For too long, most Filipino artists have survived through the skin of their teeth, making do with substandard art materials, peddling their wares in exhibits patronized by their own friends, and being content with the small change they manage to earn from trading their works. The luckier ones make a name for themselves and command their own price -- and their place in High Society. But the greater majority of our painters, sculptors, and writers remain trapped, not only in the romanticism of selfless art but in the conventional wisdom that ignores art and the other finer things in life. In this essay exclusive to Resurgent, Davao-based artist Victor Secuya challenges the norm that artists must continue to languish in poverty, and argues why, for the long haul, they should sustain themselves and their crafts.
The big idea to pursue and usher to fruition is a locality to create a profitable system founded on steady art production, fueled by productive marketing and sales that will in turn ensure prodigious creations by empowered artists. This will entail capacity-building among the creative personalities to enable them to freely compose, connect, compete, and collaborate globally. They in turn shall provide quality products for the market. This system is called creative economy. This is a concept developed in 2001 by John Hawkins to describe an "economic system where value is based on novel imaginative qualities rather than the traditional resources of land, labour and capital."
Art has been part of humanity since time immemorial. Even the most primitive people created art. It is woven into the social-cultural fabric of every society. It provides a way of expression and gives meaning to the everyday lives of people. It meets certain needs. It is in art that dreams, imagined realities, values and aspirations are made manifest. It mirrors the people's soul.
Artists creating artworks and trading their output to collectors, museums, and galleries has been the norm for centuries. Artists survive by selling their artworks and services. Van Gogh, of course, didn't survive for lack of patrons. He could have painted even more masterpieces had he had more than his brother, Theo.
In Ancient Greece, the budding art scene was patronized by the empirical power. The rich and powerful class who wanted to show off invested heavily on propagating their grandeur through the artistically gifted whom they endowed with extravagant commissions, prestige and honor. Successful artists of the Renaissance period like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Rembrandt were able to create masterpieces because of patrons who supported them, allowing them to create without any thought of survival. Patrons included the state, the Pope/Church, and Cosimo de'Medici, head of the Medici banking family and the de facto ruler of Florence. The Arts was what labelled their countries as “cultured," advanced, progressive.
In our time, advanced countries have seen the economic potential of artistic creations. Singapore, South Korea, the United States, for example, have been subsidizing their artists as part of their economic strategy. Paris, Barcelona, Prague, Rome, and other European cities have always been the big players in the creative economy of the world. Aside from actual sale of pieces, galleries and museums are frequented by visitors of other countries. The artistic scene has made these countries attractive to tourists and collectors, thereby contributing significantly to their economy.
In the contemporary world, art has admittedly become a commodity, a merchandise, a product to be traded. No artist, institution or impresario can deny this fact, unless he is living in a cave. There are a few exceptions, such as paintings on church walls and ceilings like those in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. Yet even those can be considered as "products of trade" if you think of the tourism revenues they generate. Italy has been earning billions of dollars from their ancient and modern art due to tourism. Same with Paris and London. Bali, our next door neighbor has known this for years. In our country, the creative industries can become a dynamic sector in our economy and provide new opportunities for us to leapfrog into an emerging high-growth area.
A town, a city, a nation with practicing artists is the crucible of a creative economy. When artists regularly create paintings, sculptures, books, performances, crafts, etc., they are creatives who can bring revenues to the local economy. These artistic products can be traded even outside the town or country. Exportation of artworks can bring a huge source of income to boost the economy. The city or locality with a vibrant art scene calls attention to itself and becomes a name. The economy benefits, the people benefits, the entire community benefits. The social-cultural-economic system becomes dynamic.
In a nutshell, that is creative economy from the art perspective.
(Mr. Secuya is a practicing artist based in Davao City. Having exhibited his paintings at least two dozen times in the Philippines and abroad, he is a staunch supporter of empowering artists towards economic self-sufficiency. --editor)