What is Art for ?

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What is Art for ?

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“Science can manage with talent, Art requires genius” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Artists and creative people, in our times tend to be hesitant in answering the question: “What is Art for?” Aren’t we able to run our lives with our technologies, our face-book, our pornography, our petrol stations, our corporate offices, our ATMs, our you-tube, our Google, our gadgets and shopping malls?

What can be the answer to such a clear and blunt question?

I reproduce two definitions, one from a poet of classical Sanskrit of 7th/8th century central India and another from an Algerian Frenchman of our century.  The poet Bhratrihari says :


–  A human being without any interest / association with Literature, Music, Art is an animal in entirety, sans tail and horn. In the next stanza, he adds with caustic humour : such animals live without eating grass and animals are fortunate, otherwise they would have starved.

Albert Camus, while expounding the absurdity of existence, declares: “Life is inconsequential, so is Art and hence Art captures Life so completely.” This is a devastating exposition while we contemplate our great technological and material edifice and tremendous labour we have put individually and collectively to build. However, there is great wisdom, a penetrating wisdom and a backdoor definition of Art and creativity itself. Consider Music or Painting – music and painting both are de-materialized matter. An artist works in his craft (for example cinema) in a highly controlled environment but the end result liberates us. A Mozart symphony is absolutely faithful to all the rigorous demands of the craft’s grammar and rules but it liberates something inside us. It captures something inside us so completely and consistently that we awake from our illusion and from the larger existential illusion.

Art is a therapy of the soul and close to what is psychoanalysis for mind.

History propels art but Art is clever – history thinks that Art is his hand-maiden but Art has a hidden lover – The Great Time and she has one face of her always beholden to the seminal father and the amniotic space – Eternity. History is the record of emphasis and de-emphasis of dominant power and hence Art, in one of her exposed persona follows the script: it directed people’s attention to dominant power: religion, royalty, communism, corporations, democracy, liberty, freedom, revolution, ideology and so on.

The whole history of Art (which lies within the historical time) endorses this. Had this been the only potency and receptivity of Art, Art would have been classed in the same category of technology which has history but no critical history. By critical history, I mean being self-referential or self-critical and this means that one must step into the value-pool. One must, as an individual make the choice of value. This gives Art her most mysterious power: individuality and attendant autonomy. This autonomy of an individual at the level of Being is the guarantee of our divinity.

Hence Art and madness are so close and intertwined. And this madness which stems from an existential struggle of an individual with the cosmos is the heirloom of all artistic geniuses and what Schopanhuer alludes at the quote at the start of the preface.

Two hundred years back, at the start of the century, great minds of Europe felt a deep pessimism about human condition. Human condition seemed to be in eternal slavery of war, empire and un-freedom. Man was nothing but a pawn, a plaything of History.

Two hundred years hence, when I write this, human condition has entered a phase when the danger is that men and women will become machines. The great celebration of un-thinking has begun. The value-pool is shrunken and there is no one, or very few who still want to exert a value statement. The end of such un-thinking is the elaborate practice of a philosophy called ‘Anything goes’.

What will rescue Men and Women from becoming machines? What will rein the horse of technological materialism? What can re-echo the faint stirring of human nature in the bosom of men and women who are convinced that Heart is a machine that pumps blood and counter this through a demonstration and not simple assertion that human heart is something from which Great Thoughts gush forth.

What can balance both Reason and Freedom? How can we rein our technology and re-direct them for a fulfilled life? What is in our disposal which does not need anything else to interpret (scholars and experts) and implement (Government, Corporate and their combination) it?

This must be something so close to our Being that we must have forgotten it. The greatest wonder and miracle of our time is that we are un-conscious to have overlooked the greatest happening of our times: trans-valuation of human nature.

It is this trans-valuation of values that is sweeping the globe. This process is unfolding in front of our eyes and we are fortunate to be real time witness of this process. “Man is a reed, but a thinking reed” – so goes Pascal while he finds the inconsequential nature of Man in front of the impenetrable Universe but the same Pascal was celebrating human freedom that we can comprehend it. This ‘comprehension’ is not possible now as we are in the cusp of Unthinking.

This comprehension of existence through science and technology has already degenerated into speculation and specialized speculation and hence into the domain of careerists and celebrity scientists. The mathematical certainty of science has evolved into statistical doubt. Man resembles a madman of Calcutta footpath playing snake and ladder with God.[1]

A great opportunity beckons us. A great opportunity to dive deep into our Being – inexhaustible and autonomous. There is no statistical doubt or consensus – even the language of Being is so different and radical that we get a glimpse of it – we do not build or capture it – it gets revealed.

Art must become a Revelation, minus the religious aspect of revelations  and this is the great triumph and autonomy of Art and our Being.

Adda-Fe must work, in its greatest scope, while networked with million minds to re-echo and re-direct this Revelation again to human beings who may yet be re-deemed into the fold of Human Nature.


[1] Inspired by Mr. Suman Chatterjee’s song ‘Pagal’

Source: wordsmithofbengal.wordpress.com

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