“Brouhaha” is a nonsensical word used to describe nonsense.  In the case of Carlo J. Caparas (and, by extension, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez), that word is fairly adequate.

Let’s consider these interesting bullet-points first:

  • Caparas’ defense: In a GMA-7 News report, Caparas says that he “deserves” the honor of the National Artist distinction.  Caparas, in an attempt to massacre the allegations that he does not deserve the accolade, likened his victory to a political one.
  • Apologia from a commenter: An interesting series of comments in my previous entry managed to result in some healthy debate.  You have BrianB’s apologia for Caparas, and you have CR’s criticism of Caparas.  Makes for an interesting read, really.
  • Ricky Lo’s apologetics: Ricky Lo wrote a very interesting column in the August 4 issue of The Philippine STAR where he enumerates a list of reasons why Caparas deserves the honor.  Among others, a street named after him in Pasig, and the volumes of works he collaborated with and churned out.
  • Butch Dalisay’s shoot: Butch Dalisay’s interesting counterpoint came a day earlier, where he points out that the flawed process – and by extension the selection of Caparas – should be decried on the basis that the machinations of a flawed culture are in action.  Dalisay emphasizes a very important point: that a transparent and respectable selection process should be within the bounds of taste.

Let’s keep those bullet-points in mind.

The brouhaha over Caparas’ induction is not a matter of form – one he lacks given the caliber of his visual art – but a matter of substance. The anger over his proclamation as a National Artist is not a matter of strokes, but a matter of stroke. Had this been a matter of one of the many awards and honors passed around the community of the arts, there would be no problem.  We are talking here about the honorific of “National Artist:” that the persons we are elevating to the pedestal as a vanguard of the arts should represent our country’s art, and the artists who live, breathe, and sleep that art.  Yet both Lo and Dalisay point it out clearly anyway: decisions as important as who we should elevate to the status of National Artist are never made by people who are not distinguished and not discerning.

If we’re talking about contests like say, literary or comics competitions, then we can just set this argument aside as a case of sour-graping.  Some people will sourgrape, for example, if they don’t win a Palanca, making defenses out of things like poetics and “show-not-tell.”  I’ve seen artists throw tantrums when they lose poster-making contests, and I’ve seen people stop writing when they lost an essay-writing contest.  Trust me, I’ve been there.  Then again, life goes on.  I continue writing.  I’ll get my recognition one day if that’s what I’m after, but I’m not compiling a body of work for the sake of a contest.

Yet the National Artist distinction is not a contest; it is a way of appreciation by the biggest patron of art – the State – to its artists, to confer upon them what is due them, no matter how modest it may be.  If an artist chooses to trivialize the artistic output of his peers that can be only validated through the profanity of a contest, then it is his prerogative.  Yet artists should always stand for that one sacred thing: taste, the thing inherent in a work to be called “art.”

I’m not denying or decrying Caparas’ place in komiks; among many names, Carlo J. Caparas is responsible for a movement towards popular literature.  If we seek to reward him for this achievement in his lifetime, then we should.  What is happening here, ladies and gentlemen, is the questioning of the artistic output of a person at the moment he’s being handed over the distinction of “National Artist.”  More than that, this comes at the expense of people who have been struck out of a shortlist to accommodate them.  There is nothing tasteful about that, and there is nothing artistic about that.  It’s like Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” without the meaning and emotions it evokes: it’s a crucifix in a jar of piss.

If anything, the sight of a bumbling, ranting Caparas defending his “art,” even if he has already received the distinction, is a piece of string he has to dangle in front of everyone’s faces, proclaiming he deserves it.  That while the National Artist distinction should be protected, it can only be protected by a transparent process that seeks to establish the State as a patron of art, not as an example of the patronage that comes with artistry.

I’d like to talk about how the private sector can be patrons of art and restore respectability to the National Artist honors, but this entry is getting too long.

In Dalisay’s column, he writes: “At the very core of things, no true artist needs an award, especially one granted by a government whose credibility and sincerity many artists will or should find trouble with.”  While my prose may not be as elegant as his own, I’d simply like to add this: an artist who defends his award in his lifetime, suffers the tragedy of defending that award for the rest of his life.