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June 04, 2006


Pedro Penduko

I read somewhere that 18th and 19th century painters have that loose tornillo in their heads because the paint used then had very bad chemicals like lead that caused psychosis when inhaled, thus, Luna, Van Gogh, etc.

Modern artists who affect a "difficult" personality are poseurs. The psychotic artists then were the real deal because they had chemical-induced psychosis.

Pedro Penduko

Modern paint materials are no more dangerous than your kids crayola.

So for all artists out there, stop your posing and take a shower, change your clothes for chrissakes! We all know your just making gaya-gaya the likes of true psychotic artists like Luna!


Your post neatly encapsulates the many fascinating conversations that have taken place over the years about Juan Luna's exasperating legacy.

By the way, I also interviewed President Arroyo on her way out of the opera. I asked: Do you still think Juan Luna was a hero?
Her answer: He was a great painter.
Then I also asked her: Do you think he got away with murder?
That was when she turned away with her frozen smile and ignored the question. (did she think I was alluding to something?)


Howie -- Ha, ha, that's a good one. Actually I found the feel of the whole evening quite 19th century; not just the Filipiniana, but the appearance of gobernador Arroyo, the socio-economic profile of the audience, the subject matter of the opera ...

Pedro -- Good point! But then again, not all 19th century painters were nutters (and not all paranoid husbands inhale paint) so I guess we can just say that the chemicals may have been a factor.


My father used to work in the old Senate building (where the National Museum is (was?). On the few occasions I visited him, I always felt compelled to visit the Museum just to look at the Spolarium. It is a very imposing, very powerful painting. The sheer size of it is just overwhelming and you get an instant sense of the brutality it wants to convey.

Can you separate the work from the artist? I hear Van Gogh and Picasso were quite vile men, as well, but we all know what their works are worth.

Wish I could see the Spolarium opera. I've been drawn to the stories of 19th century Pinoys in Europe (and Britain) lately. I've found Rizal's house in London,read his name on a plaque in the British Library and am reading his accounts of his travels through the Continent. In Naples, he got off his ship during a stopover (one of the few passengers to do so)and did a whirlwind tour of the city, after which he complained that he had been overcharged by the cab (carriage) driver. In Barcelona, he was broke and searching for his countrymen in a city he initially disliked. In Marseilles, people were calling him Japanese, Chinese, etc. "Poor country, no one has heard of you!" he lamented. We're much more notorious now, haha, but I find the sentiments familiar and touching. I think Luna also challenged him to a duel at one point. What a bunch they must have been.

empress maruja

reading your article reminds me of our "inadequacy" in philippine history. those "hero's" stories are mostly "papogi" or propaganda. i mean, look at emilio aguinaldo's tale in philippine history books.

James Solis

empress, it's not just philippines history books.

please don't make it seem like the philippines has a monopoly on history whitewashing.

you have to understand that they have to shield off the bad stories from grade school and high school kids because the reality is very uncomfortable for kids.

like do they teach that the japs raped and mutilated bodies in nanking to jap kids? or do they teach that thomas jefferson and george washington held african slaves? that the chinese destroyed their culture during the cultural revolution? or that the australian committed genocide with the aboriginals?

these things are taught to young adult college kids who have more thought-sophistication, and in that sense Philippine universities are not "inadequate" in clarifying philippine historical controversies.


Carla -- They were quite a crowd. The strange thing is, there has never been another generation like them since. When you think that Antonio Luna, in addition to being a brilliant general, was an accomplished scientist and of course Rizal was the ultimate polymath, Juan Luna was a brilliant painter, not to mention Mabini. Goodness. So what brought all these exceptional people together and why have we seen nothing like them since? Makes you think. Are the books you are reading in Spanish or English?

Empress -- Now you have started me thinking. The story of Aguinaldo is one of the most amazing of all. The fact that the guy who was accused of killing his two most capable generals, Bonifacio and Luna, lived to be a venerated and to survive into the era of the Beatles ... incredible!

James -- Sorry, I can't agree with that. First, I think it is better to teach no history at all than to teach kids a false history (whether that is history distorted to nationalist ends, or to cover up an atrocity, like the other examples you mention). Second, are kids really as vulnerable as you say? When I look at the computer games they play I think it is adults that need to be protected from kids! But seriously, I think kids could easily handle the contradictions inherent in the Luna story -- and in fact this would teach them the most important lesson in life, that nothing is simple and clearcut in this shaded and ambiguous world.


I don't know torn. We don't want to censor the bad bits of history. I just think it's just better to teach these things to kids maybe in their junior or senior years and beyond (which we were).

Teaching kids who are in grades seven, six, and below about the nasty face of the human race is needlessly traumatic. Show them the good face first (Luna's beautiful paintings, Aguinaldo's victorious battles), then teach them the nasty bits (Luna getting away with murder, Aguinaldo killing his compatriots) later on when they're a bit older.


Torn, I wonder if you remember if you were taught the brutal history of British colonialism when you were in grade school or so? Just wondering.

You know as a young Filipino, we weren't taught the killings and massacres perpetrated by the different ethnic groups on each other in my country. Not even in college were these a part of the curricula. But our history is full of it. I think it helped mould our Republic as Filipinos are not so ethnocentric nor ethnic-hating.


I think there's a big difference between gratuitous violence, say, in a video game where you maybe play a soldier killing aliens or maybe even as an African-American killing pimps, gangsters, and hoes (as in Grand Theft Auto) and that of reality or history. Because in reality, Filipino kids won't see aliens nor "the 'Hood" in their day to day life.

But if you teach the gratuitous violence of, say, the Spaniards massacre of Chinese emigres in the 16th century, or of the beheadings by Aboriginals of pre-hispanic Filipino agriculturalist encroaching on Aboriginal forest territory, or of the Mindanao Muslim pirate incursions into Manila and the cutting of heads and limbs, I think this kind of "realistic" violence will instill hatred towards Mestizos, Muslims, and Negritos in the mind of a young child.


James — I know where you are coming from, but the kind of social engineering you are looking for is very difficult. Take your argument about Luna: teach them the beautiful paintings first then the nasty stuff. But who is to guarantee that the same people will be around to learn about the murders and wife-beatings? During the opera on Saturday two Filipino acquaintances, both intelligent and (I thought) knowledgeable, said they had no idea Luna killed his wife and mother-in-law. I was very surprised — and these were people attending an opera on Luna’s life (and therefore presumably more disposed to learn about him than the general population).

As for whether I learned about the evils of British colonialism at school, that is very good question. I don’t think we the history we taught was explicitly racist, but everything was from a very British perspective and there were certain assumptions built in (e.g., that what we were bringing—“civilization”, capitalism, Christianity—was infinitely superior to what colonized people had before). Personally, I didn’t really start to question those assumptions until I went to university. Mind you, I am a bit of a dinosaur so I would hope that a more critical and global perspective is taught these days.

Your point about the relative lack of ethnic hatred in the Philippines is a good one and it is something I have noticed too. I’m not convinced that it can be credited to the teaching of “positive” history though.

It is hard enough to teach humans anything, without trying to perform a sleight of hand at the same time. I think we have to stick as closely as we can to the truth, while acknowledging that it is always elusive.


I think the anti-colonial struggle galvanized the best among Rizal's generation, and so did the anti-dictatorship struggle (Ka Pepe Diokno and Lorenzo Tanada were brilliant lawyers and accomplished sporstmen). The latter, however, killed off the ones who took up arms and the Marcos regime imprisoned or co-opted others.

You're right, though: they don't make them like they used to. Part of it, I believe, is because of the educational system we've had since the American era. There has been an emphasis on business and science, which have drawn in the brightest minds from the upper and middle classes. The well-rounded, humanist, post-Englightenment (and distinctively European) type of education has long been gone. The notion that being "educated" meant you could speak several languages, understand the natural sciences, paint, and brandish an epee, has long been erased. Today the hallmark of intelligence is a high degree of specialization, financial ambition and a disdain of politics.

By the way, is it "Spolarium" or "Spoliarium"? I've always thought it was the former.

I'm struggling with Spanish texts (Rizal's diaries) but I have a translator on call. ;-)


Rizal is over-hyped anyway. The only reason he stood out is because the majority are not educated.

Like what did he do really. Wrote a so-so novel and a few poems. Annotated Morga (anybody can do that). Yeah so maybe he can speak 20 or so languages. But Filipinos nowadays can speak at least 3 to 5 languages. If they really get into it I don't see how they can't learn 10 languages, but why bother?

Sure he can operate cataracts, but so can numerous doctors these days.

He was supposedly well-read. That's because his family was the only few with encyclopedias and a library.

Let's face it, Rizal was trying to be the European super man. He spent his life trying to dispel the notion that Asiatics weren't savages. In trying to overcome this 19th century prejudice, he tried to excel in all these fields.

So what it really was is that Rizal fell for the Colonialist's bullshit. His life was summed up as an overcoming of the Friar notion that Filipinos were stupid. That you're nothing if you don't acquire European tastes and "civilization".

Anybody who lives their life to suit the opinion of others is stupid. And Rizal is the biggest, stupidest person of them all.


noel pocot

This is in reaction to pedro penduko's about modern art materials. Crayolas may be safe because they are made of dye, while professional paint, the ones I use myself are made of minerals. Most oil colors are non-toxic. They may be safer when you use the water washable kind like Grumbacher max or artisan, but physical contact with cremitz white,permalba white, naples yellow and cadmium or chrome colors or if you use turpentine without artguard or spray the above-mentioned colors, you are not just courting dementia, you are in fact slowly digging your own grave.


wala kau kwenta!!!

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