am?
     Therese Yason: I'm Therese Yason.
     LS III: Therese Yason, go ahead.
     TY: I think dapat subsidizing the nurturing of creative, independent thought and action in our citizens, no matter what field we are in … we are so sold out on educating our kids to land them a job that we forget that one of our greatest strengths is the ability to think out of the box. Not talking about arts and crafts alone, which seems to be what a lot of us are doing for the export industry, but finding a different way to solve a problem. Too long have we been in a tenant/employee mindset, it's about time we nurture in all of us the confidence to make tangible our creativity (not only in the arts) and have government backing in terms of tech and education, not just funding.
     LS III: Very good, very good. Okay, we'll pause for a commercial, and when we come back, I think I want to pin you down on that indigenous thing you just suggested, Mr. Greenman. We'll be back.

LSIII: ALL RIGHT, we’re back. Therese. Therese, you were saying during our commercial break, something you wanted to emphasize?
     TY: I was just trying to emphasize that subsidies should go to nurturing creative and independent thought in all fields. For too long, education in our country has focused on educating workers and followers and not on nurturing the out-of-the-box thinking which is innate in most of us. One of our country's greatest strengths is the innate ability of our people to improvise and innovate. Creativity is in our bloodline, be it in the arts or sciences. Creativity is in finding a different way to solve a problem—where else can you find a spoon improvised to fix a broken taxi door handle because the driver cannot afford to buy a new handle? If there is any funding to be granted, why not put it in educating our people to uplift their aesthetic sensibilities? Put it in providing technology or increasing the tech skills of people who need to make tangible their unusual ideas. While it is a bit fulfilling to have someone say that your body of work is great and here is an award to tell everyone that you did a great job, at the end of the day only the artist or the scientist or the businessman or the teacher can say if he was able to do what he had to do and whether he finds fulfillment in it.
     (applause)
     LSIII (also clapping): All right, all right! Hmm. Thank you, Therese. . . . Now, I want to go back to what The Greenman was saying here a while ago, and this is what I want to say: Great points, Greenman. But during our long commercial break I had a chat with Therese and then I went outdoors to our terrace here in the studio to enjoy the end of this gorgeous New York summer. But I had this entire body of thought that came to me. Greenman, yes, point very well-taken about indigenous instruments, etc. That's true. But we don't want to be nativist or essentialist about identity either, do we? After all, this is a postmodernist (post- postmodernist na nga kung minsan) era, so that young girl in Palawan should ideally have several options. Of course, it would be preferable if we’re to choose an ethnic instrument, but what if she really has a natural talent for something that's not readily available in her neighborhood? You know, much as Indians are loath to admit it, there are some outstanding Koreans and other non-Indians who are real virtuosos in classical Indian dance, for example. Yung mga dancer, tinatawanan sa Korea for this "strange" career choice, but they're actually really good. 'Di ba ito na ang cultural logic of late capitalism, to follow Jameson—that it spreads outside national borders—that, by its very nature, art in the 21st century could have transnational qualities? But, okay, I absolutely take your point that all art can be cheap if you do what is most natural to you. But I don't agree that popular art is not recognized by the art establishment—respecting artists working on pop art forms is practically standard fare in the museum/academic world in New York, for instance. Graffiti, language in New York City menus, hip hop—all of this has become rich fodder for cultural studies. Sa CCP din. My grandmother did a lot of shows on things like Kenkoy comics, pahiyas, etc., etc. But, as I said above, we don't want artists to artificially glorify the "ethnic" either—we just want them to do what is most natural to them. So, to follow Sen, providing the functional context (i.e., in Marxist parlance, the material base) where they can have the freedom to choose would be my definition of the ideal. And when I said writing was the cheapest form, I meant in terms of creating, as in: all one needs is a room of one's own (and a second-hand PC, of course). . . . As for publishing at home in the Philippines, I couldn't agree with you more, and it really is unfortunate. But, I'm frankly still trying to get a sense of where you stand on the market. And I definitely agree with Krugman. And, hahaha—oo nga, 'no? I forgot that Cory was anti-Freedom from Debt Coalition. And Therese, I couldn't agree with you more—that's also how I look at it. But sana you took a picture of that spoon!
     (laughter)

4. The Over-coddled and the Under-attended


G: NO, NO, Lil, I wasn't talking in terms of the ethnic or the indigenous, but in terms of what's natural to the surround. The violin is natural to Austrians, that's why you hear it on Viennese radio in the same playlist with The Scorpions or Nina Hagen. The ballet is natural to Moscow, so some taxi drivers dance it at night. The violin is also becoming natural to that town where the Bolipata brothers came from, thanks to their efforts. Me mura namang violins, e. I was referring to the habit of condescension, as when we say, okay: tomorrow we're going to dedicate a day to the popular novel, we'll invite authors of some popular novels (whisper: although we know they don't really deserve the honor). The fact that academic institutions still put those divisions between the popular and the high reeks of the truth, that some art are being subsidized to survive (thus, by interference). Some art are over-coddled. This all seems a digression but really part and parcel of the culture of nationalizing or saving or feeling responsible towards some art. But all unnatural.
     LS III: Oh, I see now. But then we agree! (himala!) We both believe in the market doing its work, but I'm more Keynesian than you and I follow Sen. Tama ba?
     G: Yes, we do. And that we only disagree not like I'm a Democratic guest on Republican-leaning Fox News, but am here only talking like I'm Hillary Clinton on pro-Obama but friendlier CNN in early 2008—that in itself is a happy himala! (laughs) . . . Now, Lil, though we both derive from the economics of liberals instead of from economic liberalism, when it comes to the arts, however, you could say I'm more Jeffrey Sachs than anything. Give everyone shock therapy. Then again, Keynes and Sen too actually as when I say the state should put more effort in nurturing not just museums but freedoms and equality in education so that capabilities do not anymore recognize such arts as the high for the upper-middle-class Ingleseros or Englog speakers and the low for the lower-middle-class Tagalogeros or Taglish speakers. I say, let's put the money instead in the under-attended facilities: museums, libraries. My art utopia involves a Shakespeare friendly to both the Queen and the masses, a Neruda for both the farmers and the senators. It seems nobody's interested in attaining that in the Philippine archipelago, everybody's happy with having expensive Montessori-method schools that sing an English Philippine national anthem hovering above public schools geared towards, say, caregiving careers for its Taglish-speaking pupils getting second-rate, poor English instruction. Not that a caregiving career should be looked at as godawful, but that it is seen as a sacrifice and heroism instead of as a mission is already telling.

Philippine National Library
     LS III: But doesn't "nurturing not just museums but freedoms and equality in education" precisely involve state subsidies? If not, what do they involve? Yung high/low, English/Tagalog, ibang usapan iyan. No quarrel with you there about dismantling such hierarchies. What I'm saying (and concentrate and don't digress, please!) is: how does the state make art and education more equitable if not by subsidizing production, as I've been saying? How else would they do it? By the way, what naman is your beef with museums? As someone whose grandmother used to work in the Museo ng Kalinangang Pilipino, I know that there are creative, cutting-edge museums (though not necessarily there in Manila, mind you) all over the world; not all of them are ossified and necrophilic, you know. So why shouldn't they be competitive as well?
     G: That's what I was saying, Lil. The state should concentrate on museums and education, not the arts. The galleries deal with the painting and sculpture arts directly, museums only bear witness. And that's where the state can come in, to design them as an extension of public education. Education, including state universities' "interfering" in the arts, could/should be the job of the state. But arts patronage shouldn’t and never should be. In short, let's allow the people to choose which art they'll celebrate, then the state can teach the fact of certain public recognition to succeeding generations through the museums. Museums are a part of a people's education, and if the state can pour all its arts money into museums and education instead, then so, so much the better.
     LS III: Okay, so, actually our only disagreement is that you believe that only museums and libraries should receive state funding, while the arts should not. My approach is more focused on process: that is, help them while they're producing the novel, video, rap song, kulintang piece, etc., much like academic grants. But we both agree: no state awards for the arts. Private patrons and the market should assess that. Tama ba?
     G: That's right, we only disagree on the grants. The National Endowment for the Arts is a usual stage for infighting within the arts community in the United States but, since not so centralized when it comes to approvals . . .
     LSIII: I'm not sure about that . . .
     G: . . . we don't hear about these here except when a Mapplethorpe-like situation appears. Let's just refer to the local grumbling by Philippine artists about National Commission for Culture and the Arts grants, maybe, and CCP ones.
     LS III: Ok, fair enough.
     G: In that sense, pareho kami ng partido ni Ms. Yason pagdating sa education and arts education. Sa mga na-educate na sa arts, walang grants from the state, sila na ang bahala sa buhay nila para matuto rin naman ng resourcefulness at pagpapahalaga sa pera ng tao. Ibang tao naman, please. Baka me nangangailangan ng micro-financing dyan para mang-shine ng sapatos, and so on. Sayang ang pera sa grants e, at nawawala ang fair competition among artists.
     LS III: But aren't you limiting artistic production to the economic elite and the truly resourceful, like you, then, Greenman? Social Darwinism naman iyan! E, paano na kung may disability ang artist o depressed (therefore walang drive) pero talagang magaling naman? I mean, could Jean-Dominique Bauby (who wrote The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) have written his book if France didn't have socialized medicine and his medical expenses/needs hadn't been taken care of?
     G: Sa healthcare, Lil, I'm a socialist. Sa arts, I'm a Reaganite.
     LS III: Well, thank goodness for that! At least they won't die of disease or disability. They'll just be a little constipated when it comes to making art, hahaha.
     (laughter)
     G: My logic is really simple, Lil. If we're to socialize artistic production, then let's socialize all production, sabi nga ni Therese. Why should subsidies be limited to the arts profession? Why not subsidize the baking profession too, or the solar-powered-jeepney driving profession, and so on and so forth? Why are we letting other professionals struggle by their own selves while we pamper artists as if they were the favored angels of the compassionate state? No wonder we have Caparasites and Alvarezenes in the arts world, even late in this century. We're spoiling artists with the hope that we'll have Manny Pacquiao IVs in that industry. Good gracious, the private sector seems to have done a better job at it. The Puyat family in billiards and bowling vs. the Philippine Sports Commission on Philippine athletes in the 1990s and early 2000s? No comparison. Indie cinema became agog with brilliance during that period, thanks to private sector alternative producers who went against the grain of the major production house belief that digital film was crap. Private sector art creates revolutions. State-guided art, subsidized art, creates conventional minds. Actually, independent art produces lots of edible fruits, Lil, an artist could go on a diarrhea of ideas (giggles from the audience). State art won't inspire an artist to do that. The artist's craft might improve, but his ideation will be lazy. Take Solzhenitsyn's word for it.
     (continuing giggles in the audience)
     LSIII: Constipation, diarrhea, what's next?
     (laughter)
     G: Wait, are we going on a commercial break? I gotta go poo.
     (laughter)
     LSIII: Hahahahaha! But excellent points, excellent points. Maybe you're right—I dunno. Let me think about this some more before I respond. But you said something beautiful there a while back, and your "simple logic" ("If we're to socialize artistic production, then let's socialize all production") does make sense. That would read more like Keynes rather than Reagan or von Hayek or, of all people, Jeffrey Sachs. But what do you make of the Cannes Film Festival—state-endorsed iyan, di ba?
     G: Uhm, Reagan was steeped in von Hayek through Milton Friedman as much as Thatcher was. And Jeffrey Sachs, wasn't he also one of those guys Reagan sent to Chile to help solve the country's and Pinochet's economic problems? Surprising, though, that Friedman didn't turn out to be the conservative blind fanatic that other Reaganites turned out to be. Maybe it was the Nobel laureate thing in him, holding his composure, making him objective forever. Ideally, at least, because Camilo Jose Cela couldn't do it. (laughs) And Cannes, in relation to the French or in relation to the Filipinos who want to win there? Those are two long and very different discussions.
     LS III: Sachs to Chile, you mean Bolivia, don't you?
     G: Sorry, my mistake. Bolivia, yes, and Poland and Russia later for Gorbachev, but drawing inspiration from von Hayek's and Friedman's work in Chile for Pinochet. Sachs' shock therapy tried to do Friedman one better, I think.
     LS III: Well, once an erstwhile free-market prophet, Sachs had since transformed himself into an anti-poverty activist and occasional charity collector. I don't necessarily disagree with the latter, but there had obviously been some paradigm shifts he hadn't taken the time to announce to the rest of our people then. . . . But, look, ang ibig ko lang sabihin sa Cannes is that it has done a great job of supporting the indie film makers/producers and actors you appreciate ("indie," though arguably mainstream in themselves, at least since the early 21st century, somewhat like organic food). But Cannes, unlike, say, Sundance, is very much subsidized by the French government. So paano iyan?
     G: Yes, yes, Sachs evolved from his old neo-liberalism and that’s what I meant when I said he never became blind to the growing evidence contesting his old theories. Friedman died in '06 or '07. I got confused. You ought to be familiar with Sachs' later work, Lil, your grandmother Lila Shahani, your namesake, was also a UN worker, and Sachs did a lot of work with the UN and got a lot of flak from his former free-market economics buddies.
     LSIII: W-w-w-w-w-wait. Ano ba, hindi mo na naman sinagot ang tanong ko tungkol sa Cannes!
5. The Overhauled

THE GREENMAN: OKAY. Let me answer your good question now. The reason why I continue to criticize the present crop of anti-Caparas and -Alvarez schools of thought is because I want them to see the anatomy of the setup that they have been criticizing—they're a part of it. Meaning that in the Philippines, art support is politicized, always. So, I say, if state art support is agreeable to the people and no one's complaining, by all means, let the state use/waste our money the way it wants since we're all agreed on the idea that the state is doing a good job with it and we're generally happy with the artists being promoted/supported. Such is the case with Cannes, among the French, as far as I'm aware. There are other factors: Cannes is not a grant-giving body, strictly speaking, so it doesn't breed jealousies; it's international; etc. In short, the tourism and cultural cum political cum semi-commercial project that is Cannes is seen by the French people as one with a worthy purpose that's working. When it ceases to work, it shall have to be examined by the people themselves or by the French media. It's the same with dictatorial governments; while the leadership is going great, the dictatorship remains okay. When Napoleon starts to go crazy or beyond some people's understanding, his dictatorship has to be blamed for itself as a system, in much the same way that democracies go through overhauls. So, while the French are happy with Cannes (and there are a lot of reasons why they are), it'll be a long time before we hear anyone holler "stop using French money for international cinema!"
     Lila Shahani III: Yes, but this disproves your point, doesn't it? The issue at hand is not whether or not the Filipino people approved or disapproved of CCP/NCCA-endorsed awards, nor is it about whether the French approved of Cannes. What we're discussing is state-funded art and art institutions. Oh yes, "indie cinema is agog with brilliance. Thanks to private sector producers who went against the grain of the belief that digital film was crap. Private sector art creates revolutions. State-guided art creates conventional minds." I agree with you absolutely. My point is, though: not always. Perhaps it's an academic tendency not to be comfortable with blanket generalizations. I'm willing to concede to your point a while back; are you capable of conceding to any of mine? . . . And, let me finish. Cannes is actually funded by both the French government and private sponsors. Public-private partnerships, kung baga, which was incidentally the favored hybrid of the day, particularly by the UN, as my grandma once explained. It's even incorporated into the policies of corporations practicing Corporate Social Responsibility. So, I would argue that not all institutions fall under the stark dichotomies you've just delineated and that there are a number of institutions that actually fall in between. So perhaps the argument could benefit from a little nuance, don't you think?


photo from http://www.imglobalfilm.com/festivals
     Greenman: No, Lil, the issue is a system that's evil. But a system that's evil does not necessarily produce evil. The state's baby-ing of artists does not always produce conventional minds: you said so yourself. My point is, corollary to my earlier manifestoes, an evil system is likely to produce "evil" products. If not now, sooner or later it will. Napoleon or Franco doing okay today won't be the same song tomorrow. Once people start to question, the evil system will begin to show its teeth. So, do I think the French government's spending its people's money in Cannes evil? Maybe not, as I’ve said. Maybe the tourism aspect, the commercial profit-making aspect, the international relations aspect, etc., of it benefit the French people. When those aspects fail, then the people will begin to question it: what's in it for us? That's the question inherent in grants, and thankfully Cannes is not a grants thing, it was in fact put up for an internationalist political reason. My thesis was: using the people's money for a few is evil. Grants are evil. Using people's money for everyone is good. Cannes is good while it is good. When it ceases to be good, it will already be evil. Simply because the people's money always, always, have to be rationalized as beneficial to everyone. So what's the basic system that's evil? Holding on to the people's money already threatens an onset of evil—it’s like holding one of the rings in Lord of the Rings. The leader's responsibility is to keep that treasury from turning into an evil thing. Grants are inherently evil because they're selective; Cannes is not yet that because it can qualify its present existence as not that and as beneficial to all French, or at least the French intellectual elite primarily, while the peasants are not complaining. That's what I'm saying. Okay? Grants are inherently evil, let me repeat, because they're selective. Now, is it possible for a year of grants to be regarded as good, by my standards? Yes, if the people sees those grants as having also benefited them. If they feel happy that a grant was given to Sam Milby and Angel Locsin or some other pop cinema couple of the day (which Filipinos love to call "love teams") and they feel themselves to have benefited in turn, then the evil system hath produced good, if not perhaps in aesthetic critical terms, at least in terms of the pragmatic use of the peoples' money not for a few but for the majority.

Napoleon painting from http://rompedas.blogspot.com/2012_11_01_archive.html
     LS III: Your language is alarmingly Manichean, Greenman: what's with all the "good" and "evil" stuff? And your definition of what constitutes both good and evil depends on popular perception, which we both know can be a very problematic arbiter. Your argument for why grants are not good is fairly sound but your response to why certain exceptions happen to work is less theoretically rigorous. Ano'ng klase'ng sagot iyan? Well, Cannes is successful because the French like it and, once they don't, e di hindi na. But, okay: Cannes doesn't do grants. But there are all kinds of grants, as you know. I realize your objection has to do with how grants provide welfare to cultural elitists, even as they subject the market to distortions. But what about grants focused on art education, for example? Maybe you'll say that they are still selective, but are you against government subsidies for art education in general? Kasi di ba type mo'ng i-fund ang museums and libraries and education? So, what happens when the last converge with the arts, as they invariably do? Contemporary art museums, museum education, etc., etc.? As for subsidies, don't forget: back in the mid-'80s, the Internet itself (which is arguably responsible for the globalization of culture as a whole) was the sole province of universities and government institutions, which were in turn instrumental in bringing about its rapid development. So, are you more opposed to grants for individual artists than art subsidies in general? If you advocate throwing out the entire kit and caboodle, you might wanna re-think your position on museums and education, because that would be inconsistent, no?
     G: You got it right. Imagine all the budget for the CCP and NCCA, along with the private donations, going to the National Library of the Philippines instead, and the National Museum of the Philippines, and—yes—maybe I can consider artist-in-residency chairs in state universities. Museums and libraries and education, that's part of the socialization setup. Arts grants (exhibit grants, etc., as against education grants) defeat the socialization process and create new parasitic "elites," instead. Or . . . imagine the CCP becoming more of a culture center than an artist-care center. Imagine NCCA becoming more of a documentation and library and museum commission than a host for artistic parasites. Not do away with the money, but use it wisely for the benefit of the nation's collected Culture, not the benefit of select Artists. Not dismiss all the employees at the CCP and the NCCA, but redefine their work and mission. The CCP not dismantled or left to rot, but overhauled, to do a proper function. . . . Now, it's a long philosophical argument, though, about the intrinsically good and the intrinsically evil. In everyday terms, it's really just about how you use something. Of course, I'm not espousing Pragmatism (what the people say is good is good). I'm coming from a basic principle or belief which may not necessarily be popular: egalitarianism. In this case, egalitarianism in the management of appropriations, in budget management. Egalitarianism is the basic judge. If not egalitarian, bad. If egalitarian, good. Now, coming from that principle, "evil" motivations (say, corporate profit motives over national interest) can be manipulated to become good when managed by the egalitarian principle through regulation. So what may be perceived as evil can suddenly turn out good because its use was transformed. Cannes, therefore, while managed well for an egalitarian principle, stays good. An arts grants system, on the other hand, can never be managed to be egalitarian. Impossible, because unlike in a museum where you can manage representations from, say, all ethnic groups, artists really only represent themselves, their art, their individual theses, and you can't subsidize all artists.
     LSIII: But if "NCCA (becomes) more of a documentation, library and museum commission than a host for artistic parasites," then it will merely be a repository for past artistic expression and a few contemporary productions. Well, okay, as you say, artists should be able to subsidize themselves. And if they can't, well then they can't—that's your argument. So you want the playing field to be egalitarian, which is fair enough. My only concern is that it's not a tabula rasa outside the grants process either; in other words, the world itself is not egalitarian. The point of grants originally was precisely to render it more so. With your argument, it will always be easier for members of the upper classes to produce art than for everybody else, for whom the costs of production will remain prohibitive, pitted against the costs of survival in a Third World country itself. So the meta-question is: how to make society itself more egalitarian? This brings me back full circle to Amartya Sen, whose position I favor. Unfortunately, that's all we have time for today, Greenman, but it's been a most interesting discussion indeed. We shall have to have another session to flesh this out further. Thank you again for such insightful contributions. At maraming salamat din sa inyong lahat. Mabuhay si Greenman at ang mga artistang Pinoy!
     G: W-w-w-wait, Lil, do we still have a minute? Can I just answer you there briefly?
     LSIII: One minute. One minute.
     G: Okay. What if you had seven children, and you keep on asking everyone of them to contribute to the dinner table but you always give your favorite son a couple more slices, always? Is that egalitarian? That's how grants look to me. If you're gonna help your artist son because he's an artist, why not help your astronomer daughter because she's an astronomer, and so on and so forth. Why not help your other son, he's an artist too, isn't he? If we really want to have subsidized professions, very well, let's convert this country into a quasi-communist state. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is subsidized. Thank you for inviting me. It was a pleasure.
     LSIII: Well, Greenman, . . . oh, what? Oh, oh yes, we have a viewer's question! I almost forgot that segment (shakes head, audience laughing). Okay, just one more minute. We have another minute? Great. Greenman, an email sender from Parañaque City is asking, "you said Gloria Arroyo was underappreciated. You've covered a lot of ground but I still don't see how Gloria Arroyo fits in all of this. I still don't see how she was ever underappreciated? What has she contributed?" You have 30 seconds, Greenman.
     G: Well, I was simply saying everything that Gloria Arroyo did was for us to pick up from, to do the necessary reforms. And no one seems to see those actions of hers as signals for necessary reformation. We complain but don't want to do anything about the root of the actions, which is the same as the root of our complaints. (shrugs)
     LSIII: The Greenman, ladies and gentlemen. Good night, everyone. Don't forget, tomorrow our guest will be the actress Kristina Aquino III. Good night!
     (music, credits and acknowledgment graphics) [END]

***


(ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The conversation above actually took place on Facebook between Lila Shahani [a UN consultant and doctoral candidate at Oxford University], Ms. Shahani's friends [Atty. Eddie de Vega, Consul General of the Philippine Consulate in Barcelona, and Therese Yason, artist and art teacher], and a real Greenman.)








No comments:

Post a Comment