I want to be an artist, but our X doesn’t…

Once my mom called and talked about a colleague or former classmate of hers who she caught up with when she was going for errands out into the city. That former classmate (let’s call her, Mrs T) had a daughter (let’s label this as kid B), and somehow I was surprised by my mother’s conversation regarding kid B and Mrs T.

All the while my mum was talking about her encounter with them at the street, her talk was gearing towards kid B’s reaction when Mrs T and mum were talking about my siblings and I, particularly my choice as a kid doing art. But prior to that, Mrs T said she wanted to introduce me to her designer friend (aka Designer XY). And my mum smiled and nodded her head as a go signal to agreeing with Mrs T.

While that conversation came up, the child, kid B, told her mum that she wanted to be a designer too. My mum kept smiling and kept the conversation running with less explanations and more non-verbal gestures of a “yes” queue.

On the other tip of the iceberg, Mrs T told kid B to finish college first with an undergraduate degree. (ANY UNDERGRAD DEGREE, just not ART or ART related, yet, then you can skedaddle- was what she meant, uh, indirectly speaking).

My mom as per usual, agreed with the sentiment.

Upon hearing that story over the phone, I can’t help but cry out loud my depressive bullets about this issue:

  • First , I was baffled why my name came up in their convo and how Designer XY would be a potential meetup ( I wouldn’t go into detail about this…)
  • Second, the reaction of the mother regarding her child’s statements
  • My mother and her agreements of the sentiments of her classmate (despite having a kid who doesn’t follow usual territory when it comes to post grad pathway)

Many thoughts came to fruition but I didn’t mention much to my dear mudra. All I said in reaction to her story was that fashion is hard. It’s difficult in a third world country, but how much more in the first,right?

I consented to the idea and surrendered to the reality that being an artist requires a stubborn head, a regenerative super power heart, and an infinite source of perseverance and strong sets of beliefs and conviction.

Despite those attributes, it requires a strong parent to also accept, as well as, embrace a child who becomes or is becoming an artist.

My mother is a testament to my struggles as a designer, she’s also a reservoir of my perseverance when my battery is going 0%. My mother despite her experience as a parent who has a child zooming in to the art world didn’t defend her stance on being an “art mum”. Instead, she conceded to the harsh truth of what culture and society’s dictum is of Art or Artists in the Philippines.

That kept me sad at the same time relentless in the pursuit of art and it’s place in our society.

Asia is a culture cannibal of artists. Artists talented as our Western counterparts ; and many waiting to make it…

But society….. society has a final postlude as to how artists are defined. I feel like there’s this ostracization of who artists are.

A case I’d like to point is this, from a lawyer and visual artist named Laolu:

“There were moments when I felt very misunderstood and ostracized. It was painful to watch people downplay what I held as my truth. People want to tell you “This is who you are versus who you know you are.” It’s difficult for people to understand, because you can be a lot of things to different people. However, every time I picked up my pen and sketched anything, it was an act of reassurance that I could do this. This was my survival mechanism....”

At its worst,the people who experienced (indirectly) their artist family member or relative or friend, is also the set of men and women who denounces the possibilities of advocating it as a mainstream option.

Could we blame culture? Society? Myths about artists? The internet? Mainstream media? For participating, known or unconsciously stated, in this oppression?

Prior to that, the reaction of Mrs T. to her daughter, didn’t surprise me at all; but I do understand. Living in a poverty stricken country will account for the well-off and educated crop to do the counter opposite. To chose careers that are considered gods in the corporate and real world: to be a dignified doctor,a well known lawyer with good reputation, a teacher with a wholesome personality or an engineer who knows their chops, etc. But what of artists?

If you’re one, might as well go to a TV network and sign up go sees to be the next Kathryn Bernardo or Jaya. That’s the only way to make it in this country — to be a pop recording artist, comedian, rapper, dancer or actress. In fact, it holds more promise to your Verniers than your paintbrushes….

Performance artists and TV actresses get more paycheck here. But if you venture fine artistry or doing sculpting, you must have the balls to be really good at your craft to be it.

Asian parents want assurance, not folly career choices for their children. But so many times, art has a way of choosing people, not the other way around.

It’s like a kid who came out to his or her traditional parents one day regarding their sexuality…. It (Art) comes out of nowhere for many,to a few it’s an accident and for the rest, it’s in the blood. It runs in your arteries and veins but the family isn’t supportive of this despite crystal clear X factor.

It’s how people perceive it. And in its roots, how people understand their understanding of art. It’s how people eat up art and what angle they see it from and in most cases, art isn’t a priority.

There’s this fine line of doing what you like and doing what you don’t like for the sake of your family. There’s also this fine line of being obedient and be prim and proper as opposed to carving your flesh and blood to your passions, especially Art! There’s this fine line of making it and just getting by as a successful commercial artist or unknown starving poor talented bloke making their “hobby”. In fact, a lot is at stake. But isn’t anything in life not a trial by fire after all?

Because if you ask me, whether you’re in a traditional route or not, there’s no guarantee of success. What mattered is your work. At the end of the day, that’s what’s left. What’s left is where your passions lie and what’s worth waking up and moving the next day. But to degrade one expertise over the other just because it doesn’t result to financial stability or recognition or reputation or power in a fast and immediate way, is despicable.

To mock someone because they do art and pass it off as a good joke in mundane conversations is funny… but also very crushing to the artist. Maybe not personally, but more so on how art is perceived.

It creates a discord in the minds of those who aren’t into it or don’t hold that profession. For them it’s different, it’s weird, alienating and a big NO in their vocabulary. It’s foreign and funny to them to encounter one.

And I believe that’s where education and advocacy should be planted. It’s an honour for an artist to stand up to their ideals. It’s a flagship to teach people off their ignorance about art. But it’s also where most artists fail.

They don’t talk. They want non artists to “get” them by their creation. The mouth is a potent tool to use when the canvas, the microphone, the garment, the film or poems can’t speak anymore in its defense. Indeed there’s a miseducation and lack of fighting spirit on the artist’s side. 

In conclusion, their is a plethora of activities that each of us should do to elevate art in mainstream consciousness, especially in Philippine education and conversations. Culture can dictate our perceptions but culture can also alter our beliefs as to tackling ostracization of artists. Culture can bend,but this one may have to take a little longer….