Art's Import in Life Today
Mr Keshav Malik's Convocation Address at Government College of Art, Chandigarh on April 3rd, 2001, on the occasion of the Golden Jubliee Year
On this occasion I have here jotted down some random notes on the life of art, from my notebooks. If in some way, these are disconnected. I do pray that at least a few of them bear upon our concern, as artists, art lovers, and above them all as human beings.
Technique, as I would define it, involves not only an artist's way with paint and brush or his management of texture etc; it involves also a definition of his or her stance toward life. It involves a dynamic alertness that mediates between the origin of feeling in memory and experience, and the formal strategies that express these in a word of art. It is that whole creative effort, to bring the meaning of experience within the jurisdiction of foolproof form.
Everywhere today, we are told by higher authority that our human resources are to be used, that our nation itself means to use everything it has - rockets, jets, the inventions, indeed every scrap of fact for the well being of the nation. But still, there is one kind of knowledge - infinitely precious, time resistant, and not to be passed between generations, whose uses if any, are its own: for it is the goal of life itself - intrinsic, I mean that comes from the art. It seems to me that the power of this knowledge is currently pooh-poohed.
It seems to me also that we of the day cut ourselves off that we impoverish ourselves right here. I think that we are underestimating our most vital source of personal power, one that we precisely need in our troubled time. At a moment when it is hard to make sense of the giant cluster of events that the daily newspaper treats to us, it is high time to remember this other kind of knowledge, and love, which has forever been a way of reaching complexes of emotions and relationships, the attitude that is like the attitude of science, but with significant and beautiful distinctions from it - the attitude that equips our imagination to deal with our inner lives - the attitude of art, for art is above all an approach to the truth of feeling. But you may well ask how do we use feeling, how do we use truth?
Because it helps us face the confused scene of life with equanimity, and so that we can remain whole instead of being fragments. Moment to moment we can grow, if we can bring ourselves to meet these moments with our full being.
Art of course does not answer all our needs. But still art it is, which imagines and makes, and gives us the distilled imagination. Because you have imagined love, you may well not have loved at all. But still, we - the viewers - can use that imagining, that is, by building it into ourselves, for otherwise we will be left with nothing but illusions.
Art is action, but it does not cause action, it prepares us for thought. Art is intellectual, but it does not cause thought, rather, it prepares us for thought. Art is not a world, but a knowing of the world. Art prepares us.
Art is practiced by the artist, and the sympathetic viewers. It is not to repeat, a means to an end, unless that end is the total imaginative experience of life. That experience will alone have meaning. It will apply to your life; and it is more likely to lead to its particular kind of thought or action, that is, you are likely to go further into the world, further into yourself, toward the furthermost experience of which life is capable.
Art and nature are imitations, not of each other, but of a third thing - both are images of real, of that spectral and vivid reality that employs all means to manifest itself. If we fear it in art, we fear it in nature, and our fear brings it on ourselves in the most unanswerable ways.
The implications for society and for the individual are far reaching. People want these communications that are in the immediacy of art. They need it. The fear of art is a complicated and civilized repression of that need. We wish to be told in the most memorable way, what we have been meaning all long. The moment of art is a ritual moment, a moment of proof. There is, thus, strength in the true moment of art. And there is a deep pride in art meaning and in its truths.
But people still ask what is the use of art. Let us ask instead what is the use of truth. Is not truth the end; has it no human use? - Does it lead to nothing? To reiterate: The uses of the truth of art is its communications.
Great art is a goal of a vertically aspiring humanity. Hence it's close connection with the aristocracy of spirit. Only this aristocracy, even in a mass society is able to humanize mankind. Art itself could point a way to leading life as if it were a work of art that we were creating and thereby ourselves becoming in some sense great works of the spirit. How is this to be done by a refinement of our passions?
Real art never has, nor should represent, but present. And this art is based on actuality, but exists independently, without looking to the springboard from which it launches itself into the ocean of what is. And so many well be in line with what our ancient seers perceived.
But alas, if all art once used to be aspirational, only a few are so. I am of the view, that the currently popular artwork of the day are often a derivation from the more professional individuals creations, and not a spontaneous upsurging. Genius art is a new way of feeling, seeing, and expression (with whatever means) perennial truths. But by popular is not meant the arts of a rural or tribal society. Their art are fully genius, but like underbush to the forest with tall trees of individualized arts.
Once upon a time a great work of art entranced…. One for a moment no matter how brief, into accepting it as a complete world in which one could live and be oneself completely, and which one left only because ecstasy is timeless and we being the creatures of time, time sweeps us on and does not allow us to remain ecstatic for more than one moment. But that moment may mark us for life with the vision, as the promise of happiness that fills us with sweet yearnings for its realization.
Oh no longer so. A masterpiece is now no longer the object of an abandoned contemplation but a mechanism interesting only to the extent that it reveals how it is done, where it is done, and why it was done. It is no longer a garden enclosed, a paradise of the spirit and the sense but a springboard for leaps away from the work of art. That being so, interest in the art object has ceased to be intrinsic. Its inspiring, illuminating, transporting, life-enhancing properties no longer seem to affect the urban spectator. The commentary furnished by us critics of art no longer refers to the visible object, but interprets the strictly private life of the artist. This, surely, is a kind of slaughter of things of the spirit.
The artist of the day likes to believe that his one ambition is to exercise his creative functions by expressing what is most essential in him. Would it were so. In reality he may want to sell himself to the public and so go to market with his wares. And if none will acquire his wares he curses and becomes a discontented member of society or else a sullen solitary. This fact is a proof of how little we are out and out individuals, how much members of a group and how much our happiness and way of life depend on the values the group puts on our output. The post humorous game of recognition, even if believed in by a hardly few, is cold comfort and apt to be an expression of the individuals rebellion against his group. The artist’s worst bitterness is directed against the critic who does not accept his product as the star of the hour, but insists on evaluating it with the standards he, the critic, applies to the art of all ages and that which has always been regarded as worthiest of surviving.
There may be no absolutes in art, but so long as we stand, grasp, breathe and react to temperature, for so long there will be fixed, although oscillating relations and the demands, they make on works of art. There is in fact a relative absolute in art, which is determined by our psycho-physiological conditions and our mental preparation.
Everything we are aware of, every faint change within us that reaches consciousness and affects it, is of the mind, is mental. The business of art is to extend the horizon of consciousness in width and depth, but in height as well. Art lies in that very mental region, for it is based on processes within us that manifest themselves in consciousness. What is under the threshold of consciousness belongs to physiology and not to aesthetics, art theory or art history. Art is ideated life, well if not life Itself but perhaps as equally important.
Every individual who feels the need for human society must learn his or her responsibility towards art almost as towards life. He must avoid encouraging the Undesirable, let alone the bestializing forms, not only of life, but of art as well. This he can do, if he takes the trouble to educate himself for the ideated, quite as he does for the actual world. For art can offer the surest escape from the threatening forces of a world suicidally at war with itself. So therefore art must not be reckless, freakish fantastic, but must console and enable and transport us from the workday world to the realm of ideated joy, that is, the joy of the deeply experiencing mind.
Works of art, in other words, act on us as living entities do. Visual art, the aesthetic moment is the flitting instant so brief as to be almost timeless. When the spectator is at one with the work of art he is looking at, or with actually of any kind that the spectator himself sees in terms of art, as form and colour, he ceases to be his ordinary self, and the picture, sculpture, or whatever is no longer outside him. The two become one, and the spectator is possessed of a much richer awareness. This is the moment of supreme vision.
And that vision is the core of culture and which is what art helps ensure. All arts, then, must work together in order to create the most comprehensive art of all, a humanized society, and its glory - the humanized man.
I thank you for giving me of your attention.
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