The Function of Art Today


“Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may.”
— Plato

 “Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye.”
— William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost

“Today, each artist must undertake to invent himself, a lifelong act of creation that constitutes the essential content of the artist’s work. The meaning of art in our time flows from this function of self-creation.”
— Harold Rosenberg

Could there really be a significant difference between the function of art today and in the past? Isn’t inspiration the most fundamental be-all and end-all of art in all its forms and in all ages? Art is “an exquisite work of human creativity that is appreciated and valued according to its own impressive and praiseworthy qualities that transcend the prosaic and the trivial.” (1)  An artist gets inspired to create and perform which in turn inspires an appreciative audience. Art in this sense is both internally as well as externally satisfying, i.e., to both the artist and her/his audience.

But does art mimic real life or perhaps art has a life of its own which in certain instances is mimicked by real life? Whatever the case might be, real life and art must have a convergence point that in the course of events in this world enhances, even enriches, both. Aesthetic perception is something inherent in humanity under normal circumstances, though it might be argued reasonably that artists are artists with all the passion and intensity of their arts because there is something in their spirit that gets beyond the so-called normal. Having this in mind leads us to the notion that within an artist’s essence is a yearning that seeks release and expression through a particular medium. Much deeper than the idea of inspiration is this existential artistic yearning whose full fruition is in the materiality of an artwork, a composition or a performance.

“Art is the concrete/tangible/substantial materialization of the human creative impulse to convey her/his most vital desires and needs. Art is the channel that facilitates the release of humanity´s imaginative urge that makes life more liveable and more worth enhancing. In a broader sense, we may even contend that human life in its truest essence is art itself. It is the artistic spirit of humanity that sees beauty in the natural environ of earthly existence. The course of life on earth provides magnificent inspiration to the creative human being in the furtherance of the world which s/he started to create millennia ago and has been the focal point of her/his most determined struggles to survive, to improve and to make life more meaningful despite myriads of troubles, adversities and tragedies. (2)

Paradoxically, an art that creatively captures real life bestows the latter with wings that let it fly in the celestial imagination of a beholden connoisseur. In the same vein, real life that excitedly captures an artistic expression or performance deepens and accentuates the latter’s  magnitude with dramatic effervescence. The function of art is therefore purely of a subjective nature with all the possibilities of varied, even contrapuntal, appreciative and non-appreciative receptions emanating from a multiplicity of perspectives. As the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

An art may have some socially relevant message but its impact may only achieve deep fruition through subjective recognition. It is how an art affects me personally that I consider it worthy of my profound esteem. It is one’s own personal and existential valuation that makes an art essential. No honest-to-goodness aesthete basically cares at all when an art has already achieved wide recognition for such only entails quantitative credit of statistical proportion. What matters at this point is the qualitative value of an art which may only be corroborated through the richness of one’s articulate reflection. Art appreciation is not a follow-the-leader procession but an instance of penetrating discernment. It is characterized by an extraordinary feeling of exhilaration that spontaneously engulfs one’s sensitive state at the moment of encounter. In this connection, art remains and will always be a matter of individual and subjective meaningfulness. It is the inner exhilaration one experiences that makes art sublime.

Manipulative art is thus an oxymoron for an art is composed, designed or performed in a condition of freedom aimed to free the human spirit and appropriate its power to relish the boundless sphere of aesthetic insight. In certain present-day contexts, art is however lamentably  used as propaganda tool to advance party politics aimed to brainwash people and condition their minds to toe the party line. In this situation, art defeats itself and what the people get in general is not really art but its semblance. “Propaganda art”–which is a distortion of the true essence of art–isn’t reflective of authentic human experience but a drawing away of one’s sensitivity and sensibility from the existential aspect of her/his reality to get her/him closer to where the dominant political powers want the people to be and that is precisely in a state of subservience and controlled movements. Getting critical to the different forms of this “art” as in literature, painting, sculpture, installation, theatre and drama, among others, automatically courts the ire of the powers that be and the critics are hence instantly declared as subversives.

However, this turn of events may witness the emergence of real artists from among the subversives and give rise to subversive art which in the process recaptures the true essence of art. Subversive art is authentic art for it exalts unconditional expression and unhindered appreciation. In fact, art should in some ways be perennially subversive for in such a state it will always be an exciting arena of human activity that unceasingly challenges aesthetic creativity in a dynamic way.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 21 July 2015



(1) “Where Technique Ends, Art Begins” by Ruel F. Pepa . . .

(2) “The Value of Art” by Ruel F. Pepa . . .

The Past is Our Future

past future

“The consequences that cause sorrow and rapture are the seeds that the past has sown in the field of the soul, and by which the future shall profit.”

Kahlil Gibran, On Wisdom” in The Vision

“Our unique past prepares us for our unique future.”
— Anonymous

“Without a past, you can’t have a future.”
— Michael Ende


Taking it superficially is a one-way, dead-end absurdity but its undercurrent–being a paradoxical statement–is philosophically challenging. On the one hand, we have the past which is supposed to be final and irrevocable, whereas on the other, we have the future which at this point in time is yet non-existent, i.e., nothing, zero. However, space-time as a category of human consciousness is an unbroken continuum that at a certain point of the present connects the past with what may possibly occur in the future. In this sense, the future is considered as nothing only from the viewpoint of present actuality. But as a matter of ideated event in one’s fecund mental space, the future is something. The future as such cannot be here and now but the here and now that is pregnant with a thousand and one possibilities is the loom that weaves the tapestry of the future.

Empirical reality has made us realize that we cannot in whatever way detach our present circumstances from the past that has led to them. The present may offer us a variety of possible choices and in the process assure us of the reality of free will as an inherent component of our humanity. Yet one certain presupposition in the whole gamut of our being is the fact that even these possible choices have been formed and made available to us by the unalterable events of past schemings, activities and outcomes. In one way or the other, we are captives of the past. Memory has basically incarcerated some significant pockets of our earthly lives in the prison of the past.

“This is the human condition which is always being reckoned in terms of the abstract present but the past doesn´t seem to want to let us move on. The present qua present is flitting and elusive so that what is concretely held in abeyance is the ‘persistence of memory’ (with apologies to Salvador Dali) and the lure of the future. The present therefore becomes the convergence point of what already happened and the things yet to come. On the one hand, we have unrelenting memories of things gone by while on the other, we are suffused with the will to bring forth the realization of our dreams.” (1)

But more intense than this is the consequential harvest brought about in our present experience by our past deeds both good and bad.

Unless death intervenes, we continue to tread on the uninterrupted space-time path and traverse the illusory frontier of the present and the future. Every step we make toward the so-called future instantly transforms it into the present which in the same vein, likewise transforms the present we leave behind into the irreversible past . But in whatever “magical” ways these transformations take place, certain memories and consequences of the past persist with the magnitude of an immanent baggage as we trudge on to the present and further to the future. At the threshold of the future, the past continues to linger on the shoulders of the present. With all our innate creative talent to cope with the intricate fibers of human experience and squarely deal with the burdensome past, there is no easy way to get rid of it.

The past is always here and now as it interweaves with the present. The “presence of the past” (with apologies to Cambridge biologist Rupert Sheldrake who is the author of a sensational and controversial book with the same title) is here to stay  not only in the present but further into the future. In the light of this realization, what has made us outstanding is the special character of our humanity that has bestowed on us the capability to befriend the past and honor its lessons. At this point, we are no longer concerned with how the present transforms into the past and how the future transforms into the present but rather with how we transform our perspective in relation to the fleeting moments of our temporal existence. In fact, experience has taught us to even enshrine the lessons and precepts of the past and assign a name to it: History.

” . . . In this connection, we could reasonably say that the past after all is not final and irrevocable for in History, the past is an open-ended proposition that may be subjected to change. In other words, through a signification of the past as a matter of History, finality or irrevocability is never achieved, for in History, the past is continually infused with a fresh breath of meaningfulness. Every now and then, History constantly revitalizes the past by transfusing it with new lifeblood achieved through interpretation and re-interpretation to make more sense of what is obtaining in the present. . . .” (2)

In a more literal sense, the past may not be our future. But for some aspects of the future to be conceived with the guidance of the past, it is quite meaningful to claim in a positive way and with some degree of poetic justice that the past is our future.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 12 July 2015


(1) “Memories” by Ruel F. Pepa,

(2) “How Relevant is the Past?” by Ruel F. Pepa,

Universal Morality


Morality is of the highest importance–but for us, not for God.”
— Albert Einstein

“True morality is doing what is right without the threat of divine retribution nor the possibility of divine reward.”
— Anonymous

Morality is distinctly human, both individually and socially. Like time and space, it is an inherent category of human consciousness that operates in one’s interactive engagement with other human individuals, with society and with the natural environment as well. Morality guides us to distinguish between good and bad intents and to determine whether an action is right or wrong. Its more prominent character though is basically prescriptive and is thus particularly concerned with what we ought to think and do in certain instances and contexts of human experience.

Under normal circumstances–and without making an appeal to religion or belief in god as a moral dispenser–every human person is endowed with a moral compass. There is no normal human being devoid of morality. In this sense, we say that morality is universal. Every human being is in the least aware of what is good or bad for her/himself and this specific awareness is true to all. S/he knows the right action s/he ought to do as well as  the wrong one s/he ought not to do. Human experience is generally replete with moments of decision-making wherein the question What ought I to do? especially matters. It therefore affirms once and for all the fact that morality as a human factor is indubitable and hence universal.

However, when we get to the more detailed issues of morality in different social contexts, what comes out prominently is the fact that in many instances some moral standards in a society obviously contrast and conflict with those of another society. We have seen how certain moral principles and values in a social formation diametrically oppose those in another.

” . . . [S]ocieties are not all alike in terms of culture. Sociology calls this, ¨cultural relativism¨. In this sense, certain moral standards and practices of a particular society—being matters of culture— may not only differ from but could even be diametrically opposite to those of another society´s. In other words, what is deemed to be good in society A could be evil or bad in society B. As a case in point, having four wives at most in an Islamic society is good but having one wife is not bad at all but is likewise within the range of what is accepted as good. However, in a Christianity-influenced society, heterosexual monogamy is standard while deviations are frowned upon, i.e, regarded as immoral. There are culturally approved—and even appreciated—practices considered moral in primitive South Pacific societies but are judged immoral in the context of more modern western societies (based on scholarly research studies done by professional anthropologists of leading European and American universities). These scenarios lead us to the notion that being good as a matter of socio-culturally determined morality is relative.” (1)

This condition is the prime focus of those who believe and assert that there is practically no universal morality. Moral standards differ from one society to another; morality is therefore relative and can never be universal. But this view is taking the meaning of the issue in another sense.

Of course, we know very well that some moral standards in one society may contrast with those of another society. This gives us the notion that on certain moral issues, standards are relative to the social contexts  that own them.

“Every human being under normal circumstances is born and raised in a particular social milieu. S/he in the process acquires the fundamental social beliefs, values and practices instituted in that society´s cultural network. Within such network is the society´s moral standards and practices—ideal principles and behaviours exceedingly cherished and held in high esteem through generations. They constitute the moral paradigm of that society´s denizens. They are the yardstick through which what is decent and honourable and just and fair from the viewpoint of that particular society is called good. Entailed in this notion is the performance of certain adequate duties to satisfy specific social expectations. What ought we to do? This is the foundation where the concept of the good is couched. Through the threshold of this moral assemblage emanates the question, ‘Why should we be good people?’ And the quality of an act in this sense is not automatically considered good by self-judgment per se; it has to be acknowledged and accepted as desirable in the light of  dominant cultural patterns within the overall range of the society´s moral system.” (2)

This matter doesn’t however affirm that all moral standards are across the board relative because we are likewise equally aware that certain moral standards, principles and virtues are universally held, unconditionally embraced, vigorously promoted and hence considered as absolute and  non-negotiable in all possible worlds (with apologies to Leibniz). One outstanding universal standard of morality is human flourishing defined and backed up by the principle that human individuals and societies must not hinder the progressive trajectory of a human being’s full potential to achieve higher levels of development through her/his skills and talents which must be performed without likewise hindering and preventing the performance of  those of the others.

Strongly contributory to human flourishing are the equally univeral standards of suffering-amelioration, conflict-resolution and pleasure-promotion without which human flourishing will not be fully achieved. These are universal fundamental ideals upheld as paramount beacons of humanity’s social and environmental engagements. We find them idealized in all human societies across the globe. Instances of their violation, both small-scale and massive, in many societies do not make their perennial significance obsolete but rather further fortify their universal essences.

Besides the abovementioned universal moral standards and principles are the universal virtues of fairness, honesty, compassion, friendship, integrity and courage. They are highly valued moral characters in all human societies despite cultural differences. In other words, no society on Earth in all generations past and present can undermine the universal essences of these virtues. In fact, they are solid factors that interweave with the standard and principle of human flourishing and further enhance in the process suffering-amelioration, conflict-resolution and pleasure-promotion.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 07 July 2015


(1) “Why Should We Be Good People?” by Ruel F. Pepa.

(2) Ibid.