Art for Art's Sake or Shock for Shock's Sake?
Art for Art's Sake
Art is a reflective activity that communicates new ideas towards the formation of world views that eventually affect the future. A good artist has a profound understanding and awareness of his time and can act as an early-warning system of changes to come. Art that creates powerful symbols through its imagery is effective in speaking to the hearts and minds of people in a subliminal manner, its codes revealed only upon introspection. Art may be viewed in different perspectives. One may view art as a classic expression and everyone is entitled to express themselves. However, with freedom comes responsibility for there is no freedom that is absolute. The right to freedom of expression has its limitations. There is no specific rule as to how an artist should express his ideas through art. It is solely based on his discretion if he chooses to go beyond the box to further illustrate his ideas.
Mideo Cruz of the Philippines certainly did think outside the box when he showcased his masterpiece “Poleteismo” last June 17, 2011. However, his artwork started a controversy that touches not only the ethics of expression but also the very concepts of religion. Free thinkers claim that this controversial work of art is only a manifestation of the right to freedom of expression. On the other hand, members of religious sects view this as an attack to their beliefs and that this is a form of blasphemy and religious bigotry. Although free thinkers would claim that this is a freedom of expression, trampling with the beliefs of others is an overrated form of expressing freedom. The artists should give much thought to the beliefs of others, especially when involving objects that are of special meaning to certain groups. With respect to freedom of expression, artists’ works should be ennobling.
Freedom of expression is a right that has scope and limitations. The right to freedom of expression is rigid because this cannot be wantonly expanded to suit one’s special needs but flexible enough to be subjected to interpretation by legal experts and officials of the judiciary, not by artists.
Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code on Immoral Exhibitions states:
Immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions and indecent shows. – The penalty of prison mayor or a fine ranging from six thousand to twelve thousand pesos , or both such imprisonment and fine, shall be imposed upon:
- Those who shall publicly expound or proclaim doctrines openly contrary to public morals;
- (a) The authors obscene literature, published with their knowledge in any form; the editors publishing such literature; and the owners/operators of the establishment selling the same;
(b) Those who, in theatres, fairs, cinematographs or any other place, exhibit, indecent or immoral plays, scenes, acts or shows, whether live or in film, which are prescribed by virtue hereof, shall include those which (1) glorify criminals or condone crimes; (2) serve no other purpose but to satisfy the market for violence, lust or pornography; (3) offend any race or religion; (4) tend to abet traffic in and use of prohibited drugs; and (5) are contrary to law, public order, morals, and good customs, established policies, lawful orders, decrees and edicts;
- Those who shall sell, give away or exhibit films, prints, engravings, sculpture or literature which are offensive to morals. (As amended by PD Nos. 960 and 969).
Freedom stops when the rights of others are exploited. The artist Mideo Cruz and supporters of his controversial artwork have clearly violated the provisions set in the Revised Penal Code. In their quest for free expression, they have offended the beliefs of people belonging to the religious sects in our country. What he made is not called art but rather a form of blasphemy. This is an abuse of freedom because freedom must respect responsibilities. There is a responsibility not to destroy culture, civilization or the good conduct of persons. This is a complete betrayal of what is right from what is wrong. This is a big insult and disrespect to sound-minded people. Now the question to ask is can he do that to his own father, or to the national hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal? Of course nobody would dare do that to someone they highly respect like their parents or our national hero but why did he do that to the Son of God? There was a depiction of Jesus Christ which was not acceptable to us and the CCP is funded by our money. The exhibit was supposed to be of service to us however, this insulted most of our beliefs. There is no clear point of service here. Art is supposed to be ennobling and when this stokes conflict, then is not an ennobling activity. Trampling with our beliefs is definitely a violation of the laws of the land.
What Exactly is Freedom of Expression?
Freedom of expression is a well known provision in the Philippine Constitution and that entitles itself to the have scope and limitations. With regard to Mideo Cruz’s “Poleteismo”, free thinkers claim that the artwork is only an expression of self and that there is nothing wrong with portraying a divine being with a fallus dangling from his nose or having religious paraphernalia displayed with condoms and pictures of models advertising underwear. In an interview, he stated that he pasted the phallus on Jesus Christ’s face to symbolize Christ’s power and authority. Surprisingly, a Dominican priest commented that it is really in the eye of the beholder. In addition to that, another person named Kenneth Keng, an elected Vestry member of the Church of Holy Trinity, Director of the church’s Children’s Education program, and a member of the Filipino Free Thinkers commented that all Christians seemed not offended by the artwork and that he is even more offended by the vandalism that occurred on the fourth of August 2011.
Cultural Relativism and Cultural Sensitivity
Although most of us Filipinos are Christians, the Philippines is populated with people of diverse cultures. With every culture comes unique practices and beliefs that are different from others. Respect for other cultures is what keeps the Philippines a country. Therefore art should not be made an excuse to launch an attack on people peacefully practicing their religious beliefs. The exhibit is affronting to our beliefs, especially concerning religion. This is highly offending to the religious beliefs of a country that is 85% Christian. While the world works to achieve religious harmony through interfaith dialogs, promoting political correctness in everything to build respect for others beliefs, concepts, and sexualities, in our country, the publicly-funded Cultural Center of the Philippines is nurturing animosity and bigotry all in the name if culture and arts. The Cultural Center of the Philippines is funded by us Filipinos and used in service for our nation. With their tolerance for this exhibit, they have violated the sole purpose for being established: to be of service to the nation. It is no service to the people if the people’s rights are being violated. Religious symbols and objects were treated to insultingly and with shocking disrespect by a group of people who believe they have the absolute artistic license to do so. The right to freedom of expression points out its scope and limitations clearly implying there is no absolute freedom.
Freethinkers would point out that the artwork is only an expression of self and that there is nothing wrong with expressing freedom. Everyone is entitled to express themselves in any manner, regardless of any person’s sexual orientation, beliefs, etcetera. However, as stated earlier, there is no absolute freedom and for this reason that I stated my side on this controversial matter, the artwork has not positively challenged people’s perceptions of figures they idolize.
Mideo Cruz wanted to provoke people in to thinking. He titled the work “Poleteismo” since throughout the history of humanity, we had grown to create new gods and these are not religious figures but concepts and objects. With regard to the Image of Christ with a dangling male genital on His nose, he explained that this is his representation of God as a figure of authority. At first glance, one would veer away with his point of view. Most would even think that Jesus is a single sex symbol due to the presence of condoms and other “playboy” paraphernalia. If Jesus is the symbol of Eternal Life, then why would a condom be present in the collage? For those who have proper information, a condom prevents life. Is not that contrary to the image Christ portrays in religion? If people consider this observation as valid then this would prompt that Mideo Cruz is an atheist. The artwork has not generated any positive feedback from many because this is clearly a violation of human rights. This explains my side of the argument that I am not at all in favour of religious objects and images be used in sensitive artworks such as this.
To sum up all the opinions this article has stated, freedom, in any way expressed, should still be able with the laws governing it. Regardless of any emotion the artists’ works may want to evoke, or any image they may want to project, their works should still be socially acceptable. In any form of portrayal, one must think critically and seek proper consultation so as not to jeopardize others’ rights as well. Although Mideo Cruz’s intentions were ideal and intellectually stimulating, it has still offended many people’s rights concerning religious beliefs.