The banal and the divine

I’ve been reading an expository work on Realism written by Linda Nochlin of similar title, bringing it along with me wherever I go: in the bathroom, riding a bus, having my meal, or while doing a balancing act inside a train. It is a book meant for the academic and art connoisseur, but I forced myself to understand its thesis and use it to reflect on the current life I am trying to start in Manila.

What struck me most is the importance given by visual and literary artists on contemporaneity. For Gustave Courbet, a leading exponent of Realism, the artists of one century is “basically incapable of reproducing the aspect of past or a future century.” There is no idealism, no romanticism, no outrageous and distorted analysis of entities in reality.

Nochlin wrote that Claude Manet was the city-dweller par excellence. ‘To enjoy the crowd is an art’ declared Baudelaire, and Manet seems to have developed the art to an extraordinary degree. It is with him that the city ceases to be picturesque or pathetic and becomes instead the fecund source of a pictorial viewpoint, a viewpoint towards contemporary reality itself. In Manet’s case, this has nothing to do with capturing the bitterness of the lower-class existence, nor yet with a specific and systematic depiction of the haute monde, nor is it related to the minute topographical accuracy which informed the urban scenes of eighteen century vedutisti.

The books gives me a new perspective on how to live in a metropolis. For most of the time we complain about the ills of city life, the ubiquitous poverty, crazy traffic jam, unbearable noise, anomie, alienation, impersonality, and rat race that we miss the reasons for the dynamism of life in a big city. That there are patches of inspiration from the struggles of people, the pace routines are done, the hushed individual; and that these streaks of reality are legitimate subject for academic discourses or can be elevated from banality to divinity.

That one can get a glimpse of truth from events as mundane as a movie taping in the parking lot of a mall at 1 o’clock in the morning.

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