The Art of Being Holy, Or Not

"UST is an educational institution NOT a religious organization. They are pontifical in that sense, but they have an obligation to teach people as a part of their mandate, more so, their students, particularly the students of the College of Fine Arts and Design who payed ridiculous amount of money for tuition, have the right to learn different art movements that can hone their understanding in the creative world. Otherwise, don’t enroll students to teach Fine Arts at all if they will just LIMIT and restrict subjects that are not in favor towards their belief."

Being an Art student in a Catholic-driven institution like the University of Santo Tomas, more known locally as UST, is frustrating. And that is much of an understatement.

That was my sentiment when I was still an art student, taking up my major in Painting at the former College of Architecture and Fine Arts (CAFA) known today as the College of Fine Arts and Design (CFAD).

As a ‘student’ in general, I have to admit, I was not the kind who excels in academics, who's on the dean's list or even popular in school, I get by. I am the type who floats around, doing what I like, not bothering people with their own business. But as a student, I made sure that I am there to learn, to absorb knowledge, meet people that will help me become sound and would able me to apply the knowledge that was passed on to me to succeed in the future. I was, what they call, a regular student, who try so hard not to fail a subject, received occasional 3.0's in some class cards, got into occasional trouble with grades, but in my defense, together with most students, receiving those marks were HIGHLY justifiable, debate-able even.

Where I am trying to get to is, being a student, it’s hard. Difficult for everyone regardless on when and where you study, your religious belief/s and/or your views in life … luckily, most of us try hard, suck all the pressure in, and comes out alive, as a graduate.

But in an art student’s perspective, learning in a Catholic university, it’s more complex. Not like other art schools around the Metro, most of the UST Fine Art students(not all) often find it hard to express ideas that are of unorthodox and of contemporary and unheard of with the Catholic faith. May it be in a context of sexual and or socio-political nature, we are somehow being ‘guided’ to veer away from having any sort of expression towards it, it was either, a ‘bad’ art, or something of a ‘lesser’ art. Though I cannot totally discount some noted professors whom I respect deeply, who taught me to always follow my creative vision, even if it’s going against the grain of our school’s teachings, and some artists that inspired me to be contemporary like Ang Kiukok and Ronald Ventura to mention a few.

We, UST art students, don’t just try hard to ask for our government’s support to help the art community strive in our country, picketing in the streets of the Metro for support, we do not just pray hard to those Saints our catholic institution introduced us to, to give blessing to our parents, so as they can earn enough money to send us in a private school with at least 6-figure total-spending/semester (miscellaneous included) for our tuition fees, continuously for four years(some even extend), we don’t just fight the day-to-day battle, a student fights for just to earn a passing grade…

We get to abide, and should always consider following a singular religious authority and a religious belief every time we will have to create… ART. Because we chose to study art in a Catholic institution, we have to abide by the Catholic rules.

*Enter frustration here:

Fast forward to 2011, here we are, presented by an exhibition by one of the successful artists UST produced(and recently disowned), who have successfully showed exhibitions around the world, who have presented ideas that may be executed differently, shocking at the very least, but strong and with substance. 
The frustration comes again.

The problem, I think is when an exhibit, a literature or any form of creative output is taken out of context. A singular element in an artist’s work doesn’t explain the whole collection, or for Mideo’s case, ‘Kulo’, the exhibit itself. The bigger problem is, when we get to pose and project ourselves as righteous above all, telling people, people who have ideas to convey, words to express, an artfrom to exhibit, a photo to show… that, If it doesn’t agree with my beliefs, and somehow, if I ‘personally’ feel offended by it. It should be stopped, regardless of the message it wants to relay and the relevance of the issue it wants to resolve in our society.

Art in the Philippines is what we needed to pray for. It’s prosperity. It’s relevance.

I am an artist and a CFAD, UST graduate. In these Damaso-kind-of-retrospective-days our nation is experiencing. The latter is quite cloudy for my preference.

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