Drawing made me crazy since I was a child, copping flak from playmates whenever I start doodling “Nasira na naman ang ulo mo!” (you’ve gone crazy again!). I knew they were joking but comment was historically valid. And to quote my late artist friend Santi Bose: “All artists are crazy, that is why they ‘re artists!"
Whether you’re Filipino or an Australian aborigine, what normal fellow would get a stick with a hairy end or none, daub it in ground pigments with either oil, acrylic or lime-rich saliva and poke it on canvas for hours? Crazy!
But I wonder why people love to see their creations; e.g. painting, stageplays, films, ballrooms, etc and not be bothered by the artist’s insanity. A kid confused, I perhaps drew a thin, white chalk line on our thinly-asphalted street and wrote on each portion the words: aliw at baliw. (entertainment and madness). Until adulthood a western symbol of theatre impressed on me so much. The masks of Tragedy and Comedy. I would have interpreted it also as a Western version of Yin-Yang.
Thus this contradiction intrigued me since childhood. Why even singer Don McLean revered an insane artist via a song “Starry, starry Night”. Oh Vincent, how you have inspired a generation of baby-boomers that went through the insanity and chaos of Manila in the seventies. And who’s running the show? Mad men and their mad dogs addicted to lapses of insanity and moments of madness which then were easily muted into oblivion.
All Filipinos are artists, I’d be courageous to say; for our ancestors were mostly born out of pain, slavery, deprivation, hunger, injustice, abuse (now that’s the dark side); yet the same trauma tempered us, pushing us to be more creative or to use art and the likes as painkillers to survive. We sang songs without using aspirin or Panadeine to increase pain threshold; we invented dances charmingly plucked out of mundane farming activities (including copra). Why, our islands were green gems in a blue sea for centuries. Filipinos then (and up until now)were peace-loving people crazy for coconuts, rice, shellfish and the good Life;-)!
But then we can’t help but help build a man-made world under a better (purportedly) governance by colonizing countries which have found a better way (via mission, fusion or fission) of annihilating culture and people (if latter don’t conform)and would that mean generally that all Filipinos are crazy, too? LOL!
Who are the crazy ones? Definitely people who don’t know how to appreciate and play with bamboo poles but instead sharpened them to hurt someone; people who use food to manipulate the hungry and oppressed.
An old question: “Is it the art that drives the artist mad or the madness that drives the artist?”
Hard to tackle or cranial-ise this one but I’d be partial to art that drives the artist mad. Filipinos are always motivated to become artists. Subjugation, deprivaty and prolonged feelings of injustice shall nourish spores of an endless breed of singers, animators, dancers , etc. and as a result almost all genres would be used to express exactly those sentiments. Once shown publicly the creative effort would then contribute to our culture that went through a process of trauma most evident in mental. Same trauma-inspired artists used the grandiose structures which arose from political madness to express art's dignified pain-- from the most elegant stage of CCP (where hangs giant painting “Simula” (Genesis) by National Artist Hernando Ocampo--down to a guitar-playing homeless man sheltered under a tattered tarpaulin, caressed by a heavy aura of carbon monoxide coughed out by rampaging yet artistically-decorated jeepneys.
I guess Art is addictive, and sometimes a close ally of escapism. Will too much art make one go cuckoo? No. But Art sometimes is used to cover up something ugly- so Art becomes utilitarian in a sense, but not necessarily nice though. Just half a decade ago, an insane, meta-amphetamine- addicted dictator used art to manipulate the gullible and fearful German masses to annihilate another group of people. What ordinary citizen can't be swayed by the beautiful, bold graphics of the Third Reich? Art then became "totalitarian". The same aesthetically perfect billboards which covered cities and countrysides provoked grim action to hurt one's neighbours. The Swastika, originally a biblical symbol effectively terrorized the world's neighbourhood.
Sometimes art is a way of life that is so carefree and unrestricted- but like poison, indulgence becomes a trap towards bonkersville as judged by our wordly parameters-- where even a guy in a public park sitting alone in meditative silence becomes suspect as a screwball.
Questions: What is dire consequence of insanity at top end of its spectrum? What is feared most? What is everybody trying to avoid?
So is it the madness that drives the artist?
Maybe. However Science has already jumped in the psychiatric playground puddle in analyzing art of people with unsound minds. There’s this interesting article in a Time website:
Drawing and painting were added to the time-honored forms of occupational therapy (basket-weaving, metal work, etc.) at Bellevue in the spring of 1935. The Federal Art Project furnished artist-instructors to hold four or five classes a week for all children and adults, except surgical patients, in the psychiatric division. For Bellevue psychiatrists this meant precisely what a new and rangier telescope would mean to an observatory. Day by day they could study in sequence the attempts at expression by mentally sick people. Though the art of individual schizophrenics, among them Dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, has been analyzed in the past as a matter of psychiatric routine, Director Karl Bowman of the Psychiatric Division thinks Bellevue was the first to practice such extensive therapeutic use of painting, such systematic study of the results.
I know quite of death, my late wife Virginia died in my arms in 1987. (May she rest in peace) I heard and inhaled her last gasp as she expired in Prince Alfred Hospital’s terminal cancer ward. I’m also familiar with the anguish of parents who came to me to have caricatures and portraits done of their kids who committed suicide out of mental illness or depression. You won’t believe it but I was teary eyed up to the last pastel highlight of the departed subject. Such strange and eerie feeling.
Oh how I wish my own children would not go through terrible times of depression. How I’ve hoped I’ve served as a role model for them to use art and creativity and try to stay away from the devil’s playground.
Sane or insane, I offer a peaceful prayer of peace to our departed, creative artists whose insanity kept our art alive for generations to come. For you guys up there who crazily burned the midnight oil, who dementedly sharpened thousands of pencils and spilled a lot of ink on the floor, who madly stunk up the place with linseed oil and mineral turpentine; for you guys including (Ninong) Nonoy Marcelo, Santi Bose, Pepito Bosch, Larry Alcala, Edgar Soller, Boy Togonon and many more sorely missed. Fair Dinkum prayers to my departed Australian colleagues and artist friends Bill Mitchell, Darren Pracy, Victor Dove and Louie Zmak.
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