The Supreme Court on July 16 nullified four proclamations conferring the National Artist award on four individuals. The proclamations were issued by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2009.
The four were Cecilia Guidote Alvarez (theater), Carlo Caparas (visual arts and film), Francisco Mañosa (architecture) and Jose “Pitoy” Moreno (fashion design).
According to the court, the former President committed grave abuse of discretion in giving preferential treatment to them in the selection process.
The petition that was granted was filed by a group of former recipients of the award led by National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario. They claimed that the proclamations were a way for Mrs. Arroyo to accommodate her allies.
Many hailed the Supreme Court’s decision as one that “protects the integrity of the selection process,” according to Trixie Cruz Angeles, legal division head of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
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Now this is the ugly part. A few days ago, Caparas was a guest in a talk show on the ABS-CBN News Channel. He said he respected the decision of the court even though he really felt bad about it.
Caparas said that the Court’s decision was political. This administration wants to overturn everything done by its predecessor. Just wait until the next regime begins, he warned. Then all of President Noynoy’s decisions will also be put in question.
Caparas said that he took pride in his work (he is known for his comics and for the films he directed) because many Filipinos know them.
That much you cannot say for the snooty academics who believe that only they, with their advanced degrees, are entitled to become National Artists. It’s elitism, plain and simple. He also said that these people objected to his inclusion in the “club” because he came from the ranks of the poor and did not have the same academic credentials that they do.
Caparas dismissed the academics as being “a dime a dozen.”
Almario was also in the program via phone patch, and he made it clear that what he and his group objected to was the fact that the process was subverted—not necessarily the wisdom, or folly, of Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to confer the Award to Caparas and the others.
Almario pointed out that it was also Arroyo who had issued the proclamation for his own award in 2003. In his case, however, there were deliberations.
Caparas commented that those “deliberations” were made by members of the same “barkada” (club) and added, derisively, that Almario was so proud of his own award that he wore his medallion everywhere—even to his sleep.
“At least my work is known by many,” Caparas said, “while nobody even reads Almario’s poems.”
There was nothing artistic about this exchange at all.
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How are we to judge one’s artistic abilities, really? Some people measure it by the number of times one manages to publish a book, or receive an award.
Others are deemed successful when they become so famous that everybody knows who they are and what they do.
Money is also an indicator. Painters for instance are judged by how high the prices of their works go in exhibits and auction houses.
These days, the number of followers on Twitter or the likes on one’s Facebook page will also gauge how the public regards an artist.
Unfortunately, many artists also go unnoticed during their lifetime. They only get recognized and appreciated by they’re gone. It’s their descendants who reap the benefits of their belated recognition.
Sometimes we hear descriptions like “frustrated musician” or “aspiring writer” indicating a one-sided inclination to become an artist.
We say in Tagalog, “may hilig sa music pero ang music walang hilig sa kanya.” An aspiring artist may devote more than 10,000 hours to his or her craft but has yet to be given a break. He or she may submit an entry to the Palanca Awards year after year for the past 20 years and not win, even once.
So who’s an artist, and who’s to say who is an artist and who is not?
The National Artist controversy is understandable because it carries with it, aside from recognition and ultimate bragging rights, some practical benefits like cash awards, medical coverage, insurance, even a state funeral and a burial plot at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
On the whole, artists aren’t supposed to care – so long as they touch and inspire others, make a difference through their chosen form, and celebrate life in the way they know best.
A life immersed in art, its highs and lows, and an occasional experience of mystical, unexplainable beauty (it goes by different names) is itself a privilege, enjoyed only by a few.
Any recognition should be—to use a cliché that might be read as un-artistic —icing on the cake that is a life lived well, and richly.