Mideo Cruz's sudden ascent to popularity (or notoriety) platform is...I can't even finish this sentence. Although, this ruckus has been going on for days too many I'm ashamed to say it is only now that I dared Google the "art" for myself. I've read news about it with ample description of the bold and the daring. I could only trust my mind to paint the picture for me. "I closed my eyes and all the world dropped dead," as Plath once wrote, but I didn't make the vision up inside my head. I feel sad for Mideo.
It is like he's been trying to speak to the world too long, but the world just wouldn't listen. His presence had to be acknowledged so he sat on an A-Bomb in the middle of the square. People stopped and paid attention, way too much attention.
In an interview with Reuters, he said his work “is about the worship of relics and how idolatry evolves through history and modern culture.” The medium that he produced for that message may be right but his message is wrong. No one worships relics but pagans. Thus, using Catholic symbols is inappropriate. Mr. Cruz needs to reach enlightenment before he can call a spiritual experience names. He needs to attain Nirvana before he can assign symbols to another's personal grace. Spirituality is an individual experience. It is not a concept drawn from several characteristics of specific samples.
This leads me to Leo Tolstoy's concept of "What is art."*
In 1898, Leo Tostoy wrote his major work on criticism, What Is Art?, as an attempt to define art in terms of his own Christian faith.
Tolstoy states that good art is a means of communication, of progress, and of the movement of humanity forward toward perfection (Smith and Parks, 677).
What Is Art? envisions a kind of art that is accessible and comprehensible to everyone, and that which unifies men into universal brotherhood. For this to materialize a work of art should evoke "infectiousness" to the reader. "The stronger the infection, the better is the art" (675).
According to Tolstoy, there are three conditions to the degree of the infectiousness of art. These are the individuality of the feeling transmitted, the clarity of expression and the sincerity of the artist. By individuality, he means, the more personal the feeling art transmits, the more strongly the reader relates to it. By the clarity of expression, he means that in the work, the reader finds for the first time the exact meaning and expression for the feeling he has long known and felt. Of the three conditions of infectiousness, the degree of sincerity in the artist is the most important. For when the receiver of the art feels that the artist himself is infected by his own work, and the artist creates art for himself and not only for others, the mental condition of the artist infects the receiver (677).
Tolstoy further states that the absence of any of these conditions excludes a work from the category of art and falls under what he calls a "counterfeit art."
But what is good art and what is bad art in terms of subject matter?
The essence of Christian perception is the recognition by every man of his sonship to God and the feeling that will unite him with God and one another. If religious perception exists in the society, then art should aim at this and be appraised on the basis of this religious perception.
However, a great amount of counterfeit art had been developed to entertain the upper class of the Renaissance period due to the unbelief of religion by this group. The great misfortune of the time was that people did not embrace the supreme religious art but rather that which was against Christian principles.
Be that as it may, the Christian ideal has changed and reversed everything. As Tolstoy puts it, the ideal is no longer about the greatness of an individual, but his humility, purity, compassion and love. The hero is no longer Mary Magdalene in the days of her beauty, but in the day of her repentance.
The negativity in Mideo Cruz's "Politeismo" does not evoke infectiousness but rather hatred and divisiveness. His message is not even personal, but rather a commentary of what he finds repulsive in the world. His symbolic concept brings sadness, not joy; mourning, and not the celebration of life which art always ought to do.
This is not to say that art only shows what is beautiful. What art, what real art does is show irony. Like a lily on a hill in the midst of war. An innocent child dancing while you cry. A single firefly in the night. There is always beauty in irony. However, this kind of irony may only be achieved through a medium by an artist who has seen the longest tunnel of darkness and pushed and groped to reach the light.
Show me an artist with a pure heart and you have also shown me a great art.
*Taken from my graduate school essay.