A catharsis called art

By Saket Suman

Book: Reshaping Art; Author: T.M. Krishna; Publisher: Aleph; Pages: 116; Price: Rs 399

Of all analogies that T.M. Krishna makes — freedom, abandon, beauty, embrace — in aptly titled “Reshaping Art”, catharsis comes across as the most convincing. What is art if not the purgation of the artist as an outcome of his creation? Every time an artist creates a piece of art, he takes a leap of faith — and in the process gains relief from repressed emotions.

The creation of art itself is, in many ways, associated with emotions, those that are repressed inside the artist, giving utterance to a creative desire of expressing oneself in an art form. But sometimes it can be the exact opposite; instead of the repressed emotions giving utterance to an art form, it can very well be the creative bent of mind that leads one to restrict his emotions.

But whatever the case may be, there is a certain degree of emotional relief that an artist experiences while practising his craft and this, more than anything else, is perhaps what keeps the artist so motivated in his practice. And isn’t it the same for the one experiencing it?

“When we invest every bit of ourselves in its experience,” notes Krishna, an authority on Carnatic music, “art allows us to instinctively travel within intangible, unambiguous sensuality. And when it envelops us, it can be all-consuming. A tune, an image from a poem, a mural or the frozen moment in a moving picture remains with us, enriching our lives long after that instance has passed.”

But what exactly can be termed as a work of art? Cooking, making love and gardening, as Krishna points out in the book, are often described as arts. The term art, he contends, is used in so many contexts that almost any action that gives us sensory pleasure is deemed to be a work of art.

“While many human acts can be beautiful, pleasurable and can fulfill sensory needs, they do not fall into the category of art forms. Some people walk with grace and present themselves with finesse. This requires a great deal of care and taste. While their appearance might be pleasing and most likely result in us gravitating towards them, they can’t be considered art objects,” Krishna maintains in the book.

He further points out that there is one more “essential element” that leads us to use the term “art” for many human actions: “the inexplicable difference in the end result when two people use exactly the same empirically valued components to create something.”

He gives the example of cooking to prove his point. “With identical ingredients, one chef’s dish is spectacular but another’s is just above average.” But that’s not all, there’s something more to the character of art, he says.

“Art is not an accident; it does not happen by mistake. It is a deliberate, conscious act of creating an art object; it is a willed human endeavour. Art does not depend on a general acceptance of attractiveness. In fact subjective notions of beauty are entirely secondary to the act of art creation,” he contends.

The book at hand is a novella-length nonfiction title that explores the various aspects of art, its essence, its relation with the society at large — and with caste, gender and oppression, in particular, along with contemplative chapters on its spirit and its presence inside the classroom. At the same time, contained as it is in just over a hundred pages, “Reshaping Art” is also a very compact book where more has to be read between the lines and interpreted than what the writer has actually penned in the offering.

Now again, the interpretations may vary as per the tastes or inclinations or the state of mind that the reader is in when he flicks through these pages, but the liberty to interpret a given artwork in a myriad of ways comes naturally to the one experiencing it. And writing too is an art form, as dear to its creator as a painting is to the painter or music to the musician.

Krishna’s book is a contemplation, a meditation, an attempt to understand the essence of “freedom, abandon, beauty, catharsis and embrace” — all that he relates art to, and therefore it cannot be read, it can only be explored. Indeed, there’s much more than meets the eye in this particular offering. Read it slowly, again and again.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at saket.s@ians.in)

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