Wikipedia describes art as “a term that describes a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities which cover the creation of images or objects in fields including painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and other visual media”. Here, I would like the true patrons of Oxford dictionary definitions, to quiet down — I live by the Wikipedia.
Getting back to the original strain of argument — Why do we need art? We don’t need it for anything tangible — we have the engineers, commercialists, CEOs and other vocational-experts in the world for that. We need art for building on our intangible assets — our ideas, our inspirations, and what not, which usually get ‘lost in translation’. In the end, we need art to help initiate independent, original and ultimately, revolutionary thoughts. I am sure that pictures of famous works by famous artists immediately pop into your head. But here, I’d like to point out that art is not limited to visual media — it includes audio media (music), and other forms used to create an emotional impression on the viewer or the one experiencing it. Art has to be something that can sometimes make the privileged uncomfortable in their shoes, and the poor feel justified in sentiments, if nowhere else. It’s ironic that something like art be used as a tool (by definition) in bringing to light how the world is steeped in guiltless capitalism, but well, it is what it is.
Most people in this world have probably not been as privileged as a few others who have been exposed to the knowledge and hence appreciation of traditional models and forms of art — for example, Da Vinci’s paintings, Michelangelo’s sculptures, or Mozart’s symphonies. In fact, more than 50 per cent of the world is poor, and hence, presumably low on luxuries affording exposure/appreciation of these typical and famous art forms. Can we then say that they have been kept away from the influence of art? Well, no. A few tribes find the benefits of art and culture in their tribal dance; which might not be of taste for a lot of us. The teenagers of our generation find peace and release in loud, aggressive songs, while our parents (and some us) find refuge in old Hindi songs. I find peace, and sometimes thrill, in John Mayer’s lead guitar pieces which transport me to a different, isolated atmosphere. Art means different things to different people — poor or rich, they all enjoy some or the other form of art, mostly without realizing that its legitimate to term it art.
Everything on earth that inspires a stir of emotions is a piece of art. I believe the whole concept of art was created to move the collective conscience of humanity into constructive thought action. Of course, the definition of constructive thought action differs with each artist, and each artist’s perception changes with the generation. What inspires deep revelations in my mind, of the kind of depth that scriptures may talk about, is the sight of poverty all around me. I find myself catapulted into deep guilt and thought every time I see a short, bony, barefoot old man pulling a passenger on the rickshaws in Kolkata.
The other day, I saw a family that boarded a train, and had to stay near the toilets at the end. They had a little girl, about 4-year-old, whose face was in one moment saddened and in the next second her expression showed how she had accepted her position. What affected me the most was the mixed expressions on her face — downcast eyes with a slight frown, yet a patient acceptance in the way she held a heavy bag which she had wrestled out of hers mother’s hand that held a younger child. She probably does not understand why she is born into the social situation she is in, and I do not understand why she must live with what she was born into — it wasn’t her fault, yet this is what it is. It inspires profound reflection. Of the kind that turned Siddhartha into Buddha. And of the kind that befits the titles of the best works of art in the world.
However, not until these sights are painted onto the canvas of a brilliant and well-connected artist, will these issues appear blatantly obvious to the practised-art-seeker in real life. What will be termed as an abuse of human rights in the future, will not be called so in the present until then. Because no revolution fuelled by art happens while the artwork is coming tangibly (unlike being subtly obvious everywhere around us — as stated in the section above) into being; it’s not the natural order of things.
But just because the larger population of the world hasn’t realised how the essence of art is easily visible without tangible medium, does not mean there is no truth or basis to the claim I’ve made above. Art, I still maintain, is everywhere around us — it is every inspiration that pushes us forward and charges our minds with thoughts that have otherwise, no rational business of being there. This is what art means to me. I view art in life; in the everyday life of people around us.