How much is art, exactly? A painting on canvas, for example, could range from Php 3,000 if painted by a freelancer/amateur artist, and up to millions of pesos if painted by a professional or well-known painter. This differs from drawings made with charcoal, watercolor, or colored pens, which are a couple of hundreds, at bare minimum. A film, on the other hand, ranges from Php 150 to Php 280 at a local moviehouse, or up to Php 450 if screened at an IMAX theatre. Of course, exclusive screenings are priced differently, depending on the agreement with the exhibitor. Now let’s talk about how much it costs to be an artist. Usually, artists are formed at a young age when their parents decide to invest in their skills. Typical weekend lessons in the arts for the youth are at Php 1,500 per session, ranging from 9-12 weekend sessions. Excluded here are the art materials, musical instruments, or whatever equipment one has to buy to make the artwork. Those cost thousands of pesos, plus maintenance/repair over the years. An art course at a local college is an additional investment, costing hundreds of thousands, if the student is not a scholar or was not given any school allowance. And finally, freelance work would not be kick started without the investment in new equipment and sample art works for portfolio’s sake. In short, it costs a whole lot of money to be an artist. Because of this, it also costs much more to buy or have access to their art.
In an ideal world, art is for everyone. It is wrong to discriminate against those who are naturally gifted, but it is a fact that, gifted or not, the underprivileged lacks representation in the artistic academic field, and ultimately, in the creative industry. This leads to the reality that, in the current world we are living in, art is a privilege. Since art takes a lot of time and resources to make, more often than not, it is produced to make money or to gain patronage by being exposed to as much audience as possible.
“Because art takes time to make, its makers are often those with a luxury of time”(Mishra & Galchen, 2016)
Artists are trained about form, style, and technique. But because of art’s commercial value, they are also influenced on the artistic content. They are taught to abide by certain templates so as to make their work “sellable”. These templates encompass values, beliefs, and aesthetics that are deemed pleasing and acceptable by the target market—the middle and, most especially, the upper class. This way, these social classes are given the power to dictate what is beautiful, from what is not.
“Our elders had learned to always, always keep a finger on the pulse of the mass audience, or else risk career stagnation or worse. They might have welcomed a system that rewarded them with “independence,” but the question must be asked: independence from what, or whom?”(David, 2015)
Their collective opinions are what also influence the artistic representations of those outside their realm, despite their limited knowledge on the world beyond theirs. There is no artistic freedom, as the “freedom” is bound by certain norms and predispositions. Because only a few can afford art, those few are given the power to influence its content. They are also the ones who can judge it according to their preferences. This way, one can say that art becomes a medium of cultural, political and social conversation of the higher classes. But, in the perspective of the artist and the critics, one can also say that art is a medium for communication with those in power.
“Opinions, in so far as it concerns the communicative saturation of the Same, carried over a space of discourse that only requires discussion based on commonality.”(Mendizabal, 2019)
In today’s society, for a decent conversation to happen, people must be on the same page. It is discriminatory, in a way that they will not be automatically engaged, if the ones they are talking to do not share similar views or are not from the same social status. People like talking about similarities, but they hate having to confront differences. This is why criticism, let alone negative criticism, is usually frowned upon, especially in art—a platform that is considered by many as a “safe space” for freedom of expression. Don’t get me wrong, people love expressing their opinions. They like having the space to let out their personal judgments. This is why social media is so popular. However, social media, according to Mendizabal, “has further obscured opinion into the basic unit of its communicative neural network. It became a marketable product which further blurs its determinateness and further intensifies its commercialization (Mendizabal, 2019).”
But what does criticism supposedly contain that makes the higher classes frown upon it?
“Critique must constitute judgment and comprehension as practices that arrive at Truth.”(Mendizabal, 2019)
Criticism begins with the experience of art. For film, in particular, this experience is not only limited to the audiovisual encounter of the medium. The kind of experience required entails a radical encounter of something beyond the Same (Mendizabal, 2019). This encounter with the truth of the art form must be full enough to push the viewer into asking questions beyond one’s personal principality. Criticism is not classified as part of popular culture because it requires so much more than just viewing and reviewing the art. It asks for energy and effort from the critic to seek beyond the aesthetics for the deeper meaning and truth behind the art, that is rooted in its historical, political, social, and personal context. To be a critic, one must be overwhelmed and submerged by the art in such a way that s/he is pushed towards starting a conversation about what the entirety of the art intends to tackle. This conversation, unlike reviews, are not limited to the fetishism of aesthetics, but rather, it aims to unravel the political and economic side of art—one that is not talked about, because it brings out the negativity that is rooted from the overall oppression, misrepresentation, and exploitation of the proletariat.
“Among students of culture, the body is an immensely fashionable topic, but it is usually the erotic body, not the famished.”(Pangilinan, 2014)
Criticism will talk about what is good about the elements of an artwork. However, it will also tackle everything that it stands for. It refuses to discuss norms and preconceived biases towards content, but rather, it challenges the templates of art and seeks to look at the famished and impoverished aspect of it. Criticism proffers discourse beyond an elaboration of the writer’s personal responses (David, 2015). But above all, criticism aims to push for a discourse spoken in the language that those in power could understand.
Given this, we can conclude that criticism is a form of activism. It is a social responsibility that should be taught and invested on. Words are very powerful tools for change. Policies and laws are rooted from words which are, then, rooted from discourse between those in power. Ideally, the duty of those in power is to listen to the plight of the masses who gave them their power. But this is not the case. There is a social language barrier that shuts them off to embrace commonality within their class. Through criticism of art, the critics will be able to speak in the language that the higher classes would appreciate and listen to. It would, initially, open their eyes to a new and deeper experience of the art. Once they reach this brand new level of appreciation, they will be engaged enough to know more about the art, what it represents, and the social forces that brought about its making.
“There is significant investment in the production of art, but no substantial effort to sustain critical practice and the necessary interlocution to the exceptional aspirations of both artists and audiences as well as to their many productive imperfections.”(Flores, 2014)
We invest in the artists but not in the critics maybe because we are afraid of the idea of change. In the recent 2020 Netflix hit, Enola Holmes, a quote about politics went viral:
Education is necessary for one to be able to think beyond one’s personal opinions. With education comes privilege. Maybe society does not invest so much in critics because the thought of us confronting our own social classes and our own privileges to pave the way to the inclusion and uplifting of the marginalized scares us. We are so comfortable in our current world that we refuse to question it and engage in a conversation about what might possibly change it. It is not so much that criticism entails a degree of art study and appreciation that is beyond the understanding of a simple mind, but rather, the simple mind refuses to expound on its potential because it is afraid of what its power would bring. It is afraid of seeing the fullness of the Truth in the art because it knows that, once it sees it, there is no going back. After all, there are so many injustices and discrimination rooted from power play that are happening in the world right now. And if we are still not angry, what is blinding us?
Criticism is already powerful, in itself. How much more powerful will criticism be if geared towards something as equally powerful as the arts? This is why the term “starving artist” is popular, because society refuses to give art the value that it deserves. It might end up being too powerful. But words cannot be silenced forever. There will come a time wherein society will be ready to invest in words that will allow them to have an encounter with the Truth. It is inevitable that society will slowly open to change. The question is, by the time that it is ready for change, will we have invested enough in individuals whose experiences with the Truth will allow them to see past current realities and, at the same time, are courageous enough to recognize their duty to talk about it?
David, J. (2015). Pinoy Film Criticism: A Lover’s Polemic. Retrieved 4 October 2020, from http://themanilareview.com/issues/view/pinoy-film-criticism-a-lovers-polemic
Lumbera, B., Deocampo, N., Flores, P., Pangilinan, C., Tiongson, N., Tolentino, R., & Gueb, E. (2014). On Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism in the Philippines [In person].
Mendizabal, Adrian D. “Transforming Film Criticism into a Militant Practice.”Strike II, 15 Dec. 2019, http://strk2.com/2019/12/transforming-film-criticism-into-a-militant-practice/
Mishra, P., & Galchen, R. (2016). Is the Idea of ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ a Sign of Social Privilege?. Retrieved 4 October 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/books/review/is-the-idea-of-art-for-arts-sake-a-sign-of-social-privilege.html
SM Cinema to open more IMAX theaters; to go digital. (2011). Retrieved 4 October 2020, from https://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?id=29966
Westhale, J. (2015). On The Privilege And Assholery Of Being An Artist. Retrieved 4 October 2020, from https://medium.com/the-establishment/a-room-of-my-own-on-writing-privilege-and-the-assholery-of-artistry-71cb3ba2c435
Whitlock, M. (2020). Student art: only for the privileged few?. Retrieved 4 October 2020, from https://cherwell.org/2020/05/29/student-art-only-for-the-privileged-few/