Art and Suffering
A month ago I started working on a writing project that has been on my mind since I came back to the Philippines. I used this writing project to apply to a writing workshop. And by getting into the workshop I committed to finish writing the book draft in 12 weeks.
My writing project is a fictionalized account of my live in Cambodia–a life that was different from my life here in the Philippines. My book would chronicle my adventures and misadventures in a foreign country, my triumphs, my relationships, and my failures. It would be populated by development and aid workers, bureaucrats, cover band singers, Khmer Rouge survivors, artists, posers, sons of generals, kateouys, pros and srey saat, drag queens, missionaries, alcoholics, repressed homosexuals, and other “interesting” characters. The book, having been christened by our workshop Queen Bee as the “Sex Book”, will certainly contain that, because sex (or access to sex) was a key element of my life in another country.
However, as I got to writing, I found myself feeling old feelings that I thought I had resolved already. The words flowed readily but the feelings started fueling my doubts on pursuing this work project. My stint in Cambodia was like a litmus paper for my friendships. I lost a couple of old friends when I brought them to Cambodia. It took me a while to recover from that loss and prior to starting on the book I believed that I have moved on. But while writing, I started wondering whether I am setting myself up for more trouble if I am to come up with this book. It certainly feels that I am opening old wounds just to see if my blood still runs red.
This increasing sense of doubt has resulted in me not submitting any writing output I have made in the last 2 weeks. I haven’t completely stopped writing about it, but I’ve just kept all with me. I know I need to think about this some more.
Meanwhile, the other day, as I was pondering on whether to continue with my writing project or to just write about something else, a picture of a painting exploded from my Facebook news feed. The photo showed a painting that was done by one of the friends I mentioned two paragraphs away. The friend who posted the photo is a friend to both me and the artist. It was part of his first one-man show, and I bought 3 of the lot. As I have said, this friend is no longer a friend and the paintings have been bundled in our bodega for more than 2 years now, gathering dust and cobwebs. The paintings are gorgeous and remarkably detailed but whenever I think of the artist and what he did to our friendship, their beauty and the sense of joy and whimsy they convey are greatly diminished.
Some people can say I am wrong to think this way but art appreciation is subjective so I’m entitled to my own opinion. Yes, I know that paintings by killers and other unsavory characters are sold at top dollar prices not just because of the notoriety but also because of real artistic merit. I would probably do the same if I didn’t know the artist personally. Unfortunately in this case, I do know the artist (and his dark side) so like it or not, this adds another color to the lens with which I see the paintings.
So I thought of selling the paintings. That way, the painting can be enjoyed by the people who love it (and the artist) and I will have the money to buy other works of art. Everybody wins, right? I won’t feel wrong about making money out of these paintings. After all, aside from a few thousand pesos, the paintings cost me a friendship that I cherished and a huge chunk of my ability to trust other people.