What is Art in Contemporary Society


From Instagram posts to street protests, art can be seen everywhere. But what is the role of art in contemporary society?

Museo De La Salle, in cooperation with Artletics, launched the first leg of Muni-muni sa Museo Art talks on October 6, 2017, at Luis Aguado Viewing Room in De La Salle University-Dasmarinas. This lecture and forum series aims to initiate conversations about the role of art in shaping culture and consequently, society. The first part of the series delved on “Art in Contemporary Society”.

The Aguado audio-visual room quickly filled with more than 100 guests consisting of students, local artists and faculty members, attending the event. The discussions revolved around the current state of the Philippine art scene, how aesthetics is applied in popular images, and definitions of and practices in contemporary art.

For the first installment of the Muni-muni sa Museo series, the organizers invited prominent curators and artists in the Philippine art scene. They are Lopez Museum conservation consultant Ricky Francisco, Cultural Center of the Philippines Thirteen Artists Awardee Claro J. Ramirez, and Assistant Professor at the University of the Philippines Art Studies Department Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez.

“How Did We Get Here?”

Mr. Francisco gave a quick review of Philippine art and showed some works of Philippine Contemporary Artists. As early as the 16th century, he said Filipinos were introduced to (western) art, through the coming of the Spaniards. After two centuries, the first art academy in the Philippines was established. And in just 30 years after its establishment, it produced Juan Luna who was the first Filipino recipient of a gold medal in the 1884 Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes for his work, the Spolarium. According to Mr. Francisco, Luna’s win proved that Filipino artists could compete on a world stage.

After Luna, Fernando Amorsolo emerged in the art scene. From paintings of religious images and grand historical narratives, Amorsolo’s paintings showed the ordinary lives of people in the fields. Filipino art became more local in subject matter.

Later on, National Artists for painting Victorio Edades and Cesar Legaspi presented works that do not depict bucolic scenery but say something about the social realities of the country in their time.

To introduce contemporary art, Mr. Francisco cited some works of contemporary Philippine artists that are changing the way we look at art. Some artists mentioned were Wire Tuazon who puts texts on his paintings; Rodel Tapaya who infuses folklore on his works; Ronald Ventura for his record-breaking work in Sotheby's; Martha Atienza for winning the 19th Baloise Art Prize; and David Medalla who shot to international acclaim for his bubble sculptures.

"Usually makahulugan ang images at may sinasabi [ang contemporary art]… karaniwan ay hindi (lang ito) inaappreciate na maganda. May hinihingi siya (na interaction and analysis sa audience nito)," ((Contemporary art) is usually meaningful, employing imagery that’s not just decoratively beautiful, but embedded with content that merits deeper analysis) Mr Francisco said.

Contemporary Art in Popular Images

After Mr. Francisco’s situationer on the Philippine contemporary art scene, Curator and Professor Ms. Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez discussed the application of aesthetics in today’s popular images. She started her lecture by defining aesthetics, which she said is “panlasa or the activation of senses.”

As a visual literacy professor, she gave emphasis on how symbols are used to create meanings that define our daily life. Quoting anthropologist Arturo Escobar, she said “Truth claims are related to practices and symbols that produce and regulate social life”.

Drawing comparison between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Adolf Hitler, Ms. Legaspi-Ramirez explained how art is being used as propaganda tool. The example was the low-angle shot of Duterte during his first State of the Nation Address which gives an impression of audience's powerlessness and speaker's dominance. The angle was also used in Nazi's propaganda film Triumph of the Will, specifically during Hitler's speech scene.

Furthermore, Ms. Legaspi-Ramirez showed images that have attached meanings on them, such as the flag (nationalism) and clenched fist (power). She explained how the clenched fist is being used in advertisements as a symbol of authority and power. An example given was the Zoo York billboard in EDSA which uses the fist symbol to give their clothing line an image of toughness (“Astig”).

Ms. Legaspi-Ramirez ended her lecture with a reminder: "Bilang mambabasa at manonood, nasa atin ang responsibility na magbasa critically at hindi lang tanggap nang tanggap.” (As readers and viewers, it is our responsibility to be critical and not just accept things as they are presented to us)

Back to Square 1

Artist Claro “Chitz” Ramirez shared his advocacy called “Back to Square 1” The audience enjoyed his presentation spiced by his witty and entertaining antics. He pointed out the importance of re-kindling the artist’s creative impulse, which is the most basic reason why artists make art.

Mr. Ramirez defined Back to Square1 as "a platform that acts as a conduit to bring to ground abstract theories and practices in areas of art." He shared the Back to Square 1 platform as an approach to art practice and criticism emphasizing that art theory and art practice are continuous processes that go hand in hand.

Muni-muni Sa Museo is a three-part lecture and forum series. The next topics will tackle Art in the History of Church and State (Nov. 17, 2017), and The Artist and the Market (March 9, 2018). The lecture series will culminate with an art exhibit which will run from February to April 2018.

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