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By: Raymund Fernandez September 05,2017 - 10:13 PM


The student was doing bas relief with clay of her cat sitting on a tree branch though we could not quite make out the tree branch for the fact it was just two diagonal lines in space. Doesn’t matter. Two diagonal lines in space? Tree branch? She’s calling her piece, “Cat on a tree.”

That settles it in the fewest strokes required, as it were: An easy lesson learned quickly. It is a pretty cat to be sure, and because of this the student asks her teacher: But what for? Why is art important?

The teacher was caught off-guard and so came out with the easiest answer of all, which turned out also to be most cynical. The student would note this in a retort, but that would be further up in the conversation.

Quite a cynical act to think that the importance of art is easiest seen in the sense of propaganda. Recall how Imelda Marcos was also the saintly patroness of the arts in the time of Martial Law.

And so, even while young students, activist priests, and fallen politicians were languishing in jail, tortured, or made to disappear, the beautiful people basked in culture and the arts in places like the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

The name, if one is not careful, could be easily mistaken for the name of an avowed enemy, the Communist Party of the Philippines, CPP. One suspects this alphabetical alignment to be absolutely intentional. For such is the nature of propaganda.

To do propaganda well, one has to buy the loyalty of artists. Take it from Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, and recall how they were as impeccably dressed as…well, who else but Imelda? Adolf had Hugo Boss. Imelda had minions.

But one can hardly blame an artist struggling for fame and fortune to hook themselves on scraps and drippings from the tables of the rich and powerful. But this is not the importance of art. It is only about its usefulness. Art is certainly useful. But useful may not have anything to do with importance.

The teacher took these questions with him all the way to slumber, the edge of sleep, until he came to a thought: Plato, wrote that “beauty is the object of love.” But this definition is rather base.

Consistent with the elitist nature of classicism, Plato continues by writing how one has to learn to experience true beauty. As if to say there is base and profane beauty and then there is beauty in its higher form.

Thus, he advises five steps needed to learn how to experience true beauty. He advised: “Learn to love one body.

Learn to love several bodies in order to understand what it is about bodies that is lovable. Learn to love customs and traditions. Learn to love knowledge for its own sake. And finally, experience beauty in the forms of beauty.”

The advice seems rather intriguing. And most intriguing for the last of its tests before we come to experience true beauty: “Learn to love knowledge for its own sake.”

And thus finally we come to understand why art, and especially poetry, is important. For indeed, to love art and poetry is to love knowledge free of all its functional baggage, or free of all its usefulnesses.

For what else could be as useless as good sculpture, or a good painting, or a good piece of poetry? Who needs to read lines from Pablo Neruda, and in the original Spanish? What useful thing can you get from that? And yet we love them. We know this with a certainty. We experience beauty.

And who can refute that? Here finally we come to a paradox: It’s because art is of absolutely no importance that it is important. This importance is palpable in the realm of experience though impossible to fully put into words, as Plato warned from the beginning. To love art is the love of knowledge truly for its own sake.

And there is an additional irony here. Once we have learned to love art, especially poetry, this way, we enter into a realm where we begin to understand not just beauty but also its opposite — ugliness and monstrosity.

Such as when we dwell on the murder of children and young men killed like animals in our streets on the slim allegation of being addicts or involved in drugs.

And we know with a sureness they did not deserve to be killed this way. And thus we recall a painting by Francisco Goya, “Cronus Devouring his Children.” And then realize how Cronus exactly deserves his coming final doom.

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TAGS: beauty, doing, students, THE, was

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