The Arts, Aesthetics and the Thomasian National Artists Beauty as the Heart of the University


In celebration of the National Arts Month, The Academia features Thomasian National Artists for the month of February.

In 2018, the EWTN broadcast of the Napa Conference featured the lecture of Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P., the Director of the Thomistic Institute. His lecture was titled “Can Beauty Save the World? Thomas Aquinas on Beauty and its Role in the Church.” During the forum, Father White was asked, how important is understanding art and beauty in the academe? 

The priest answered: “I think the unity of the university is assured through philosophy. This intellectual discipline tells us how all our learning is united. Philosophy is the key, but the next step there is to have a philosophy that examines what beauty is.” 

Father White further explained that the true purpose of the university, especially of Catholic universities, can only be realized when its isolated departments begin to appreciate the beauty of being united. He added that teaching aesthetics in the university should aid students, professors, researchers and all those who are part of it in cherishing the value of the unity of various fields. 

Somehow, giving a critique, the priest-lecturer also said: “We’ve invested in the modern philosophical trends in science and morals. These are extremely strong, but in aesthetics (we are) weak because there are very few professors of aesthetics in universities, and very few of them are adept in classical philosophy and aesthetics.”


In his discussion of beauty, Father White also touched on the topic of artifacts. He said the arts “tell us how it is to be human.” It is no coincidence then that aesthetics will almost always have to deal with the creation and appreciation of the arts. That the university needs aesthetics should encourage the academe to keep some healthy space for the arts to flourish.

It is also no coincidence that the 409-year-old University of Santo Tomas has been fertile for the growth of artists. Fortunately, aesthetic life still thrives in the Pontifical University as evidenced alone by the number of Thomasians inducted into the Order of National Artists of the Philippines. After five decades since the institution of the national award, only 73 Filipinos have been named National Artists. Nineteen of them are Thomasians. 

Carlos Francisco. The first Thomasian National Artist, Carlos “Botong” Francisco blended Filipino culture, history, and the Catholic faith in his paintings. He was known for his paintings “Blood Compact,” “First Mass at Limasawa,” “The Martyrdom of Rizal,” “The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines.” He had several works done for the Dominicans. For one, the nave of the Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City features eight murals painted by Francisco. These paintings show the story and the miracles of St. Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Dominican Order. Also, in UST, one can find Francisco’s mural flanking the grand staircase of the Main Building. It leads to the UST Museum where valuable collections of the various works of Filipino greats are housed. Francisco is a third of the Triumvirate of Philippine Modern Art, which was formed in UST, with Victorio Edades and Galo Ocampo, his co-educators in the University. He was proclaimed National Artist for Visual Arts in 1973.

Nicomedes Joaquin. Also known as Quijano de Manila, Nick Joaquin was honored a National Artist for Literature and Theater in 1976. He wrote novels, poems, plays, essays and biographies, all of which present Filipino identity and heritage. In his younger years, he was granted an associate degree by UST after he penned his work “La Naval de Manila.” The 1943 essay depicts the miraculous naval victories of Filipino-Spanish defenders of the Philippines against the Dutch armada, which since the 17th century have been attributed to the intercessions of Our Lady of the Rosary-La Naval de Manila. As a student scholar, Joaquin entered the Dominican monastery in Hong Kong. However, after the Second World War, he started to travel to different countries as a cultural representative of the Philippines. Among his notable works are the novels “The Woman Who Had Two Navels” and “Cave and Shadows”; the play “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino”; the popular history “Manila, My Manila: A History for the Young”;

the collection of verses “The Ballad of the Five Battles”; and the biography “Rizal in Saga.

Victorio Edades. Having been known for his masterful impasto technique in portraying the human body in his paintings and for his advocacies to advance visual arts in the country, Victorio Edades was dubbed the “Father of Modern Philippine Painting.” His works had themes that somehow depict the despondency of the human with dark and somber hues. The renowned artist taught in UST for three decades and served as dean of its School of Architecture and Fine Arts. In the University, he formed the great Triumvirate of Modern Art with fellow National Artist Carlos Francisco and the “Brown Madonna” painter Galo Ocampo, teaching many generations of Filipino artists. The vision of Edades and the wisdom of the pioneer faculty members of the arts program eventually led to the first Bachelor’s Degree program in Fine Arts in the Philippines. After he retired from teaching, at age 70, UST conferred the admirable artist-educator the degree Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa. He was known for his works “Mother and Daughter,” “The Sketch,” “Portrait of the Professor,” and “Poinsettia Girl,” among many others.

Vicente Manansala. The painter behind the mural “History of Medicine,” which greets people who enter the St. Martin de Porres Building, was Thomasian National Artist Vicente Manansala. He joined fellow National Artists Victorio Edades and Carlos “Botong” Francisco in UST, inspiring many generations of Thomasian artists including the younger National Artist  Ang Kiukok. Indeed, he was among the moderns whose craft further flourished in the University. His works include “San Francisco del Monte,” “Via Crucis,” “Madonna of the Slums,” “A Cluster of Nipa Hut,” and “I Believe in God.” He was the only Filipino who was proclaimed National Artist in 1981.

Gerardo de Leon. Thomasian film director Gerardo de Leon starred in many films while still studying in UST, and before he focused on directing and producing movies. Among his first directorial jobs were with the musical-themed “Bahay Kubo” and “Ama’t Anak,” which he directed with his brother Tito Arevalo. However, the movies that earned him a place in the Hall of Fame of the FAMAS were “Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig” (1958), “Huwag Mo Akong Limutin” (1960), “Noli me tangere” (1961), “El filibusterismo” (1962), “Ang Daigdig ng Mga Api” (1965), and “Lilet” (1971). He also produced the classic Filipino film “Dyesebel.” The Philippine Government recognized him as a National Artist in 1982.

Antonino Buenaventura. Proclaimed National Artist for Music in 1988, Antonino Buenaventura pushed the frontiers of Filipino music not only with his exceptional composition but also by way of serious research. His works include marches and orchestral music. Among the marches are “History Fantasy,” “Ode to Freedom,” “Echoes of the Past,” “Triumphal March,” and “Echoes from the Philippines.” Meanwhile, “Philippines Triumphant” and “Mindanao Sketches” stand out among the compositions for the orchestra. Buenaventura was once conductor during the most glorious days of the Philippine Army Band. In UST, he also became director of the Conservatory of Music. 

Leandro Locsin. In 1990, the Thomasian architect Leandro Locsin received the honor of being a National Artist. He was known for reshaping the urban landscape of Philippine architecture. His works include the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex (CCP, Folk Arts Theater, Philippine International Convention Center, and the Westin Hotel, which is now Sofitel). His designs reflect his mastery of space and scale, which plays with the visuals of heft and weightlessness, of volume and gravity. He was also the architect of the Istana Nurul Iman, the massive and sophisticated palace of the Sultan of Brunei.

Rolando Tinio. Simply one of the most illustrious Thomasian artists, Rolando Tinio set the standard for a certain time—or perhaps until today—in creative writing, production and pedagogy. A 1997 National Artist Award laureate for Theater and Literature, Tinio left indelible marks on the vast artistic Filipino landscape, having been a playwright, thespian, poet, teacher, critic, translator, and director. The lead of Teatro Pilipino, he revived traditional Filipino drama, such as the Sarsuela. His poetry collections include “Dunung-Dunungan,” “A Trick of Mirrors,” “Sitsit sa Kuliglig,” and “Kristal na Uniberso,” from where the popular poem “Valediction sa Hillcrest” can be found. It would be an incredible treat if his adaptations of “Orosman at Zafira” by Balagtas and Nick Joaquin’s “A Potrait of the Artist as Filipino” (Ang Larawan, the musical) would be a regular feature on the Thomasian stage!

Arturo Luz. Having abandoned figurative art early on in his career as an artist, Arturo Luz paved the way for abstract expressionism in the Philippines. He was clearly ahead of his time as he freed himself from the Amorsolo’s romanticism and the moderns, who became his professors in UST—among them were Galo Ocampo and Diosdado Lorenzo. Among his works are the “Carnival Series,” “Cyclist” paintings, “Candle Vendors,” “Procession,” “Vendedor de Flores,” “Cities of the Past,” and “Black and White.” He was proclaimed National Artist for Visual Arts in 1997.

Jeremias Elizalde Navarro. The playful colors of J. Elizalde Navarro started to find its strokes in UST. He was art director of The Varsitarian, where he also found friendship with future fellow National Artist Francisco Sionil José. In the University’s student publication, he began using rubber prints for his graphics. He would continue doing so in the next four decades as he developed his craft in printmaking, graphic designing, painting, and sculpting. He has been known for his abstract art, such as oil on wood painting “The Seasons,” and mixed media, like “I’m Sorry, Jesus, I Can’t Attend Christmas This Year” and “A Flying Contraption for Mr. Icarus.” He was proclaimed National Artist for Visual Arts in 1999.

Ernani Cuenco. In 1999, musician Ernani Cuenco was named National Artist. His impressive record notes him as being a sought-after composer, musical director, educator, and film scorer. He was part of the Filipino Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Manila Symphony Orchestra. Among his notable works are “Pilipinas,” “Inang Bayan,” “Kalesa,” “Gaano Kita Kamahal,” “Isang Dalangin,” and “Bato sa Buhangin.” Cuenco has a music degree from UST in piano and cello. He also taught in the UST Conservatory of Music.

Daisy Hontiveros-Avellana. The 1999 National Artist laureate for Theater was Thomasian Daisy Hontiveros, an actor, director and writer. She was the other half of the rare couple of National Artists, having been married to Lamberto Avellana. Together with her husband, they established the National Artist Guild, which encouraged the patronage to dramatic arts in the Philippines, especially in radio and the TV. Her most notable performances were in Othello in 1953, Macbeth in Black in 1959, Casa de Bernarda Alba in 1967, and in Nick Joaquin’s The Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, where she played the role of Candida. She also directed the staging of “Diego Silang” in 1968 and the classic “Walang Sugat” in 1871. 

Francisco Sionil José. The man of the house of the iconic Solidaridad Bookstore along Padre St. in Ermita, Manila is a Thomasian National Artist. The editor in chief of The Varsitarian, F. Sionil José already had encounters with future National Artist for Visual Arts J. Elizalde Navarro. As José narrates, their usual topics in their conversations were the Second World War and the arts. Also, the great Filipino novelist would always say that he spent “four of the happiest years of my youth at Santo Tomas.” In October 2019, the 94-year-old José brought the International PEN, the worldwide organization of poets, playwrights, essayists and novelists, to UST, for the closing ceremonies of its 85th international congress. There, he publicly professed once again his pride and happiness in being a Thomasian before he heartily played the Auld Lang Syne with his harmonica. The Philippine Center of the International PEN was founded by José in 1958. Since then, the organization has helped persecuted writers in and out of the country. As a novelist, José is best known for his five-novel masterpiece, collectively known as the “Rosales saga.” It consists of “The Pretenders,” “Tree,” “My Brother, My Executioner,” “Mass,” and “Po-on” (Dusk). Thank you, FSJ!

Ang Kiukok. 2001 National Artist for Visual Arts Ang Kiukok was a modernist painter. His works are cubist-like with the inflection of cubist-like technique. For art critics, his works depict the feelings of angst and fear, which were the hues of the political turmoil of his time. Because of this, his paintings radiated a sense of nationalist agenda. His notable paintings are “Pieta,” “Geometric Landscape,” “Seated Figure,” and many others. He studied in the UST College of Architecture and Fine Arts under the pioneering modernists of the Philippines, who broke away from the romanticism of Fernando Amorsolo. Among his professors in UST, Ang credited National Artist Vicente Manansala to having inspired him the most.  Some of his works can be found in the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and internationally in the National Museum of Singapore and the National Historial Museum of Taipei.

Bienvenido Lumbera. 2006 National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera is a poet-scholar. His research in Philippine Literature resulted in his important critical works “Tagalog Poetry, 1570-1898: Tradition and Influences in its Development”; “Philippine Literature: A History and Anthology”; “Revaluation: Essays on Philippine Literature”; and “Writing the Nation/Pag-akda ng Bansa.” His collection of poems are “Likhang Dila, Likhang Diwa” and “Balaybay.”  He studied Journalism in UST, where he also served as literary editor of university student organ, The Varsitarian.

Ildefonso Santos, Jr. Thomasian architect I.P. Santos was known as the “Father of Philippine Landscape Architecture.” The Philippine Government recognized him in 2006 for his engaging works in public spaces, such as parks and gardens in the country. His first major work was the Makati Commercial Center, where somehow the concept of green architecture was introduced. This character of his architectural style would be carried on to his other works, such as the Tagaytay Highland Resort, the Mt. Malarayat Gold and Country Club, and the Orchard Golf and Country Club. 

Cirilo Bautista. Poet, fictionist, translator, educator and critic Cirilo Bautista achieved several merits, which etched his mark on the literary landscape of the country. He was among the initiators of formal workshops in creative writing, who passionately did lectures and critiquing sessions to develop the artistry of aspiring writers. Among his major works are “Summer Sun,” “Words and Battlefields,” “”The Trilogy of Saint Lazarus,” “The Archipelago,” “Sugat ng Salita,” “Tinik sa Dila,” “Sublight on Broken Stones,” and “Galaw ng Asoge.” In UST, he was literary editor of The Varsitarian while being a working scholar and a Literature and Creative Writing lecturer after his graduation. 

José Marίa Zaragoza. 2014 National Artist for Architecture José Marίa Zaragoza designed several modern ecclesiastical structures. He obtained a degree in Architecture from UST before going to Rome to study at the International Institute of Liturgical Art. His training helped him in creating 45 religious structures across the country. These buildings include the Santo Domingo Church, a National Cultural Treasure; Don Bosco Church; San Beda Convent; Pius XII Center; and the Villa San Miguel. He was also behind one restoration effort of the historic Quiapo Church. Also, part of his major works are the Meralco Building in Pasig and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Cebu City.

Francisco Mañosa.  An architect, Thomasian Francisco Mañosa carved his name among the greats by incorporating Filipino themes in his architectural designs. His important works are the Chapel of the Risen Lord in Las Piñas City, Our Lady of Peace (EDSA) Shrine in Quezon City, the Metrorail Transit System Stations for LRT 1, the Quezon Memorial Circle, the Tahanang Pilipino (Coconut Palace), the Pearl Farm Resort in Davao, and La Mesa Watershed Resort and Ecological Park in Quezon City. He was named 2018 National Artist for Architecture and Allied Arts. 


As Father White says, the arts tell us how it is to be human. These 19 paragons of Philippine Arts are not great because they stood out of the many. Rather, they etched their marks in the landscape of the arts because they carried with them the stories of the Filipino people. Each of them and their artworks were far from being perfect. Nonetheless, they never failed to inspire. Perhaps, that is the meaning of art telling us how it is to be human, that despite imperfections something would still be beautiful. Art and the artist will still inspire, and that kind of inspiration can surely breathe life to the academe that continues to grow more and more mechanical, metricized, and prosaic than poetic. 

Certainly, these 19 were not the only artists, who nurtured their art in the University. There had been a lot before them, and many others to come in the future. There could be another group of visual artists, who would start a new tradition like the moderns of the Fine Arts did earlier in the 20th century; a new set of fictionists, playwrights, poets, and critics; architects who would excite our eyes with their designs; actors and directors, who would tell our narrative of as a people and as a nation; and musicians who would lure us in and out of ourselves. 

The Thomasian community waits in anticipation. Mr. Levine Andro Lao teaches Aesthetics and Art Appreciation at the Ecclesiastical Faculty of Philosophy. He is the Executive Assistant of the Director of the Office for Grants, Endowments and Partnerships in Higher Education. 

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