Why Filipinos Should Read: Philippine Arts and Literature

by Bryan Meniado

Life continues to be difficult for everyone because of the pandemic. With the prolonged quarantine, we remain  physically and socially isolated from our loved ones and friends. We can no longer shake hands, hug, or beso with ease like we used to do. Our lives have shifted to this normal of physical distancing, virtual meetings, remote learning, and online shopping. 

But, as we all know, these are not the most alarming effects. What’s more devastating is how so many of us have lost our jobs, businesses, or sources of income in the past year due to movement and economic restrictions. Companies and enterprises were forced to let go of some of their employees. As a result, many of us struggle to make ends meet or survive on a daily basis. Worst of it all, thousands of lives were lost as a direct consequence of the deadly coronavirus, with many left fighting for their lives in hospitals or at home. 

I acknowledge these dire circumstances in our lives and wellbeing, but at the same time, there are a few silver linings to be recognized at this time of pandemic. While I am aware of the privilege to be able to do so, and I don’t and will never take it lightly, this pause in all of our lives has brought in a number of benefits. 

For example, some of us have had much-needed physical and mental rest, even have had opportunities of learning new skills and rekindling long-forgotten hobbies. I know many friends who have resorted to creating and writing as a form of coping, and I’m sure you, the one reading this, have experienced this, or all that I mentioned, in some form or another. Personally, this has allowed me to make time for creative things, which I have been using to grow Bibi Mangki #thereadingmonkey and Bibi Mangki Bookbed. Through these platforms, I am able to share about reading, making art, and even taking part in social issues.

This is why I thought it’d be good to talk about arts and literature for this month’s WFSR. Although February is ending soon, it is still National Arts Month today. Plus, April, which is National Literature Month, will arrive soon before we even realize it!

Available to read at Bibi Mangki Bookbed

Writing and creating for increased self-awareness

In one of the previous WFSRs, I talked about why Filipinos should read more books about the Philippines or books by Filipino authors, and my main point was that we do it because we’re Filipino.

This doesn’t mean, of course, to put away our international or foreign reads. Diversifying our lists is important, and to read more of our own stories and experiences is enriching. We’re not just boxed in one point of view, and we learn how to be more introspective and empathetic, which are things that arts and literature can usually evoke.

As I said (and keep saying in past WFSRs), this pandemic has given me another chance to explore my talents and interests. If it weren’t for the lockdown, I wouldn’t have gotten the time to develop Bibi Mangki, or set up Bibi Mangki Bookbed. I even look forward to getting back into drawing, or trying out painting and digital art. Most importantly, the energy and creativity of other people I get to talk to (mostly online) inspire me to not only share but actively connect with likeminded individuals and communities even those outside of my main interests.

Producing and consuming arts and literature can do all these and more to a person like you and me. By doing so, it does not only help us figure out who we are, what we enjoy, and what we believe in, but also contributes to building the why and how in what we do, and more so in understanding the for what and for whom we do these things.

So today, why not try creating something if you haven’t yet? Doodle one thing that you see at the moment, or write a short poem about how you’re feeling! Feel free to share in the comments below or tag @bookbed. You will be reminded that arts and literature are always around and within us.

Art and literature in our every day

We have plenty more pressing concerns as Filipinos, but can you remember the last time you visited a museum? How about a public library? Do you know if there’s one in your community? Have you been turning to online-based activities, whether to do such things for the first time or for the nth time?

In this time of pandemic, we have learned to cling to arts and literature as a way of coping, escaping, and for many, healing. But this is not anything new nor surprising, as these creative pursuits have always filled our consciousness and social lives even long before these restrictions. 

Contrary to the view that we can just see “real art” in museum galleries, we actually live with and around art. We see art every day, from the colorful jeepney facades, fascinating school murals, billboards, posters, logos, and advertisements down to the very basic things we consume and buy such as apparels, shirts, bags, or even food wrappers.

We also see a lot of art in our online lives. People are freely sharing more content showing their artistic and creative side. Your friends, like mine, may have shared some random doodles, coloring books that they do to relieve stress, paintings, digital drawings, memes, poetry, music covers, or dances. Those are art. Again and again, we see art every day because art is everywhere. 

In connection, we should let go of this dated notion of “high art” and “low art” that sadly still persists. Yes, there are some majorly talented ones who can create sublime art pieces. But that does not mean that you have to be Juan Luna or Frida Kahlo to create something impactful. We can start simple and small. The point is to be able to express ourselves first!

But it is still important to note that a lot of Filipinos, for the lack of a better term, still hesitate to go into arts and literature. Compared to other fields, these two seem less enticing, if not *daggers through our hearts* trivial. Some would also argue that art appreciation and cultural tours and other endeavors are more of a ‘sosyal’ or elite activity. But why is that so?

I suppose a big factor is because we do not consider these as inherent parts of our social lives when they actually are. For many Filipinos, reading, writing and the arts are considered forms of self-expression, escapism from the mundanities of everyday life, and a pastime, making it more of a personal venture than a social or collective one. A lot of people see these as hobbies or passion projects instead of successful careers, and I think that’s because of…

The concept of “May pera ba diyan?” in arts and literature

To this day, even with many creators thriving in their chosen paths, disheartening comments about making art and writing stories and poems and others, such as “Ha, may pera ba diyan?” and “Kumikita ka ba talaga?,” are still abundant. There are truths to these statements, however, the sting every time this mindset continues to be expressed is still painful. In universities, a lesser population pursues visual arts, dance, music, theater arts, and literature and creative writing because these are viewed as “not so lucrative” career paths. When I was in college, and sometimes to this day, I heard students and people say “Kelangan pa ba talaga ‘to?”

But we cannot blame them for thinking those things. I hear and know of many young Filipinos choosing to pursue what they call more practical programs in the hopes of having lucrative career prospects after they graduate. Several hard-hitting factors contribute to this mentality such as poverty, lack of access to resources and information, the breadwinner responsibility, and social pressures to conform to what are deemed to be “normal and acceptable” career paths.

And those who do choose the arts and literature are often looked at as impractical, with some even tagged as privileged kids (there are those who have the funds and access, of course, and many of them are aware of it, therefore using that advantage), when in fact they remain in that “struggling artist” condition all the while stepping up to the calling of their passion and what they believe (should also) matter on a larger, wider scale. 

So why should we care? Kailangan ba talaga natin ang sining at panitikan?

Arts and literature for progress

The first step, I think, is to change our perspective towards the arts and literature. We should rethink our preconceived notions that these are impractical and useless in the real world. In fact, if you read the previous paragraphs and when you read history, you’ll know that’s not true. History tells us that ancient civilizations had flourished because of innovations brought about by human creativity. Many of these were driven by artists, writers, and thinkers. Today, for crying out loud, we are surviving because we find solace in the arts and literature!

Thus, these can even be more useful if we know how to use them effectively. Think about it: what can we get from being creative, imaginative, and artistic? And is it easy to become such? A lot more than I can ever say, and yes, the how can actually be pretty simple. So humor me and take the time to reflect on your daily experiences. You have your own way of communicating, acting, accomplishing, and even failing, right? These can be valid expressions of arts and literature, which help you understand not only your own self but how you perceive other people and things too.

In the *clears throat* what they call the real world, arts and literature remain to be of royalty. Many companies employ or outsource creative teams to do projects for them. They ask these teams (but not pay them enough) to create logos, slogans, video materials, posters, or websites. Big or small businesses are also employing more writers and creators for their marketing and sales. Skilled writers and creatives are very much in demand. Given that almost every aspect of our lives has now shifted online, content creating and curating, may it be for websites or social media, are essential for different businesses and industries to thrive. 

But does that stop there? No. Arts and literature, as I keep repeating, are everywhere – in journalism, filmmaking, business, marketing and sales, law profession, engineering and science, architecture, interior design, online marketing, brand development, web design, graphic design, and [insert your suggestion here]. The universe is the limit!

Hence, it shouldn’t be a question whether arts and literature are essential because they are, regardless of what your role in society is. Being an electrical engineer requires creativity. A doctor has the most imaginative mind. So much in society, such as vaccine acceptance, for one, needs more effective ways in terms of information disseminating and messaging, and the arts and literature can play a significant, if not revolutionary, role in that.

Therefore, it is not a contest of what’s more vital or practical in society but to use each of their strengths. We need to understand and give justice to these creative pursuits as an integral of our lives and society, and respect and uplift the realm of arts and literature to contribute to social development and help us move towards becoming a better society. 

Supporting local arts and literature

We Filipinos don’t lack the potentials and maximums when it comes to creative endeavors. In fact, we are overflowing with excellent creators, mainstream, independent, and most especially, the indigenous. The challenge is how do we support them and make sure they get the recognition (and compensation) they deserve? 

One is, of course, providing platforms and fostering communities to allow for safe spaces and possible collaborations. Another is supporting them by sharing and talking about their work to encourage them in developing their talents and furthering their skills. And above all, buy and pay for their products and services! All these do not only give creators an opportunity to showcase their craft, but also help them (and ourselves) break barriers, make real changes, and experience genuine progress. Remember, the arts and literature are not just around us, but within us. We live for and because of them. Kailangan natin ang sining at panitikan para patuloy na mabuhay at umunlad. ☁️

Why Filipinos Should Read appears every last Friday of the month. Read more here.

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