PGTW: Art is a res that ipsa loquiturs

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 26 June 2014, Thursday

Art is a res that ipsa loquiturs

After being drenched by the tidal wave of public backlash following its decision to drop multi-awarded actor Nora Aunor from this year’s list of National Artist awardees, Malacañang is soaking in a pool of self-induced chagrin.

For once, the public was united in its indignation over the snub handed to Aunor, from artists to clerics to the person on the street.

It’s apparent from the tenor of the Palace’s statement on the matter that morality issues were considered when dropping Aunor, although this was not directly stated. (Some years back, the actor faced drug charges in the US, which were later dropped.)

Malacañang seems to have strictly defined the “of good moral character” clause in the selection rules in Aunor’s case.

The discourse on the matter now revolves around the definition of “morality” in this situation, and whether it has anything to do with conferring awards for certain talents, skill sets, or bodies of work.

Award-winning poet Marne Kilates says, “While I am saddened by the omission of someone as deserving as Nora Aunor on the basis of something as irrelevant to artistic excellence as “morality,” there is also the constant that the National Artist Awards or Order is the result of a selection process.

“Anything can happen under such a process. It is subject to its own limitations or even to the vagaries of intervention, which one way or another might negate the process, and produce an outcome different from our expectations.”

The debate or protest on the matter must continue, he adds; perhaps the laws or rules related to the National Artist award must be revised and the processes strengthened, and whether the president’s involvement in the selection process is ministerial or something else should also be made clear.

In this way, says Kilates, the protest or debate will not only be about Aunor, but about the concept itself of the National Artist award.

The National Artist awards are given to certain individuals because they have shown themselves talented beyond the ordinary or average in their particular form of artistic expression. Have they written, painted, sculpted, acted, designed, or otherwise created art that transcends and smashes boundaries, that not only members of the cultural industry but also the general public can appreciate, admire, and award recognition for?

If yes, then they should be given that honor, especially if the members of the selection committee of the NCCA, who are fully capable of selecting qualified nominees, have chosen them.

Artists’ personal lives should not be part of the criteria; what matters only is whether they produce excellent, timeless, heroic art.

Although part of the stereotype, there is truth to the perception that the artistic personality is unlike the average. It’s been described as eccentric, strange, weird; for many artists, some external stimulus is required to drive the pump, be it alcohol, drugs, sex, or what-have-you.

Artists think outside of the box; they bend, break, and redefine rules so that they can create something that did not exist before they worked their own brand of magic.

If “morality” were part of the equation, that would make government Big Brother in the Orwellian sense, and there would be few nominees that would make the cut.

As Robin Padilla said, we’re not canonizing anyone here; this is not an award for National Saint.

In addition to the injustice over the National Artist award, Aunor faced another slight from government: her film Whistleblower was rejected by the Metro Manila Film Festival Committee (MMFF) from inclusion in this December’s filmfest, according to MST’s Nickie Wang.

Instead, frivolous commercial pap such as Praybeyt  Benjamin, Feng Shui, The Aswang Chronicles, and Shake, Rattle, and Roll will regale moviegoers at the festival.

Another Aunor movie, Thy Womb, was also excluded from the 2012 MMFF, but was included at the last minute after Enchanted: Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang was withdrawn by its producers. Thy Womb went on to rake in awards.

Although Aunor’s well-deserved National Artist award it was withheld, there’s always next time. Perhaps the next president will correct this mistake.

Till then, here’s an idea from Father Jun Mercado, OMI: “Let the people proclaim L’Aunor as the People’s National Artist!”

In their hearts the people have already crowned Nora Aunor for her stellar contributions to Philippine cinema and music. That’s an award that can’t be given by government and one  that can never be taken away.

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