Sunday, February 2, 2014

UST-AB Development Communication: A Travelogue in Art: From Paleolithic to Postmodernism

 Dr Abe V Rotor 
Living with Nature - School on Blog 

Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C Tenorio 
738 KHz DZRB AM Band, 8-9 evening class, Monday to Friday

Lesson on Humanities as a tool in Development Communication.
Assignment Feb 4, 2014 - Critiquing and appreciating art. How do you make use of Humanities in media practice, particularly in DevCom? Handwritten on bond.
                                       New Textbook on   Humanities with Complementary CD 
by Dr Kristine Molina-Doria and Dr Abercio V Rotor                                            
 “We know from records how art developed and influenced man and his society throughout history, but we can only surmise today at its role in guiding us to cope up with the complexities of postmodern life.” - AVR

Art began at the dawn of civilization. It started in cave dwellings of early man then found its way to some fertile plains where nomadic man started to settle down, evidently in Mesopotamia and other known cradles of civilization in Asia and Africa. Since then art and culture grew together.    

Art developed with the discovery of early tools for the home and field.  Symbols were drawn on rocks, animal skin and bark of trees as early records. Sounds developed into words, and melodies. Early weapons like the spear and shield were highly decorated, more so after a victorious battle. The string of a bow led early man to invent the lyre, and other early stringed instruments. The use of the bow-and-arrow led to sports other than for hunting and war, which consequently developed the art of worship and rituals, in celebrating victories, and giving respect to the dead.  

Art is to man’s credit, but his model and source of inspiration is nature. The rainbow made him wonder, the stars made him wish, thunder and lightning humbled him, creatures of all kinds made him feel important, the coming and passing of seasons marked his activities and leisure. He learned from Nature the various forms of art, in fact many fields of learning.

The pyramid is a man-made mountain, the boat a dugout piece of log, a fort came from the idea of an isolated island, a bridge from a rock promontory, the wheel from a rolling stone, temple from a cave of glittering stalactites and stalagmites. He copied the intricate architecture of the termite mound for his buildings, the unique designs of nature to express function and beauty. He studied how birds fly, build their nest, and flock together.  He wondered at the mystery of living things, describing and copying them, mimicked their looks, dances and songs. Nature indeed has been man’s greatest teacher.       

Beyond discovery and invention, man added aesthetics – that high sense of beauty. It is this innate desire that is expressed in his art – an expression emanating from within influenced by experience and the environment.  It is a kind of longing, a pouring out of emotion, a romantic gesture, a symbol of thought or idea, a puzzle of a game or test.  Often art poses a question itself, as it offers fulfillment, or therapy.  But art, differentiated from science, takes the road of imagination and creativity more than reason, the dialectics of logic, and formality of philosophy. Art takes man to the road of freedom, it liberates his mind to explore, to experience and express, in the world of imagination and fantasy, distorting reality and elevating emotion, and stimulating the psyche, ascendant to aesthetic level.

If art grew with civilization, it must have its early beginning with our Stone Age ancestors. Earlier than that, art – if it is called art – is associated with instinctive ways basically in response to the needs of survival like mimicry, nesting, and cooperation shared biologically with other creatures.  In reckoning the beginning of art, it is in the Paleolithic and Neolithic times dating as far back as 25,000 BC.  Paintings inside caves are clearly art and history combined. These cave paintings found in many parts of the world from Lascaux in France to Montalban, Rizal, are proofs of prehistoric culture, the most prominent being those of stone tools, funerary offerings, and articles of adoration and worship. The Stonehenge in Great Britain was built ingeniously as an observatory to plot the movement and position of stars and planets, to which early man asked favor while submitting his fate through worship and festivals. Similarly the tunnels of the Pyramids of Egypt have astronomical significance, so with the ziggurats of Central America.

Imagine Stone Age art in an early version of the Greek Venus, in decorated vases, tools and weapons, or in the form of specimens from hunted animals as memorabilia or talisman. Body paintings must have imitated animals, or simply signified position and rank in the tribe. Clothing evolved from function to art.  Many ethnic cultures have been preserved to this day, and in fact the modern world built on them multi-million dollar industries in fashion and tourism.

The last prehistoric phase, the Metal Age, is characterized by a proliferation of metallic crafts, from weapons to body ornaments. Discovery of burial chambers yielded rich metallic decors of gold and silver, swords and spears in advanced metallurgy in this period, shields and armors revolutionized war. And because of the precious value and malleability of metals, various objects of art were made from them and became artifacts of today, many are displayed in museums.  

Art in Ancient times reached its peak with the Wonders of the Ancient World, with Greece and later Rome at the peak of power. “The glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome…” became a metaphoric adage, and true to their superior achievements, the Greco-Roman model was adopted by the Renaissance, one and one-half millennia later - in the fifteen century. Unfortunately of the seven man-made wonders of the ancient world, only the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt survives. The rest - Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes and Lighthouse of Alexandria, were destroyed by earthquake or fire. The inclusion of other man-made wonders include the Coliseum of Rome, Karnak Temple of Egypt, Petra of Jordan and in other parts of the world, the Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal of India, Machu Picchu in Peru, Bali in Indonesia, Bagan Temples and Pagodas of Burma, Borobodor of Indonesia, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Teotihuacan in Mexico, the Forbidden City of China. Last, but not the least, the Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines.

Ruins of fabulous ancient cultures: Borobodor of Indonesia and Machu Picchu of Peru

The Middle Ages often referred to as the Dark Ages was a long lull in arts, particularly in the western world, whereas on the side of world, art flourished in China and other parts of Asia, and in Central and South America (Aztec, Maya and Inca civilizations). The former Roman Empire disintegrated into warring fiefs or kingdoms, yet romantically yielded stories of fantasy and bed time stories handed down to us. (Children stories from the Grimm Brothers, and Hans Anderson; 1001 Arabian Nights)

It was in the 14th century that there was a stirring of man’s redemption from his woeful past - the Renaissance.  The Renaissance brought new life and bridged the isolated corners of the world, so to speak.  The Philippines became part of Renaissance Europe with its “discovery” by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. For almost 400 years of Spanish rule we developed a culture greatly influenced by European civilization, except the remote ethnic communities.

Impressionistic painting with Renaissance theme (AVR)

The paintings of Juan Luna, Felix Hidalgo, Fernando Amorsolo strongly reveal European styles.  Many of our dances are distinctly Spanish. Even Biag ni Lam-ang (Life of Lam-ang, an pic) was abridged with Spanish and Christian flavor. Towns founded during the Spanish period were basically of Roman design.  It is because Spain was ruled by the Romans for centuries. Even our Zarzuela and Moro-moro are Western in origin, the latter depicting the victory of Christians over the Moors in the Arab world. But the greatest expression of European Renaissance in the Philippines in church architecture. A typical example of baroque architecture is San Agustin Church in Intramuros, while San Sebastian Church is expressly of Gothic. The latter greatly influenced the Iglesia ni Cristo’s  neo-gothic edifices.  

Even before the era of colonization ended at the close of the 19th century, there was a movement sweeping Europe – Impressionism.  This movement radically changed art.  Classicism and Romanticism which were the dominant schools of art mainly with the elite bowed to the popular movement. Now people can reach a level of art related to their everyday life, their simple needs and aspirations. Even Realism took a step downward.  Subjects are not viewed the way they are with details and accuracy; they are merely “impressions.”  They are memories, dreams, views from the distance, and remnants of events and residues of thought. But this was but a transition to other movements at the close of the 19th century.

It was Vincent Van Gogh who opened a new meaning in art - expressionism - the freedom to bring out through art emotions and feelings, and not merely thoughts or ideas. It took years after its founder’s death that expressionism was accepted as a major movement, particularly with the birth of new nations out of the bondage of colonial rule. The trilogy of the French Revolution – Liberty, Fraternity and Equality became a universal cry, and America was the first to adapt the trilogy as pillars of its constitution. It greatly moved local leaders.  Rizal wrote Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Juan Luna painted Spolarium a mural comparing the suffering Filipinos with the  gladiators of Rome. The 1889 Philippine Independence aroused nationalism, although it was short lived with America placing the Philippines under its sovereign as a Commonwealth. Here is a mélange of art with American art further diluting an already losing Filipino identity.
 Nature Crucified: Ecological Paradigm of Salvation

Since the pioneers of America were mostly Europeans, American art was distinctly European.  So with the art they introduced in the Philippines. Buildings during the Commonwealth were post-colonial – which is fundamentally Greco-Roman.  The prominent examples are the Central Post Office, the old Congress and Senate, Agriculture, Finance, Supreme Court, Philippine General Hospital. All over the country neo-colonial architecture and design are still evident seventy years after our independence from America.
Science and technology has opened new frontiers for the arts. It has unveiled many mysteries to become interesting subjects for the art.  The discovery of the sunken Titanic gave us movies, songs, poetry, and the refloated ship has been converted into a museum. The deepest part of the ocean is being revealed as a mysterious landscape, and the universe is being scanned for new worlds. 

As industrialization stimulated economy, towns and cities grew, people travelled or migrated, and population rapidly increased. Art found a new expression - abstract art.  Pablo Picasso, is perhaps the most prominent leader in this movement. His mural Guernica in the Basque territory had cleverly hidden messages that helped Spain resist the threat of Germany. Picasso’s art spanned three generations and evolved into several art movements, challenging tradition and convention, and influencing global art more than any artist did.   
Scientific and technological breakthrough changed the world, so with art. Splitting of the Atom brought Armageddon and persistent fear to mankind.  The invention of the microchip shrunk the world with modern communication - radio and television, and the Internet, resulting in an  explosion of knowledge, while trespassing into personal life and privacy.  The breaking of the Code of Life gave rise to genetic engineering which can clone life, and change natural evolution.  These conditions have set a new movement in the art tied with post-modernism. If man is virtually living ahead of his time, what could be his art?

Art indeed has proliferated into theories, and each theory cannot be judged as right or wrong.  So with its direction, and its multi-facet expressions. Here are developments in the art in our postmodern time.

1.      Art and Modern Super Structures – The ancient wonders of the world are now dwarfed by mega structures like the Eiffel Tower (France), Brooklyn Bridge (USA), Panama CanalChunnel (tunnel linking France and Great Britain across the English Channel), and Petronas Twin Tower (Malaysia), Aswan Dam (Egypt), to name a few.

 Photographic Art – The camera and its accessories are now easily accessible. These include programs for photo editing and publication. The versatility of photography is in its advance technology, linking it with advertisement, digital art, communication and media. Photography is a “short cut to art” which makes its classification controversial. With the computer, a photograph can be converted into various forms and interpretations. But such result emanates mainly from the versatility of the machine rather than the operator. Photography has taken over the former function of art in portraiture and documentation.   
 Modern multi-purpose hall

3.      Art and Media  – Media art reaches the far ends of the globe, from print to satellite communications. With cellphones, and multi-media equipment make people participate in the arts as performers and audience.  Media is everywhere every day.  Music can be produced any time.  TV programs through cable brings in a flood of information and entertainment. Media has revolutionized schooling through  Distance Learning (Open University) and communications (e-mail, e-libing, e-commerce, e-learning, and the like)

4.      Function-and-Beauty – The role of art in industry and trade is that it enhances the desirability of a product or service.  It is akin to advertisement, but it is actually function and beauty combined that sells. For example, a car’s sleek design is functionally aerodynamics, tools and equipment are ergonomically designed.  More and more houses, roads, bridges, parks, and the like exhibit the element of function-and-beauty. 

5.      Thrash Art – Art from recycled materials is practical, and it sends an ecological message, that touches people’s sensitivity and conscience amidst worsening pollution.  Thrash art may be a sculptural piece made of metal scraps (art), or it could be an all-purpose bag from recycled fruit juice packages (craft). The former is an example of high level art (aesthetic, and to any extent, a philosophy), while the other product is considered as low-level art (craft, which is more of its function than mere aesthetics.)

6.      Avant-garde and Graffiti art on walls, trains, buses, fences, sidewalks, and other places is often associated with vandalism, and reflects deterioration of values. To many people it would be shocking to consider it as art. It reflects radicalism, although the claim is that art – whatever art takes - is free expression and of thought in whatever style or symbols. Based on conventional criteria, avant-garde and graffiti art is simply not art at all. And yet, it flourishes, which could only mean that art evolves even outside the realms of art itself, apparently a characteristic of postmodern trends. 
7.      Classical and Contemporary Art – Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote topped the world’s best novels, with Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere ranked closely behind. The works of Shakespeare and Browning once topped the list of classical poetry, and in music, the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky. In painting, the names Rembrandt, Goya, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo are regarded institutions. The timelessness of classics are being  overshadowed by neo-classical and contemporary works, although classics remain as undying models even with the march of time and progress, and new movements creating diverse pieces of art that go with postmodern life. 
8.      Art and Extremism.  Going back to basics draws art to fundamental themes and techniques. But fundamentalism may turn to isolationism.  Art is never subservient to either.  On the other hand, radicalism could ignite controversy, such as the recent art exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines lampooning Christ and desecrating holy objects.  The exhibit drew ire from both religious and clergy.  Art cannot be detached from morals, more so with ethics.  It cannot be amoral or neutral to values. 
                                         Surrealism - pecking order of life

9.      Instant Art – Those who have watched Avatar or Starwars may wonder at the versatility of these movies.  The truth is, many of the scenes were studio-generated and faked. Another aspect of instant art is pirating (piracy of intellectual property), and packaging such as “canned” nature (Gubat sa Siudad, Fantasyland).  There is a proliferation of amusements, and mass production of art works legal or illegal. It is a trend in our postmodern life to go for instant things like photo shoot, tarpaulin billboards, e-publishing, DVD movies, and MP3 music.  Similarly there is trend in food (fast food), on the dance floor (maskipop), on the karaoke (Minus One).  But there is no need to change the definition of art.  It is like separating the grains from the chaff, so to speak, and know what is art and is not. The essence and purpose of art will never change.                  

No time in history has art found its widest application than it is today.  Its enormous variety serve people of all ages, singly or collectively, in various  occasions and events, touching their lives, tapping their talents, arousing their feelings, stimulating  them to think  and imagine .  And to create the most wonderful things that constitute their own masterpieces. This is the challenge of art today and if these can relate to the betterment of humanity, then we say, art is humanities. ~

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