Nick Lizaso, President of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, told me that the Cultural Center sent the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra to Iloilo as part of its program to bring music and art to the regions and rural areas. More than 10,000 people attended the concert. The orchestra also went to Bacolod, and concerts are being planned for Dagupan and Isabela as well. Such concert tours are expensive but they have to be held so our rural folk will experience listening to a full symphony orchestra and be introduced to the finer aspects of music and to the world-class talent of our classical music artists.
The same effort was made by the violinist Gilopez Kabayao, who in the 1960s onwards gave violin concerts at town fiestas and in cockpits.
Several plays staged at the Cultural Center will also be on tour. They will enrich our stage tradition and may even inspire new approaches to our defunct comedia and zarzuela. This cultural outreach will make the folk aware of the vast difference between folk and classical culture.
The two great religions of Asia -- Buddhism and Hinduism -- did not really reach us. These two religions were responsible for the development of Asian classical art.
When the Spaniards brought Christianity to the Philippines, they inevitably also brought the Western cultural tradition, super-imposing it on our folk culture. Today, almost every town has a small brass band whose repertoire is very Western. How do we Filipinize this Western patina on our art?
From our folk songs, our composers can draw so many themes. With imagination, we can even embellish and revive. A Swedish journalist told me about how ABBA, popular the world over, adapted Swedish folk music in their songs.
Our folk dramas, even the old poetry, balagtasan, can replace the absurd television shows we have today. The same goes for the craft in metal work, in which the Tausug and Maranaw used to excel. The Kris that the Tausug forged, the betelnut containers of the Maranaw, these are exquisite examples of classical art that has died. However, much of the weaving by the Maranaw and the Sulu people has already transcended the limits of folk art. In these, we see the finest artistry as evolved from folk craft.
If I can help it, I do not want to see another folk dance. It is standard fare in convocations and in Filipino celebrations abroad. What I am most anxious to see are the modern dance creations extracted from the movements of our folk dances and choreographed by original artists like the late Leonor Orosa-Goquingco and Agnes Locsin, dances that are executed by professional dancers who have trained in both classical and modern dance, and whose skills push the limits of the human body.
Our folk craft and the cultures of the regions cannot be preserved as is, frozen in time. Culture is not static. It is continually an evolving process wherein the people themselves change as do their environment, their tools.
Take, for instance, the traditional Ifugao houses -- they are disappearing. The Ifugao who have achieved improvement in their lives now build houses to conform with modern needs. As for the old Ifugao houses, some should be preserved, for sure, as specimens of the past. Even the famous rice terraces face the problem of dissolution and decay; first, they do not produce enough rice for the region, and second, they require hard manual labor to maintain.
It is not only wrong but terribly unjust to have our ethnics continue with their traditional forms of livelihood and lifestyle. They should be given all the opportunities available to all other Filipinos to achieve the good life, to be adept in the use of new tools and gadgets that make for more comfortable living. And most important, they should be provided with justice.
Art is elitist. Art is not created by the lower classes although an artist may come from their ranks and the art that is created in itself may glorify the masa. The artist is a special creature, with God-given creativity and imagination. This gift, however, has to be polished, nourished, maintained, and even protected from the onslaught of barbarians who do not understand the importance of artists and art, literature most of all, the noblest of the arts.
Dictators want artists on their side; those who oppose them are neutralized and killed because art thrives on freedom, truth -- both anathema to dictators.
Yes, art is elitist and artists are a country's real aristocrats, although of course, artists and writers can be corrupt, vain, and traitorous. Without their art, they are ordinary, and should be judged not on the basis of their work alone but also on how they live. Mediocrity should never be glorified
Although they are excellent, many artists, particularly writers, live poorly. Their excellence should be recognized and rewarded.
The government institutions directly involved with cultural development are the Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the National Museum, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Those officials with direct involvement in cultural development must not only be professionals but also equipped with critical faculties to determine what is art and what is not.
All too often, they are very decisive in the granting of awards and honors. So we have today National Artists who are undeserving. And at the National Museum are mediocre paintings. Officials responsible for these dismal choices should be replaced by more competent critics. Otherwise, injustice will continue to be committed against our greater artists.
First published in The Philippine Star, February 16, 2019 https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/02/16/1894027/folk-and-art