Art and Philosophy

This post unfortunately will not contain a picture. While I understand that a picture does increase interest and enhance readership, that is not the objective of this post. Of course, I did put the word “philosophy” in the head text and so if you are reading this perhaps you are interested in the word. It may also be out of a passing curiosity because you have expended other means of “having fun” and wish to see how (much more) loony I have become! Let’s hope that I do not disappoint, at least on the final point.

Men have always invented ways to distract themselves alongside tools to enhance the human race as whole. For example, dance and revelry has been a part of societal traditions for millennia. The Romans of yore went about to set up the Colosseum to set up mock fights when they were tired after fighting real ones. When too bored with passivity the Greeks decided to actively bicker among themselves. This tradition was maintained by the knights of the middle ages. France and England also entertained themselves by fighting with each other, never mind the lives lost or the economic ruin they courted till Hitler taught them otherwise. As technology has improved, these entertainment ventures have been moulded into an arena which now is not just limited to the aristocrats of yore but to the populace at large. Radios (what are they?!), televisions, laptops and of course smartphones. The newspaper in its changing form is essentially the basis of all this: the daily news, the gossip, the rumors, the propaganda. Facebook today represents our first personal newspapers today. One may quibble here, but I think Facebook is simply a modification over what Yahoo! was in in the early years of the noughties who worked perhaps as one of the foremost online news aggregators.

However, it would be hugely detrimental to curb these passing interests or entertainments the human soul so longs after a tiring day, as the Europeans learned post Renaissance or Buddha learned post “Enlightenment”. Sometimes, in fact most times, a complete abstinence towards any epicurean tendencies might be harmful. In fact it led to great stagnation of the “thought process” in Europe in the era known today as the “Dark Ages”. Without a passing amusement, there is nothing to creatively think about. After all one must be really interested in something to create something new.

Now, I believe that there are three ways to create something original. The first way would be the regular process. You chip away at a piece of wood according to a design that has been handed to you or taught by your father who was taught by his father before him and so on, exactly how to chip the wood to arrive at that tool you wish to arrive at. Now say, that during this entire process that you follow diligently for years, you happen to gain experience and with some stroke of individualism or accident you arrive at a slightly modified version of the end product. Innovation 1.0.

The second way would be when while walking down the street you are suddenly struck by a certain idea regarding a certain wooden instrument. You take a carpenter’s help, buy some tools and arrive at the product. Now this product is bound to be original because it was a function of your surroundings and which climaxed to the exact thought which was again enough to spur you to pick up a carpenter and tools to recreate your idea. Now whether the tool will be appreciated or useful is another matter.

The third way is when you have a gun pointing at your back and your kidnapper wants you to make a wooden instrument. This also works but at times the degree of originality is the lowest here.

But then, how do we define great art at all? Is it merely the ability to be appreciated by the concerned masses.

Human definitions are by itself nebulous in nature. What is a work of art? Who defines greatness? I agree with the premise, that a work of art needs to be understood for it to become great. However, there are several caveats which should not be discounted straight away. In fact it’s one of the most important facets demarcating “great” art from the not so great ones. And that caveat happens to be time.

Art in its most obvious usage connotes to drawings, paintings and sculptures. These are of course then expanded to include other areas like poetry, plays, novels among others. Today the usage is mostly related to performing arts: dance, music and other live performances on shows like America’s got Talent or perhaps the late American Idol. So, if we compile all these, we notice that we have quite a compendium of “art”. Now which of these can be called great? To gauge that, we look at art forms which have stood the test of time.

Shakespeare’s plays are an obvious example. Marlow apparently was a more decorated playwright during the late Elizabethan era. However, we still are more familiar with the literature of Shakespeare than Marlow’s today, about 500 years later. That in itself speaks volumes. Tagore was criticized by his contemporaries especially by a fellow playwright: Dijendralal Ray who penned his plays in a far more esoteric fashion. Yet, Tagore stands head and shoulders above these people. However, the fact that those who penned for the masses are more popular can be quite misleading as there were other Bengali authors who wrote at the same if not a lower level catering to the popular opinion of early 20th century Bengal. They could also have been accused of pandering to the masses. In fact Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, a contemporary author is once said to have remarked that: “We write for you, while Tagore writes for us.”

The Romans and the Greeks built themselves quite an empire 2000 odd years ago. The hallmarks of their contributions to future generations discounting democracy was their architecture. However, this went almost unnoticed till the Renaissance. The fact that a certain art form was swept under due to oblivion or “forgotten by the masses” didn’t mean that it had lost it’s greatness for a good 1500 years and regained them suddenly afterwards. The fact that most 15th century and early American architecture were influenced by them were the reason why they are considered great.

An art form may or may not be appreciated by the masses either in that era or by the next generation. However, the “true” test of greatness is its ability to be appreciated by generations into the future. Otherwise, we would have to consider every recent pop album which sells a million copies as the great work of art. I would reserve judgement about the opinion of the masses. Or critics for that matter.

In the meantime, since words won’t fill me, I’m going for lunch. I’ll continue with this…

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