Sunday, January 18, 2009

Vanishing crafts(manship)








IT’S SAD for me to discover this week that I have almost lost my way with paintbrushes. I am back at learning feeling the handle and to be one with it so that a desired image could be impressed on a small canvass. Not even a simple single-colored line was I able to conjure with a stroke that suggested I am already missing the dexterity I had before. It did not mean, however, that I am now nearing the age of losing the usual curves and highpoints of my signature for I am only twenty-nine years old. Perhaps, my signature is the only remaining consistency in my dealing with pens, brushes, and other writing sticks. Like many other complainers, the demise of my very own handwriting and painting skills came with my gradual addiction—almost a romantic one—to digital technology, especially computers.

It would have been a relief to know that I am not alone. But this means something. This means that processes of losing are happening collectively. I remember Discovery Channel showing short features entitled ‘Vanishing Trades’ and how nostalgic the feelings were watching these features.

My own personal loss led me to remember my college years at the Ateneo de Naga when we went to Faday Ads for streamers and posters for certain big events. I too remembered Rudy’s along Prieto Street; and Alex Arts—perhaps the most popular in Naga back then. There were many other shops that offered hand-made outdoor signages and other graphic art jobs. Faday, who gave me discount for talking to him in Rinconada, was the most memorable and perhaps the most artsy for me. Being an art enthusiast, I delighted in his strokes on coco cloth for our streamers. It was always amusing how he approximated the distance of his hand from the cloth. His workshop was the sidewalk of that portion of Ateneo Avenue now occupied by Willprint Graphic Center. I learned that he is still open for the usual jobs. But the question is: until when?

The coming of the tarpaulin sidelined the ‘hand-made art shops’ and dragged them into the category of ‘vanishing trades’. Except if they too would turn digital.

When Cory ran for presidency in 1986, her campaign visuals included a yellow cloth on which the silhouette of Ninoy was stenciled. That icon has been so popularized in the country, almost like the faces of Che Guevarra, Chairman Mao, and Bob Marley on shirts of teenagers and hippy wannabees. At present, the magic of the tarp is that it has become the ultimate goal of almost every politician to appear smiling on tarps claiming sponsorship of a highway or a school building construction, scholarships, or a feeding program, and many more. As if the money spent for these projects were theirs and the constituents are just asking for favors.

Enough of the random surfacing of political dismay.

The tarps arrived alongside growing interest in digital arts. When I first explored the wonders of the Photoshop, I think that’s when I began losing my way with the brush and the canvass. I got so hooked into it which can imitate the brushstrokes—only the brush strokes and not the feeling and sense—of Dela Rosa or Van Gogh or Dáli. I now wonder how many of our digital art students are able to create characters and designs without the help of the computer mouse and digital tablet. Ateneo digital art teacher and manga illustrator Ben Bana once complained of animation students who could not even do rough sketches. All they could do was draw with their mice and digital pens.

With manual designing at the precipice of extinction, tarpaulins as the main mode of outdoor campaigns, and boom in the digital art, what future is there for that method of design that requires a more eloquent and powerful expression of emotion? This is not to say that digital art does not require human-ness. This is only to show that there is nothing really that can equate to human touch. If we forego the human side of art, we lose everything. We also forget and waste every thought shared—from Plato to Derrida to Brocka to Kahlo.

It would always be exciting to create art. It is exciting to capture a poignant scene of a Madonna on a Nikon D90 but something is more fulfilling to conjure an image on a white paper in a dark room. Likewise, there is something to miss in a real band playing than in a track out of clips from a music bank pasted together. I do not say we should reject these advancements, I say we embrace them as they are signs and invitations of the time. But we should never set the originals aside for they hold the rules and rudiments of art. Only after we have mastered human art that we can violate its laws.

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