I am no artiste, not in the strict sense. But I like to think the thoughts that I string together into words and then line them up as sentences is a kind of an art that is in-born. In that respect, letting myself into the illusion that I am an artiste, I was asking myself a lot of questions this afternoon. Thanks to Puttanna Kanagal, one of the best directors this country has seen.
Kanagal is iconic in the Kannada film industry and made some of the best women-centric films in the country. I wish I had chosen his films as my dissertation subject in college. Anyways, he chose sensitive issues like incest, like post-natal depression and made his amazing films. (On an aside, if anyone has a collection of his films, please let me know, I have been looking for his films for ages).
I was watching the Aarthi-starrer Ranganayaki this afternoon, with the curtains closed, nursing a very painful back. Ranganayaki is a popular theatre artiste in a travelling theatre company. A rich man sees her acting and falls in love with her. She marries him and tries to be happy. Suddenly the husband begins to hate the very thing about her that he fell in love with, her association with the theatre, her words which he believes must be just some rehearsed dialogue from some play. She is forbidden to mention her old life. The story goes on. But there is one scene just before he abandons her where she talks to him about her art. Her kale, her art is something that she considers a gift from God, something she was born into, born with. All she wants is a little freedom (intellectual) to pay homage to her art.
My head buzzed just then. Isn't art something you can relate to? I related to her. What is art? Let me explore that first. To me, my art, wherein I talk of my ability to write, is something that keeps me sane. It is the one place I escape to when reality looks, as it often does, scary. In that place, I can give a voice to the voices in my head; it is where I feel safe. To me, writing has always flown through; I can’t force it to either stop or to begin when I want it to. I am not sure that is a good thing. Art to me, be it in any form, is a method of expressing your observations of beauty, the other abstracts around you. I don’t think there can be any art that can somehow not be tracked back to some part of real life, be it yours or others. Except for fantasy perhaps, there would be a lot less of reality in that than in others.
Isn't art about being inspired? Isn’t it to be inspired by someone or something and channelize those ideas into something new, something that may resemble the original, but is improvised upon, changed and molded as per the artiste’s fancy? I love a quote by Margaret Atwood about real life inspiring art; “There’s got to be a bit of blood in the ginger-bread man for him to come alive.”
Art is not elite or complicated, no sir! Anyone can be an artiste, anyone who uses a creative thought, veers off the rule book and overlooks the exact measure in a recipe book to create something that has not been seen, read, heard or felt before. Almost always, depending on your perspective, that new something is beautiful. Why then is being unconventional such a crime, I wonder.
In another application to the Manufacturing Consent theory, you have that imprinted image of the tortured poet in a dark room, drunk, perhaps hungry, filling pages with words of anguish, to die a day penniless and with no one to love. Art, poetry, is art’s, poetry’s reward. I am not old school enough to equate selling a creation to selling your soul (hell, I wouldn't mind getting paid for what I write!), the tortured poet needs an afternoon meal; but I am old school enough to think the artiste should be the first consumer of the art. What value an art if not created out of a bright red spark of passion?
As an afterthought, I do understand the tortured image of the poet. No, I do not get drunk, but the perils of free expression have not left me without a scar. As a kid, I once fell off the gate and a stone close by scrapped off my skin and flesh till you could see the white of my bone (sorry, that sounded gross!) I couldn't walk for a long time. There is a scar there, faded a little, but I can still see it. I am actually proud of it; it is like a war wound from a time when I was left to amuse myself and didn't have very many opportunities to acquire cuts and bruises. Likewise, the scars acquired because I ‘dared’ to express myself by writing will fade one day. One day, I think I shall let myself be proud of them and treat them as bruises acquired for my right to write. For the sake of art.
“If you think you can live without writing, don’t write.” Ranganayaki, the actress, could not stay away from her natural state of being, from her art.