Are Dolphy, Vilma and Nora qualified to be National Artists?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-05-08
There have been many controversies in the past over the nomination of certain National Artists and many of these protests against previous nominees had raised valid issues. These days, there’s another controversy brewing with the way some folks have been eyeing comedy king Dolphy, Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor as candidates for National Artist.

When we nominate National Artists — that should result in Filipino pride and recognition all over the world, and not become another point of derision. If Filipinos are to nominate freely as National Artists those persons who don’t qualify as artists, we’ll be adding another point to what many other nationals hold against us. To be considered a National Artist is to be named one of the finest of your race and country in a given artistic field. If we nominate somebody who isn’t qualified at all, then we only demeaned ourselves.

The below par media standard in our country has resulted in a public appreciation that’s way below the accepted global norm. Our media freely talk about “artists” when in fact they’re referring to entertainers. Singers are falsely called recording artists. Some entertainers could be considered artists when they meet certain criteria but being a very popular entertainer, even for a long time, doesn’t mean that one has risen to the level of artist.

Charlie Chaplin is popularly regarded as an artist of the performing arts. Chaplin magnificently demonstrated the essence of classic comedy — the low making fun of the mighty. Can Dolphy claim to have accomplished a similar stature?

Discerning the thin line between art and entertainment isn’t just a Filipino problem. It’s a contentious issue in many other developed countries. It would be good to refer to Bill Lasarow’s July 26, 2010 ArtScene article for enlightenment. Per the Huffington Post, Bill Lasarow publishes ArtScene, the digest to visual art in Southern California. He also publishes Visual Art Source (VAS) at While Lasarow’s article focuses more on visual art, the points that he raised pertain too to the performing arts.

Lasarow wrote: “The encounter between artist and audience is far more ambiguous and problematic in the art world than in the entertainment industry in spite of about a half century of critical and art world exertions, for wholly varying motives, to minimize or eradicate that distinction. But drawing on the idioms of popular culture or the products of mass production for creative source material or inspiration is not the same as participating in it. The rise of the audience that regularly visits art exhibitions and the expansion of the art market itself is not the same thing, in either scale or kind, as the audience for television and movies. And just because the occasional Julian Schnabel or Dennis Hopper is able to move with relative success between the two worlds does not mean that the distinction between entertainment and art has ceased to have meaning. The membrane has always been extremely permeable, and hooray for that. But the intent and ethos of each are clear and distinct taken as a whole.”

Lasarow offers a basis for distinction: “Simply put, when aesthetic purpose precedes exposure and sales, art plays the upper hand. When reversed, it’s about entertainment. All the high priced creative talent in the world invested in a product formulated to perform in the marketplace does not add up to a lone artist maintaining the integrity of a single well conceived idea. For great entertainment I have no argument with $300 million spent on “Avatar.” But it doesn’t come close to the aesthetic depth and focus of Marina Abramovic’s “The Artist is Present.” The point is not the amount of money or labor that is invested, it’s the nature of the engagement by both artist and audience.”

Lasarow added: “I’ve often said in casual conversation that entertainment is for the folks who, when they get home from work, need to lie down and get their minds off of things. Art is for the folks who, at the end of the day, want to get their eyes and mind more fully engaged and stimulated. Almost the reverse is also a defining distinction. For a quick jolt of adrenaline, you can’t beat Six Flags (amusement park) or a well-made action flick. By contrast, good art demands that you slow down and be patient.”
Others have tried to explain the distinction in simpler terms like entertainment gets your mind off mundane things while art pushes you to be more engaged. Oscar Wilde was quoted to have said: “It is the spectator, not life, that art really mirrors.”

Following the points discussed, how then would you rate three present candidates for National Artist — Dolphy, Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor? Are Dolphy, Vilma and Nora really artists that deserve to be in the same pedestal as performing arts giants like Sir Laurence Olivier and Orson Wells? Or are they popular entertainers that have yet to establish their credentials as artists?

When Dolphy, Vilma and Nora performed, were they after compensation or were they seeking to elevate Filipino consciousness and engagement with himself and his environment?

Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must never unwatched go.”

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