By Sukant Khurana:
Should art reflect the state of society? Should society reflect in art? Are the two invisibly tied together such that this mutual reflection is only natural? Is the absence of such reflection an anomaly? Should art only provide entertainment? Should “deep and meaningful art” be gloomy and morbid or have an element that must be beyond observer’s comprehension? Is every anti-entertainment kind of entertainment art? Does art need intellectual comprehension? Can art be as divergent as people, society, context, and time? Should art be confined in narrow boundaries with limiting questions about its nature and purpose? Should society be so stifling and close, that even the nature and purpose of human life is straight-jacketed? Can a straight jacketed society produce meaningful art as its reflection or only as reaction to reality?
Can art or writing provoke questioning in a society that’s wallowing in an abyss of horror 24×7 with news blaring about rapes; murder; corruption; religious, regional, and ethnic bigotry – a persistent aura of malaise? Can you awaken a society where a PR campaign is a sufficient replacement for real sustainable development? Can art catalyse revolutionary actions, where people are too busy looking at horoscopes for a turn of events and finding too many holy cows and scapegoats to limit society’s progress? Can art replace deeper spirituality in society, where religious conmen provide instant spirituality medley? Can art wake up a comatose elephant?
Can art: dirty, filthy, prostituted, bourgeois high-art – art that belongs only to the rich just to be displayed in rich galleries, who use ownership of necessarily expensive art as a proxy for suaveness and culture, can that art provide tools for societal introspection? If high art is incapable of introspection due to its golden shackles, can then lowly, liberated art of protest, one of the masses, the proletariats – the frequently unsightly street art be the means to introspect? While introspection is necessary, is it sufficient or even partially capable without extrospection? Can art be local and confined within time in an increasingly global, globalized, and accessible world? Does art belong to galleries and patrons only, where it is housed because the price was right or does it also equally belong to social media where people do not pay a penny but get partial exposure to the work and maybe also an appreciation of the gallery or the patron that hosts such art? Does the burden of survival on the artist deprive art of its full potential of social transformation or can the present age remove these unnecessary handcuffs?
Does art always need to adapt a relatable form to provoke, move, stir, titillate, and sooth, or can art simply exist as an accidental outcome of creative effort? Is art wingless without a fixed form? Is the discussion of abstraction, symbolism, realism, hyperrealism- a pet peeve of critiques – an utterly rubbish and meaningless enterprise? I am inclined to think so. Defining art in the form of styles and tools is reducing it to drudgery. Art is meaningful in its purpose and constant search for new purposes.
Those who believe high abstract art cannot reflect on society have not had the sobering and fulfilling experience of sitting in front of a Rothko for hours. Those who believe street art is lowly must have not witnessed power of Banksy’s protests that can send shudders down the spine. Those who are preoccupied with distinctions between high and low art should be given more laurels by different stifling authoritarian ivory tower structures that pretend to know a thing or two about art but should be discouraged from talking to artists or common folks. These critiques should be encouraged to rub their chin more thoughtfully than ever before, pretending to be the arbiter of deciding how and why an artist has created something and judging the historical context of particular pieces of art but they have no role to play in a new explosion of art.
For those of us who are indifferent about distinctions in art and are reluctant to academize human creativity by demarcating a careful distinction between art and life – no matter what is created from our tumultuous churning (introspections and extrospections of an artist’s soul and society) – whether it is a song, novel, abstract work, caricature, digital or hand crafted, team made or individually created – it is only worth the emotions it churns in us.
There is an urgent need for dialogue. Those who are concerned with blasphemy of mocking art patrons or critiques might not find such a dialogue tempting, but I suspect that those who are invested in humanity, irrespective of their geographic, economic, social standing, would find this discussion meaningful. Those who want to think about life, art, and society, whether they come with an intention to own art, stare at it or merely use it as a backdrop for interesting conversation, would find an open invitation from me welcome.
To such friends here is an invitation to think, interact and communicate by joining like-minded souls. I have had the opportunity to interact with some that belong to this bunch, liberating art from galleries and taking them to streets, in one of the first ever street art events in India back in 2014. I would encourage people to visit such exhibitions, starting with Pratibimb – Reflections at Lalit Kala Akademi. The most important factor is to get involved in a dialogue to celebrate the multitudes in society and art, ones that have been explored and ones that remain to be explored.