A letter to Alain de Botton


Hi Alain, 

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’ve been hoping to write to you for months, and thought now is a good time to share what I made and hopefully hear your thoughts about it. Just so you know, this page in my website is hidden and can only be seen by you or anyone who knows the link.

My name is Jackie, a painter from Manila, and on March 16, 2018 I’ll be having my first solo painting exhibit entitled “Hero”. The exhibit answers the suggestion you wrote in your book, Religion for Atheists, saying that you "hope contemporary artists create art that inspires atheists, to help us live and die, to help us understand ourselves, especially topics that don’t come up in casual conversation." 

The series will showcase 12 figurative paintings I call Heroes. I come from a traditional Catholic background, and my recent conversion to Atheism led me to search for a new form of guidance, something I could refer to for wisdom and discernment, which I lost when I let go of the idea of gods and saints. I was always in search for a teacher or a parental figure who can help and answer my questions growing up, and though I found a few, I mostly learned how to find the answers myself as I became independent in an early age. 

You pointed out that our museums of art have become our new churches. Following that idea, I created these heroes to be my own versions of saints—icons that remind me of virtues I aspire for (like courage and resilience) and struggles one has to endure in life (like fear and defeat). The images are based on past personal experiences which I believe I shouldn’t forget because they can remind me how I got through these times, teaching me how to be good in this messy life of mine. 

These are nine paintings so far (I’ll work on three more by January). They are all faceless figures painted in a way that focuses on emotions, expressed through strong body forms and bold lines. It is not distinct who they are or what they are doing, but their body language tells the story of their accompanied titles. All paintings are done in oil paint on canvas. You can see their sizes compared to a 5’4” tall person in the diagram below.


My exhibit is coming soon, March 16, 2018, and I am wondering how to present it. It will be displayed in Manila House, a private club of wealthy and cultured people who I aim to please, because at the end of it all, I’d still love to sell and make money out of the show. But how do I explain the concept to a Filipino audience? Nearly all my friends, family, clients, and the club’s members are devout Catholics/Christians. I don’t wish to impose atheism to anyone, or even reveal that I am an atheist because to them that will mean I worship the devil. They’ll probably not understand, begin to despise me, and probably tie me to a tree and burn me.

I’m hiring a writer soon to write my artist’s statement because I am terrible at it—as you can see my explanation here is terribly basic—and I’m wondering if you have any ideas on how best to approach it. Can I hire you to write it? (just kidding! I know you are busy but hey I tried). How do I explain that this is my own way of guiding myself without being ridiculed, but at the same time make the viewers understand at least a portion of the idea? It’s difficult to be an atheist in this very religious country especially because I don’t know how to speak about it.

Well that’s all. I’m glad I got to show you my work as I believe these paintings define who I am as an artist. I hope you like at least a few of them and though I’d love to hear what you think, just knowing that you read this is good enough for me. Thank you so much for your time Alain.

Sincerely, Jackie