Creating an Aesthetic Experience

The work of art can have an effect comparable to that of metaphor: integrating levels of sense that are overlaid, preserved and contained together.[1]

   I

Pre-determined Configuration

             Sometimes people get impatient looking at a painting. It draws them towards it, moves them to a distance, disturbs them, throws them into confusion. There is just that peculiarity in it: with the way a moment is captured, the way figures, and colors are brought together, how its depth and textures reveal the elements more clearly for the spectator. “But what does it mean?” One may ask. “Its title doesn’t seem clear enough.” “What does the artist mean?” “Oh, there it is! I think I see the outlines of a figure.”

            On better days, such painting, silent as it is, communicates with a spectator, who doesn’t just see, but feels it all over in a silent, ecstatic experience. Then, either the spectator gets lost in the work of art, or it gets bought by him.

When we look at a picture, we do not suddenly become one big eye, for we have two eyes that make a single gaze, which the whole body brings to bear upon that which presents itself, and upon that in front of which the gaze, too, presents itself….. It is not with one’s eyes but rather with all one’s being that one looks upon a picture. In a manner opposite to the other sensory faculties, the wake of our gaze precedes our movements, and precedes them only when it moves. In order to look, it is necessary to draw near, to back away, to draw near and to back away again, and to be quiet and to stay still, which is for us yet another action.[2]

But what has just happened there? Apparently, someone just walked towards a painting, liked it, so he bought it (or he could come back again and again if his means couldn’t allow him). But is it worth his time, is it worth his while, is it worth the money, is it worth investing? Obviously, he thinks it is.

Perhaps, the question left to ask is: How did it become all worth it?

II

Creative Prefiguration

Ah! My life as a child, the open

road in every weather; I was unnaturally

abstinent, more detached than the best

of beggars, proud to have no country,

no friends….

Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell[3]

There are a lot of things we can imagine that the artist did or went through—imagining, turning images over and over in his mind, breaking them apart, mixing them, turning them again, feeling them, tasting them, wondering, starting to stretch a canvas, doubting, fixing a frame, wandering out in the streets, drinking some shots, coming home nauseated, crouching in a corner, lying in bed but unable to sleep, turning, rising up, getting his tools, sanding his canvas, propping his easel, staring at the empty canvas, perhaps noticing the dripping of some linseed oil but not minding it, looking at his palette, his brushes, his choice of colors, turning his canvas, his canvas—before applying his first stroke on what would later become his masterpiece. And the artist himself is drawn in the work of art in progress—sometimes unaware that his full day has already stretched to three days, weeks, months—sometimes happening even before his first brushstroke, and all he planned to do was to finish it just before lunchtime. His creativity has enslaved him, and he is enjoying it.

The artist and his creativity are drawn together. Although he seemed passive before he actually began painting, he was actively on it. He has spent so much time, energy, all the resources, all the means he has, he doesn’t forget but doesn’t mind eating, sleeping, taking a break, saving his energy—but it was all worth it.

What was his intention?

A familiar reply would be: (Silence), or later, “I don’t know. Nothing?”

III

Varied Refigurations

            There are also a lot of things, unimaginable things, that critiques (or everyone) would imagine and loudly say about a work of art: an imagined artist’s intention, that it may have something to do with his past, his personality, his advocacy, and, sadly, sometimes in the direction of defending as to why it is not a work of art.

 IV

An aesthetic experience with the other, a giant, 

an old man, the northern gods, and a hobbit

            It was a sunny December day, a no-longer-unlikely phenomenon especially of the rumors that the world is going to end (again) but apparently is still unlikely, and, despite the summer feel out in the streets, the holiday spirit is just around somewhere. With my mother and my siblings’ Christmas vacation at my place still unannounced, which I anticipated is going to be a surprise which really did happen a few days later, I planned ahead. So the itinerary for the pre-Christmas date with the significant Other (a must for any human being in a relationship, even for philosophy students in order to not fail at love) was set: the Ateneo Art Gallery[4] first, the UP Vargas Museum[5] next, then maybe dinner somewhere, then maybe to watch a movie much later (although by then, if it happens, I was thinking it should be the prequel to the Lord of the Rings in 3D). The gigantic Spolarium still had traces in our minds, very huge Juan Luna footprints in fact, although it was already four years ago when we had a date at the National Museum, such that despite the scorching sun that high noon, we still went out, excited about what the promising galleries would offer us.

            It was almost 3 o’clock when we registered at the Ateneo Art Gallery. There was a David Medalla coffee-table book at the registration counter, it was in plastic shrink so I thought of just going ahead left towards the Gallery’s permanent collection which I was then going to see for the first time, so much for Medalla’s welcoming book which can’t be leafed through. Immediately there was an Amorsolo, then another Amorsolo, and those just grabbed us. They are just portraits, but there are just mysteriously, distinctly Amorsolo in them. There were of course other paintings and a few installations by other artists, but sad to say, just honestly, they are not Amorsolo’s, let alone Amorsolos. Juan Luna and Amorsolo are just giants, and it feels good to stand on their shoulders and enjoy a wonderful sight.

In a room far back at the other side of the gallery is another exhibit which seemed either was still being set up or had been abandoned. At a distance is a sight of an old man, inside the room, solitary, moving back and forth. Moving closer, one could begin to hear classical music playing at the background and an old man with a big, already drying up and almost totally stiff brush in one hand and a tin of wall paint in the other. He was standing on a high, makeshift platform working on a mural. Whenever he needs another color he had to come down to get it, then back again to his mural. He seemed unmindful of just being alone in the room, unaware, or just not minding at all of anyone who comes by to peek in, but he was just like a child, playing, as though splayed with a large sheet of paper on a floor, gripping comparably oversized crayons in his small hands, freely enjoying what he was doing. Then he looks like the one on the cover of the coffee-table book at the counter—it was David Medalla himself!

The next destination for the day was the exhibit at the UP Vargas Museum, “Watching the Watchmen” by Ronald Ventura. I have read about him and have seen photographs of his works in the November 2012 issue of Rouge, but I was still excited to see them scaled to their actual sizes, and so had to hurry up to catch them before the museum closes for the day. Immediately noticeable is how the regular, miniature representations of the northern gods as undernourished Bulul figures ordinarily available at souvenir shops have not only gained weight but also grew up to become huge sculptures of high quality material, which could also mean really expensive, not to mention that the artist is now one of those whom international critiques recommend investing on. Again another artist who only played with his imagination (and ours too), and is so creative at it that he is able to configure his art pieces to have lives of their own, then to work for him, by coming up with their own sales pitch, and selling themselves. While his current, and along with them the previous, art pieces are generating passive income for him, and agents working with the transactions in the market here and abroad, he just goes on enjoying, playing, or, for an observer, creating more art.

The museum was already closing when we finished viewing almost its entire collection. After discussing, digesting the artworks that we have seen over coffee, we headed to a food bazaar not too far off for a quick dinner, we still had to catch a hobbit in 3D. So we were just in time for a last full showing of The Hobbit on its first day on big screen. But at the time while we were following Bilbo’s journey with dwarves, elves and a gray wizard, what loomed in our glasses were the images of the Spolarium and the Amorsolos. They kept coming back in our minds. The movie should have been set on some other regular day.

V

Conclusion

           “Perfect eloquence is almost always mute.” This is a line I have read and one of those brilliant quotes I can still remember from many years ago. Silent as they are, what paintings always do is silence us. It is a good feeling to stand in front of a painting, a sculpture, a work of art, and be silenced by it. There is a genius in the way an artist prefigures a configuration, in his cryogenic way of capturing a moment, freezing it, until someone comes by, looks into it, and gets immersed in that unique, singular experience of that exact moment.

Silence! Behold the painting.

 

 

Ivan Richard F. Deligero

January 12, 2013


[1] Paul Ricoeur, “Aesthetic Experience,” in Critique and Conviction: Conversations with François Azouvi and Marc de Launay, trans. Kathleen Blamey (1998), Cambridge: Polity Press, p. 172.

[2] Jean-Louis Chrétien, “Silence in Painting” in Hand to Hand: Listening to the Work of Art, trans. Stephen E. Lewis (2004), New York: Fordham University Press, p. 18. See also quotation of the same passage in Leovino Ma. Garcia, “Listening to Lao’s Silence,” Philippine Daily Inquirer (2 October 2006), p. D1:

“In looking, it is necessary ‘to draw near, to back away, to draw near and back away again, and to be quiet and to stay still.’ There is silence in painting. There is a silence of art. Art has to be listened to…. if one is to hear its silence.”

[3] Opening lines in Second Season: The Open Road, in Arthur Rimbaud, Complete Works, trans. Paul Schmidt (2000) New York: Harper Perennial Classics, p. 41.

[4] Ateneo Art Gallery, Rizal Library Special Collections Building, Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Philippines.

[5] UP Vargas Museum, Roxas Avenue,  Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines

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