Monday, June 17, 2013

on art and the artist

Do we create art? Or does divinity use us just as a vehicle to give the world that piece? Is that piece of art mine, or have I left a part of myself behind in the form of that piece? All I know is that art rises out of conflict. We are in a state of perpetual conflict between what-we-are and what-we-want-to-be and art exudes when that conflict reaches a certain threshold. Why do artists create? Why do they spend lifetimes shut in rooms waiting for inspiration to strike them? I will paraphrase George Orwell here who said that an artist creates for atleast one of the following reasons:

1. Sheer egoism
2. Aesthetic enthusiasm
3. Historical impulse
4. Political purpose

Do we create because we try to prove ourselves, or the world around us, or the future generations of our worth? Are we so scared of oblivion? Is it an inherent quality in us to appreciate beauty and so we make art out of that impulse? Are we trying to make sense of our life and times in the bigger context of life and divinity? Or are we just trying to change the world in a way that it orients itself to the world inside our heads?

"Beauty will save the world"- Dostoevsky

We claim that we are in pursuit of truth. We claim we philosophize to understand the inherent nature of human soul, its ability to differentiate between Good and Bad. But I think we neither care about Truth nor Ethics. Our lives revolve around Beauty. And in that pursuit if we stumble across the meaning of existence, so be it, but even otherwise, we will struggle to create a beautiful world. Or change our idea of beauty till it synchronizes with the state of the world. What is beauty? Is it symmetry, perfection? Why are scientists in search of the Unifying Theory of Everything? Our knowledge of it will not affect nature, or universe, or God, or whatever you wish to call it. We are in pursuit of balance, harmony, singularity because it holds an aesthetic value. We spend our entire lives searching for patterns because patterns are beautiful. Because chaos and disorder are not pleasing, they do not exhilarate us. Even when Jackson Pollock was painting those seemingly erratic paintings, he was in search of order underneath all that chaos. He was waiting for that signal to come deep within him that told him that the piece was complete. It was neither superfluous not wanting, but just right. In balance, in harmony. With who- The artist or nature?

-How do you know when you're finished with a painting?
-How do you know you're finished making love?
        -Pollock (2000)

Scientists are in search of truth. Philosophers are in search of ethics and the meaning of life. Artists are in search of aesthetics. The scientist says, "the world follows a pattern, I just have to discover it." The Philosopher says, "there is a meaning to all this, 'I' exist for a reason and I will reveal it." The artist says, "yes, we are here for a reason and there seems to be a bigger purpose behind all this and while I wait for that to dawn on me, I'll create something beautiful." We call Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground dreadful, Lars Von Trier's Antichrist gut-wrenching but we still explore them because dreadful is beautiful, gut-wrenching is also beautiful. Not in the literal sense ofcourse, but beauty in the broad sense of the word. Appealing, enticing, intriguing. All that is enough motivation for creating art.

But again, what is art? Something that gives us pleasure, that broadens our horizons, that explores the grandeur of life, that teaches us how to live, that lets us enter someone else's soul, that burdens our hearts with infinite possibilities life has to offer? Art, I think, is anything that we want it to be. The shape of a leaf, rain on sea, the rhythm of a drumbeat, the juxtaposition of infinite colours in a rainbow, E=mc^2, Double Helix, Mona Lisa, Mahabharata, Sufi music, a perfectly timed backhand, the last line in One Hundred Years of Solitude. What isn't art? Now, how do we judge it? The good vs the eternal? Public Consensus, Mathematical Symmetry, Astounding Logic, Orginial Combination of parts to create an extremely Different Whole. What makes a Bach so special and another-now-forgotten-18th century musician not so much. How does public appreciation affect the artist? Does a lack of understanding during his time stifle a truly original voice?

Art, as I see it, is a man's response to his life's experiences. It is his way of paying tribute to all those things that have shaped him into who he is. That is probably why artists are voyagers, intellectual, emotional, spiritual. An artist travels to places no one ever has been only to come back and try to relive those experiences, to make sense of all that he's gone through, to tell the world what he's seen and learnt and what his idea of a perfect world is. I don't know what finished product constitutes as art. But I know that its creation makes the artist happy. That he trips with immense pleasure, sometimes the pleasure of pain, while creating it. He creates art only to see it create him all over again. When he finishes a piece of art, he sheds his skin, and all its accumulated experiences, to embrace a new one. The creation of art is what art is all about.