New National Artists, ‘new normal’

On June 10, Malacañang Palace announced that it is honoring eight Filipinos with the Order of National Artists following the recommendations of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). President Rodrigo Roa Duterte conferred the order on June 16, in a ceremony held at the Palace.

These eight Filipino artists recognized for their achievements in their respective fields—three for film, one for dance, one for music, one for design, one for literature, and one for theater—now belong among the ranks of the country’s finest artistic talents.

The eight, of which three are deceased, who have been added in the list of National Artists are Nora Aunor, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, and Ricardo “Ricky” Lee for Film and Broadcast Arts; Agnes Locsin for Dance; Salvacion Lim-Higgins for Design; Gemino Abad for Literature; Fides Cuyugan-Asensio for Music; and Antonio “Tony” Mabesa for Theater.

By virtue of a Presidential Decree, in this year’s case it’s No. 1390, a Filipino citizen whose contribution to the world of art is defined and recognized can be enrolled in the Order of National Artists. Since its establishment in 1972, there have been 86 individuals who have been accorded this highest distinction, with Fernando Amorsolo having been the first to receive such honor.

There are, arguably, a lot of pressing issues facing the country today. Critiques would, at times, point to art during such moments to be an excess and perhaps even unnecessary. Still others comment how art is a distraction, a consolation that turns the eye away from what is relevant. All of these comments, however, point to a lack of understanding of what art is.

Essentially, art exists not to serve any purpose other than being art. Sure, there’s its ability to amuse, to capture what is beautiful and to preserve it. Art can serve as a cradle of a culture’s aspirations, as well as a carriage for its deepest woes. While all these are accidental to art, these prove that there is a place for art even during the most challenging times—perhaps even more so.

Art is not a distraction. But neither is it a mere tool. By recognizing individuals who have dedicated their lives in the pursuit of their respective artforms, society honors the efforts of those whose passion defined their reason of being. And in the case of these eight new National Artists, that passion was often turned into an expression of society’s concerns.

Art is not elitist. It does not exist solely in the halls of galleries or museums that may be inaccessible to many. That three of the new National Artists are for Film and Broadcast Arts, i.e. mass media—perhaps the most accessible of artforms because of its inherent reach—show that art exists not for the few.

Art is not (simply) entertainment. Yes, there is a part of it that seeks to give enjoyment, that persists in perception to produce pleasure, but that is not what makes these National Artists proclaimed at a time of Covid relevant. These eight, like those who have been honored before them and those who would be honored in years to come, prove that the human spirit can make even the gloomiest of times to be moments where it could shine.