Art that mirrors life’s tragedies | Inquirer Opinion

Art that mirrors life’s tragedies

When one writes regular commentary on social, political, and economic issues in these disheartening times, there’s the feeling that one contributes to the atmosphere of gloom and doom. Nevertheless, it’s a necessary task because there’s dire need to expose violations, rebuke abuses, castigate negligence, and ridicule incompetence of those who possess power or privilege. Every now and then, however, there’s a need to take a break and seek mental shelter from all the dreariness in our midst.

I have written several times that my happy place is the art world. It’s my go-to place when I feel overwhelmed reading and writing about the trials and tribulations of this world.

Through 24 years of collecting works of art, I have accumulated enough that has enabled me to build a decent art museum (Balay Segundo Museum), catering to a rural audience in my hometown in Isabela province. Jointly with friends, I’ve put up an art gallery that has allowed me to regularly attend international art fairs, join art travels abroad, and establish lifelong friendship with collectors, artists, and gallery owners who make our country’s art community vibrant. I’ve dabbled in writing about art and artists, sponsored provincial art competitions, and initiated art workshops in our community.

What drew me into the art world, when I was still a young professional, was when I discovered that artworks are fascinating means of communication. I learned that not all paintings and sculptures are objects of decoration or entertainment. Many are executed as forms of speech that are delivered through the nonverbal languages of colors, strokes, texture, images, or a collage of materials.


The works of art that fascinate me the most are those that communicate stories, ideas, issues, and concepts. Others are attracted to artworks that visually represent reality, project a mixture of images that are a feast to the eyes, or exhibit new forms or styles of representing figures, feelings, or ideas. To each his own because there’s no right or wrong when it comes to personal preferences, much in the same way that we have our individual preferences in food, clothing, and music.

I prefer artworks that I can understand and interpret on my own without the artists’ assistance, in the same way that I don’t look for the novelist, filmmaker, or songwriter to aid me in appreciating their works. I find gratification and admiration for the artist when I can personally understand, feel, and decipher the work of art on my own.

I look for artists who beautifully articulate what they want the viewer to understand, through their unique medium of visual communication. I judge artists in the same way that I judge how a novelist can craft words and invent plots to create a masterful novel; how a filmmaker can combine scenes and dialogues to produce a brilliant movie, and; how a songwriter can string notes and beats together to come up with an exceptional song.

I’ve learned that when we regard and look at painters and sculptors as no different from novelists, filmmakers, and songwriters, we free ourselves from the restrictive view that beautiful art is only limited to those which are visually pleasing to the eyes or which conjure happy emotions. If we look at the list of novels, movies, and songs that are considered beautiful classics, they are not the ones with happy endings or with joyful melodies. Examples are aplenty. For movies, there is “Silence of the Lambs” which is a horror thriller. For novels, there’s the “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez, which is a saga of tragedy and misfortune through a family of seven generations. For music, virtually all of the hit songs of all songwriters are about heartbreak and tragedy. If these novels, movies, and songs are translated and embodied into paintings and sculptures, they will not be artworks that are pleasing to the eyes or delightful to the senses.


This explains the reason why the works of our iconic painters and national artists which are highly regarded, are those which portray death, poverty, and misfortune. Juan Luna’s most famous painting, the “Spoliarium,” depicts the bodies of dead gladiators. The more acclaimed works of Fernando Amorsolo are his paintings of burning buildings during World War II. The more celebrated masterpiece of Vicente Manansala is his “Pila sa Bigas” which exhibits people lining up to buy rice during the infamous rice shortage of the Marcos dictatorship. The most sought after masterpieces of Benedicto “Bencab” Cabrera are his “Sabel” paintings which depict a homeless woman.

We momentarily escape from the harsh realities of our world by immersing ourselves in various forms of artistic creativity. But we end up doing so by choosing novels, movies, songs, and artworks that mirror the tragedies of humanity. In this predilection, however, we find solace in the masterful and creative expressions of the trials and tribulations in our lives.



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