“Art is the exception and Culture is the rule and part of the rule is that it hates exceptions.”
The nature of an artist
There’s a body, a mind and an intellect combination that exists in all human beings. An artist might understand better if I say head- heart- hand- combo. Pancha koshas- annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanamaya, anandamaya. Our journey is to move towards the higher centers of perception and knowledge and creativity, not to remain in the gross layers. The aim of an aesthetic experience as described by Susan Sontag is not that which gives rise to conceptual knowledge as in philosophy, sociology, psychology, history etc but an excitation, a commitment, a judgement in a state of thralldom or captivation. The experience you gain is the form or style of knowing something rather than a knowledge of something (like a fact or moral judgement) in itself.
“Dance first, think later, that’s the natural order. Beckett
Work of art
Critics treat works of art as statements (except for abstract paintings, music, and dance) as an answer to a question. A work of art is not just about something, but it is something. It’s a thing not just a commentary on the world. It makes me feel the world of visual art is thoroughly corrupted and contrived but glamorous. All other fields retain some sense of their purity even when there’s fusion of cultures. We have long forgotten the Indian understanding of Rasa and Rasika. A meeting of the dancer and the dance. Of the painter and the painting and the heightened delight in the union.
Which would mean that artists themselves in the process of creation would be encountering these qualities within themselves. A work of art is a throbbing, pulsating thing in itself because the artist too has shed a piece of himself, or has dripped onto the canvas his whole being, not just the Conceptual part. We are seeing art that is more and more devoid of emotions and feelings as though it is something to be ashamed of, rather than a part of a wholesome experience. A whole lot of body centric experiences are being sidestepped. A process of sensing, touching, feeling and experiencing and being the object that one is sensing. Your whole being is dripping with paint before it is secreted on to the canvas. All this vital nourishment is lost to the conceptual glamour! Embodied experience is superior to conceptual categories, says Rajiv Malhotra in ‘Being Different. Think of the analogy of the frog in the well that keeps hopping but within the boundaries. Either you leap right out of the well in one shot or you walk out, not hop within.
The cognitive process
One is repeatedly practicing, thinking to know, connecting to experience and then moving into a flow.
One perceives, one feels, one thinks. The neuronal tapestry is constantly firing with all these activities. You have to first sense, feel and relate and be an object before you can do anything valuable to it. Before it can transform into a creative product. Once the connections are made in the neocortex, the pattern recognizer in your brain, then you start perceiving, either lower or higher forms of perception. Intuitive flashes and dawning of understanding happens. I believe there are 300 million pattern recognizers in the neocortex.
But a tendency to jump right into concepts without having walked them will do the artist no good. Neither will he feel content because it’s the bodily experience soaking in the heart spaces that takes one to conceptual understanding and a further richness and expansion of consciousness. This is what pushes one off the edge into awe and captivity and a pleasurable Stimulation of consciousness as Sontag puts it.
“To find a form that accommodates the mess seems to be the role of the artist” Samuel Beckett
Culture as a change agent
I see two kinds of cultural activities going on. One is a product of survival, a construct which gets played on the outside. The art forms that you see around you could be the result of a trend or a backlash or just an instrument of a survival mechanism. Anything and everything including dogs and cats have a culture. Some are natural and some man made. The whole universe is playing out a culture. Stars forming and disappearing. The sun, moon, the seasons, coming and going. Every nation, community, family, individual lives in cultures. We’re like a million weavers sitting together and weaving a multi coloured tapestry which is alive and moving and transforming. Each one is weaving a small imagery into it. Each artist In fact is a sort of creature, a mutating amoeba.
“I want all cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any of them.” Gandhi
Cultural cot and ambiguity
There’s another culture that’s silently moving beneath the social constructs. It’s called beliefs. Inherited or otherwise a huge wave is forever on the move. But more subtle. Where there’s belief there’s man, there’s imagination and there’s nature. There’s a whole lot of intangible stuff. Patterns, identity, intentions, trust, experience, contexts, connections, intuitions and the likes of it. All this makes a culture. This invisible cultural cot on which we lie is made of voices, images and experiences. This is where artists must make regular visits to. This is where the treasure lies. This is the source from where stories and poetry and art and life springs from. So artists must take frequent dips into this pool and be comfortable with its ambiguous nature.
Ambiguity in literature gives it deeper meaning. It allows the readers participation with use of their own imagination and helps them explore their own meanings.
“Thou still unravished bride of quietness” Keats- ode to a Grecian urn
If this is the stuff of art then artists too must learn to live in those grey areas. Artists must carry the art of empathy with them. It is not enough to create concepts which are mostly disconnected from the Self itself, what to say of the viewers reaction and inability to connect. They can’t connect because your images are disconnected, perhaps from overseas as a well-funded curatorial project or as part of a latest trend in history centric imagery. Ask, as an artist what attracts me? The unknown or the unfamiliar, contrived and shocking images? Unknown ha sportive connotations. It could be the thirst for the sacred, God, ordinariness.
A culture that springs from such empathy and with the right intention can create changes in society, because then you’re not in the business of image making. You’re just engaging, experiencing and unearthing from the invisible cultural flow the truth of your being, that’s all. When you share it, change is a default application. It should touch people’s hearts and help them connect, experience and understand.
If you have an agenda of being a change maker or game changer drop it. It will be at the most pretentious and labored.
“When clever you think you can change people, when wise you know you cannot”- Jalaluddin Rumi
Power of discrimination
Artists must use their power of discrimination to weed out and focus on what is essential for their growth. The world is moving at a very fast pace towards robots which will take care and entertain small children! What will that child grow up to be other than a robot? All the more reason why artists should never forget their roots. It should not end up as a redundant faculty in human beings, like our ability to write having been replaced by the computer. Our intuitive powers, our ability to sense and hear like animals do are all extinct because we don’t use those faculties anymore.
Greater awareness comes with greater responsibility. The artist’s world is not black and white- you’re with me or the highway kind. We’re a network. Suppress here something will express there. There are consequences for your actions. Sprinkle sugar and ants will come. Water a plant it will grow. Simple. Truth is a medicine, give it only to the right people at the right time. Or else they’ll crucify you. We live in a world and we are the world passing judgements at the drop of a hat. Before you talk the other has judged you. A truly creative person is not bound, he’s a walking painting. The bond with family, society is the beauty of it. That is the struggle which is what makes life and art. When I’m living I don’t need to paint. In my compassion I choose to pick up a canvas.
“For each one who weeps somewhere else another stops. We’re all born mad, some remain so”.-S Beckett.
“The western gaze likes to transform myths into historical facts because that’s their paradigm”. – Rajiv Malhotra