The greater problem in the local art scene

Published March 4, 2021, 10:19 AM

by Rom Mallick

All this recent talk on poverty porn reveals an even bigger and deeper issue in the art industry

Everyone is hating on Solenn Heussaff for her supposed distasteful display of poverty in a since-deleted promotional post for her upcoming exhibit. Social media critters were quick to criticize her for the seemingly inappropriate way she “romanticized” poverty to promote her latest artworks and the rugs she designed, samples of both were displayed with a slum area on the background. 

There is something off about her post, admittedly. But, if we’re to call out artists for what many call poverty porn, then Solenn shouldn’t be the only one social media’s critical fingers should be pointing to. 

(Manila Bulletin/Unsplash)

Many artists, particularly today, are guilty of taking poverty or images of poverty as their subject. They’re displayed in this painter’s Instagram or that photographer’s portfolio. Nobody seems to be hating on them. I wonder why? 

Personally, I do not like poverty porn. I’ve often told friends that there is a tendency among young, up-and-coming artists to take poverty as their first subject, presumably because it is easy. By this, I mean that poverty, when photographed or painted, already conveys so much by itself. Worse, there is this mistaken sense among many young artists today that suffering and pain are the two greatest ingredients for inspired and beautiful art. After all, suffering and pain are companions, sadly, of poverty. 

Deplorable still is how connections and ‘friendships’ have taken over talent and skill, and a real appreciation for the beautiful. 

While Solenn clearly could’ve made better choices, there is also something inauthentic about how much people were quick to criticize her but not other artists who have been and continue to revel in displays of poverty in their artworks. All you need to do is sift through the many visual art portfolios that are now on Instagram to see this.

Could it be that social media’s critics were quick to call out Solenn simply because she was more popular, and because of this persisting notion that celebrities should not dabble in visual arts? Richard Gomez and Heart Evangelista have had their fair share of haters simply because they decided to splash paint on a canvas.

The local art scene, surely, is one of the most cutthroat industries out there. It’s difficult for young, aspiring artists to “make it” because of the self-proclaimed “gatekeepers” who continuously decide who gets to be an artist or not. Competing with already popular celebrities, obviously, makes things even more difficult for younger talent to make it big.

(Manila Bulletin/Unsplash)

But let’s talk about these “gatekeepers,” the supposed vanguards of what passes for good art in this country. They themselves are artists. Some are collectors. Many, sadly, are old and jaded, and are not welcoming to younger, newer talent. If they don’t like you, they won’t promote you among their gallery and collector friends, as someone once told me. Anyone who knows anything about art in this country knows this. Yet no one talks about it, at least openly. 

Perhaps the anger felt by many toward Solenn was simply an overflow of the disappointment with how the local art scene is. Poverty porn is distasteful, sure. But even more cringe-worthy is how the local art scene continues to thrive in a setup that allows for very few to succeed. Deplorable still is how connections and “friendships” have taken over talent and skill, and a real appreciation for the beautiful. 

So more than getting angry at those who exploit poverty to turn it into art, why not hate on those who have kept the art industry the way it is today—a squatters area of entitled artists waiting for the next talented artist who would play by their rules… and throw them a bone or three.