Looking Back

Art as seen by the young today

Friends often remind me that Youtube is for videos, Facebook and Instagram are for pictures, and a blog is for essays.

These friends discourage me from posting my Inquirer column on FB because followers want photos not text that goes beyond their short attention span or the 140-character limit on a Twitter. My Inquirer column length is 4,300 characters, with spaces, more or less—a thousand characters less than we used to write before the Inquirer redesign.


Someone asked me recently about this new character limit and whether the Inquirer now values “look” over “content.” I replied that the Inquirer opinion page does not have a “turn to page” feature, and from the beginning columnists were told to finish their essays within the box provided or your last sentences would be cut off. Writing this column does require discipline and makes me wonder if I can manage to sustain an argument in 500 words.

So last Friday’s column on the different ways Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium” can be read was posted on FB with a photograph that might have distracted followers from actually reading the text—a group of students re-enacting the Spoliarium in the museum. The reactions for and against this made me realize that there is a clear generation gap in the way people interact with art in museums.


My sister was a Fine Arts major in UP Diliman, and I remember one of their major class projects being “paintings come alive” that required students to copy a chosen painting in 3-D. My sister’s group chose Velasquez’s iconic “Las Meninas,” and they did more than just copy the painting from a book. (There was no internet then.) They did research on the history of the painting, the artist, its context, materials, production and reception. They made their own costumes and painted a large background, thus learning about lighting, perspective and color as they reproduced and re-enacted the painting in real-life.

Being in a studio class, of course, is not the same as being in a museum. So I’m sure their re-enactment would probably not be allowed inside the Museo del Prado for two reasons: First, to do so could pose a threat to the actual painting; second, such a spectacle would disturb or annoy other visitors who want to enjoy the works in peace and quiet.

A rowdy group of art students in costume would be stopped at the door because there have been cases of high art vandalism over the years: black paint thrown over Rembrandt’s “Night Watch”; a madman hacking away at Michelangelo’s marble “Pieta” with a hammer because he did not like the Virgin Mary. These incidents resulted in placing the precious art behind bulletproof glass, and I remember the late architect Antonio S. Sindiong lamenting this because he said that to fully appreciate Michelangelo’s skill as a sculptor, one has to run his/her hand under the hem of the Virgin’s skirt to feel how thinly the artist had carved it out of a block of marble. I presume Sindiong had touched the Pieta before the war, when security and conservation issues were lax.

At the door, the National Museum staff remind visitors of some house rules: Do not touch, lean, or get too close to the artwork; you may take non-commercial photos, but without flash and selfie sticks; you should not eat, drink, run, or talk loudly in the halls; finally, because of the Spoliarium, you are not to re-enact any of the artworks.

Some people are of the opinion that reenactments or selfies are the ways young people interact with art in museums. Others counter that a museum is neither a playground nor a classroom, it requires quiet and decorum as “respect” for the art and the artists. I said that while I am happy that the young go to museums rather than go surfing on the net for the images, they should look at the works more than they take selfies.

Then I was reminded: The young see the world differently, they see art through the lens of their cell phones. I could not understand, for example, how people can smile and pose beside the distressing paintings that depict the murder, rape and destruction inflicted by the Japanese on the Philippines in World War II. How can curators balance the need to encourage this new way of appreciation, and maintain the order and conservation standards that keep art for the enjoyment of all?

Comments are welcome at [email protected]


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