Saturday, November 1, 2008

Crazy Filipinos!

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!

But what is an artist?..and what’s crazy? I dare to polarize it: all people who love and appreciate beauty and life are artists. Like..err. people who created a dance out of two bamboo poles or coconut shells, people who played with their food (and invented our famous Kiping:).
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.

Now there’s toxicity that harms the brain, and thus shall harm the mind. The brain as an underlying structure of mental consciousness would then be susceptible to harm by chemicals and bad air and water. Like a Lao-Tzu poser, shall a lotus flower grow out from a murky pond? Yes. Well then, can art be spawned through mental illness? Oh dear, this is such a touchy subject yet it needed to be addressed. It is a universal malady. 

Questions: What is dire consequence of insanity at top end of its spectrum? What is feared most? What is everybody trying to avoid?

Answer: Death (whether self-induced or not). Mortality and will to survive using art and creativity are perhaps two sides of contradictions most us Filipinos are romantically in. It’s death of culture and way of life I’m also talking about. The flesh, I believe, shall always regenerate thereafter (from an esoteric platform).

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:

The "subconscious," grand catch-all of irrational human nature, came into literature through James Joyce, into painting through Surrealism. The soberest writers and painters are glad of it, reckoning dreams and fantasies and unconscious motives part of the subject matter of art. They agree with most people in disliking Surrealism's fakes, faddists, exhibitionists. They value the systematic study of the subconscious by qualified scientists. Last week in Manhattan this respectful alliance between artists and psychiatrists was demonstrated in the first public exhibition of its kind yet held in the U.S. 

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. 

Read more:,9171,788901,00.html

The genesis (simula)of November celebrate All Soul’s Day in dear, ol’ crazy Motherland where people start cleaning graveyards and kids collect and ball up candle drippings (so alien here in Australia as there are guys permanently assigned to clean cemeteries all year round). Even crazier, only recently I’ve watched on tv a Filipino guy build a mansion inside a cemetery, complete with sliding glass doors and a security guard. In the center of the ostentatious structure is his future grave surrounded by LCD tvs and karaokes for the poor guys who survived him.

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.

“Unang mapikon, talo!” (during horseplay, the first one to get annoyed loses) I called on to my mates. Those unable to survive shall cross the thin chalkline of insanity. Unable to understand the rules of worldly games the loser shall be banished to become village idiot, the Eng-eng (a mad character in Filipino movie “Tinimbang Ka Nguni’t Kulang”).

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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