Can't the Artist Work with the Community?

This is the introduction I wrote for DiscLab's INGRESS Reader.

If an artist didn't have adequate economic privilege, he would not have become an artist in the first place, would he? He enjoys a relatively comfortable position in the community--and this warrants him to have enough time to produce something creative. For whom? And for what reason?

If the artist no longer worries about the most basic things in life then he would be able to devote his time and energy almost exclusively on artistic production. He would have enough time to finish his work. No one and nothing would bother him. And when he shows his art, what would the general public probably think and say? Would an ordinary person--the one who does his laundry, the man who bakes bread for him, or the guy who usually opens his door--dare say "I don't like your work. It does not concern me or the others or the community. Is this mere self-expression?" Or would these ordinary people be too busy working their ass off that they wouldn't even bother to take a break to glance at the artist's work?

What really separates the artist and his community and the possibility of igniting a long-term engagement between the former and the latter are the main concerns of INGRESS. Does the artist's notion of freedom and autonomy push him further from the community? What makes him naive of or immune from ideological and sociopolitical influences of his community? Would he be ready to claim his political role in society?

By inviting artists, peasant leaders, and social activists, to participate in an intimate round table discussion, we hope to revive this seemingly banal, if not buried, issue on the artist's so-called autonomy. We aim to question art/artist's commitment to the community and also, to bring light to the murky gap between art/artist and the community. INGRESS will hopefully serve as an entryway for both artists and art researchers to further understand the current socio-political situation of the peasant sector, the roots and struggles of the peasant movement, and the foundation and goals of the national democratic movement in the Philippines.

To discuss the artist's viewpoints, we invited 3 individuals who have been actively involved in the Philippine art scene. Each one will be given the opportunity to discuss their artistic rationale and pursuit. Moreover, 2 members of the farming sector representing Pinagkaisang Lakas ng mga Magbubukid sa Quezon (PIGLAS-Quezon) and Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (KASAMA-TK), will be joined by the Region 4 coordinator of Bayan Muna Partylist, to comprehensively talk about the current condition of the underprivileged sector of society, in the context of the national economic and political situation.

In an open forum, members of the audience are given the opportunity to ask questions or make comments regarding the issues. Before a conclusion is reached, we also seek to build consensus--based hopefully not on tolerance but on an extensive comprehension of the issues and sincere desire to collaborate--between art/artist and the community. INGRESS is going to be a small effort to provide an opportunity for the apolitical and the politicized to meet and discuss, and perhaps build a lasting socio-political impression on each other.

Overall, INGRESS is a challenge to all participants, most especially to the artist. As E. San Juan Jr.1 has aptly put it, "whether they like it or not, the artists in the 'undeveloped' countries of Asia [...] serve as a witness and participant to a complex but law-governed process in which a new configuration of human relations, both the antithesis and fulfillment of the present, is assuming integrity and substance in the womb of the old dying system." Would the artist be willing to respond to and be part of this "new configuration of human relations" or would he just let the opportunity pass as the community makes an important re-configuration?


1 E. San Juan, Jr. “Art Against Imperialism, For the National Struggle of the Third World Peoples.” in Ruptures, Schisms, Interventions: Cultural Revolution in the Third World. 1988. Manila: DLSU Press.