Fear is limiting. It prevents us from doing things like pursuing our heart’s desires or trying experiences that are outside of our comfort zone. Let’s talk about one thing that is on a pedestal because it challenges us, confuses us, and we’re afraid of not “getting” it: art.
There is this notion that “artsy stuff” are only for “artsy people” and that all of us have to subscribe to a certain standard of what good art is. It feels even more intimidating when the more experienced people of the art community just so easily “get” it.
It’s understandably daunting, but art shouldn’t be about being afraid. At the core of it all, art has the delightful potential for discovery and wonder, for questions and thoughts, for empathy and compassion.
For 2015, let’s make it our goal to be a little braver. Let go of that fear of art and immerse in something new to love and enjoy. I’ve talked to the biggest fans of visual art, film, and theater, and asked for a quick beginner’s guide to appreciating the art:
Watching movies is already a regular pastime among Filipinos but one can take on the challenge of delving deeper and farther back in the years of the art form and venturing into the local fare. For Simon Santos of Video 48, whose passion for film manifests itself in his quaint video rental store in West Avenue, Quezon City that has been around for 26 years, he now sees the emergence of local and independent films from Cinemalaya and Cinema One Originals. “Films like Lav Diaz’s Norte, Carlos Siguon-Reyna’s Hari ng Tondo and Jun Lana’s Barber’s Tales,” he says, “are all exceptionally great but moviegoers just ignore them when shown in its regular theatrical run.”
This calls for a change. Why not try something different and break away from the films that are familiar and comfortable?
Film education is the first step and Simon recommends participation in film forums where movie enthusiasts usually recommend titles suited to people’s different tastes and preferences. Then you can start with entry-level favorites like Cinema Paradiso or Life is Beautiful, then gradually work your way up to classics like Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, or De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief.
The main barrier of exploring film further is accessibility. Video 48 has something to offer on this one aside from its wide array of movies for rental. They have an online library and archive on Philippine cinema on their blog, where Simon has featured and posted all and everything Philippine Cinema, from movie ads and magazine covers to selected filmography of stars and various articles on local cinema from pre-war, post-war up to the present. Video 48 encourages one to explore the storied filmographies of great Filipino directors like Lino Brocka, Mike De Leon, and Ishmael Bernal, as well as the work of superstars like Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos. In Simon’s video rental store, a famous classic like Bernal’s Himala is as accessible as an under-the-radar Brocka gem like Tubog sa Ginto.
He hopes that, somehow, giving people access to these materials would bring interest to the readers. “From the various messages and comments I received, people are gradually appreciating Philippine cinema as there are lots of people inquiring old titles from LVN, Sampaguita and Premiere.”
Sidd Perez of Planting Rice, a curatorial site on Filipino contemporary art, started out in the visual art scene just like any other person—she was an unashamed fan girl of the artists of her time. She dove headlong into the world of local contemporary art by wanting it enough, despite being a terrified newbie of the scene.
“It was a legitimate fear to be in a different world but it was also my curiosity that overrode this fear,” she says. “I kept going to shows even if I was so afraid. I think that’s really important. People from the community began to trust me when they saw that I attended a lot of their shows and was genuinely interested in what they did.”
Appreciating visual art – paintings, sculptures, photographs, and the like – can be difficult for a lot of people. Sidd invites these people who are intimidated to take a leap of faith. Contrary to popular belief, it’s absolutely okay not to understand all the art that you see in a gallery. People just have to keep going to shows until they find that moment of encountering a really brilliant and moving art show out of a hundred bad shows.
“It shows insecurity when you get angry and think that art is crap after you go into an exhibit space and all your expectations of the art are not met. But you just have to go with an open mind,” Sidd says. “Be honest to yourself and with what you feel. Sometimes, we get too caught up with how we should think when approaching an artwork that we completely forgo our gut. We don’t harness our instincts enough. We have to go past that hype of ‘Top 10 Artists’ lists. You don’t have to like all of them.”
A great place to start when venturing into the world of art is your own university’s museum. There are also galleries that have monthly shows like West Gallery, Art Informal, and Silverlens, which have several spaces so people can visit different shows in one place. Most galleries have an exhibition text that people should try to read when trying to understand an artwork. If that doesn’t work, you can also try talking to the gallery staff or better yet, ask questions to the artist of the particular work either in person or online. Sidd offers, “Ask them specific questions about their work: ‘What is that dog doing in the painting? Why did you choose this color? Why is the palette so dark?’”
More relaxed events like Art Fair Philippines, Art in the Park, and 98B’s Saturday Market x Future Market are also good introductions if you don’t want to go to a gallery or museum right away. Ayala Museum and 98B also offer programs and workshops on art appreciation if learning how to understand a work is something you want to learn about.
As a final thought, Sidd advises the newbie museum-goer to “just have fun and listen to your gut. Courage is the best thing to go into these spaces. Just figure out how to be in that place. And it’s okay to be a fan girl.”
“Regular theater-goers are usually just two kinds of people: patrons of the arts or students required to watch the play,” says JK Anicoche of Sipat Lawin Ensemble, a platform and community of independent and contemporary theatre who has staged performances like the renowned Battalia Royale, LOVE: This is Not Yet a Musical, and the Apparition performance during Ayala Museum’s Midnight Museum. “But I believe theater can resonate in the lives of other people who walk different paths because there’s something universal about theater.”
Theater is among those art forms that have scared off a lot of people because, according to JK, when people go to watch it, they always equate the viewing experience with writing a report about it. He insists, “People should stop intellectualizing the work because whatever your experience from the performance is valid. If you didn’t understand the show that you watched, that’s okay, but you have to ask why it didn’t work for you and how you’ll make it work. It’s important to strike a conversation with the artists and other theater-goers. And if you do feel something, just enjoy the ride because feeling as thinking is also as powerful as thinking. This is an intellectual exercise but, most especially, a human exercise.”
When it’s stripped down to the basics, theater talks a lot about humanity and there is really nothing to be afraid of that. The whole experience of watching a theater performance exemplifies empathy for others by allowing the audience an opportunity to see different perspectives and raise questions on political, social, and cultural issues.
Getting into theater is as simple as keeping informed and looking out for the different events that theater companies like PETA and Tanghalang Pilipino host. Coming soon are the Karnabal Festival, Fringe MNL, and CCP’s Pasinaya, the annual multi-arts festival which has a pay-what-you-can ticket scheme for accessibility. You can also look for alternative spaces where there are performances always showing like DITO: Bahay ng Sining in Marikina. Lastly, one can also join theater workshops like Sipat Lawin’s performance workshop that doubles as a life-coaching workshop called Gym for the Heart for the domino effect; getting into theater acting introduces a person to the habit of regularly attending shows.