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LEO BENESA

      Once we were asked at a forum about the “directions” that Philippine art was taking. And we said that we weren’t really sure as there were many kinds of art work being done, but added as an afterthought that “they all seem to be headed in the direction of the art market.

The existence of such a market – aside from the market for tourist art – the challenge to the young artist in particular today. The young artist of the immediate postwar period, and through the 1950s and early 1960s, did not have such a problem in his quest for self-expression.

To be sure, paintings and sculpture works, and a few prints, were being bought by private collectors and institutions. But it was only in the 1970s, in the wake of an economic and cultural boom, that we could speak of an art market as a corporate if amorphous entity, an organism that can eat up an exhibition in chunks or swallow it up in one big gulp.

The problem is how the young artist of today is to avoid painting or doing sculpture or prints for the market in order to sell. Very often we see works by young artists in one-man or group exhibitions, with the peso sign very much a part of the design and composition in the guise of unreasonably high price tags.

The works are bought too, for one of the characteristics of the market is that it is insatiable and is often not very discriminating at this stage of the game. Even assuming that the works were done by people with genuine talents, it would still take some years, we would like to think, for such talents to mature in expressiveness and style, not to mention originality.

The art market is not as acute a problem to the older and already established artist as his creative habits have set, so that his development couldn’t possibly be affected by the commercialism of it all. His style or technique may have already matured, but this is not the same as saying that we are therefore now dealing with a mature sensibility. (And it is possible that a radical shift in sensibility might occasion a corresponding change in style.)

Of course, there are all types of collectors, as there are all types of artists. The beginning collector, especially if he is newly rich, will go for the pleasant and “safe” kinds of art work which we shall generally classify as “impressionistic.” The discriminating collector, on the other hand, will go for more heady or meaty stuff, the “expressionistic” kinds.

It is the first kind of collector that can destroy or at least stultify the beginning artist, and prevent him from looking more deeply into the heart of things. If the artist happens to be adept at the brush or at his tools, flashiness or technical virtuosity may lead him and his admirers into believing that the purposes of art are being served.

If the artist is no virtuoso, a borrowed style from this or that “school” will do. Little does he realize that by joining this or that school he might be forfeiting his birthright as an artist in his own right, a leader instead of a mere follower in the many splendored realm of the creative imagination, a high priest or a king.

Fortunately, as we have occasion to observe, the first type of collector after a while graduates into the second type. He then begins to get rid of his first acquisitions quietly through the galleries, in order to be able to acquire new works with more discrimination and taste.

Meanwhile, the young artist who has formerly patronized becomes a prisoner of a style, rather, of stylishness, as new collectors emerge to take the places of the old ones. This is hardly the way to create works of art that will endure, unless of course the artist happens to be a compulsive genius to whom the art market is merely one of those challenges to his creativity.

Reference/s:
From the NCCA-published book by Benesa – What is Philippine about Philippine Art? and Other Essays (originally from Philippine Daily Express, December 29, 1978, p. 17-18). For inquiries on the book, contact Glenn Maboloc of Public Affairs at 527-2192 local 612 or email address paid@ncca.gov.ph. Available also at all National Bookstores.
About the Author:
Leo Benesa is a poet, essayist, and above all, a professional art critic. His works in art criticism include his column for the Weekend of Daily Express. He was one of the founders of the International Association of Art Critics. Among his books are Joya Drawings (1975), Galo B. Ocampo: 50 Years of Art, The Printmakers (1975), The Art of Fine Prints: A View of 25 Years (1980), and Okir: The Epiphany of Philippine Graphic Art (1981).