Sunday, January 29, 2012


An Appreciation Of Art

This is in continuation of my last posting on Van Gogh. We always think that a painting has to be beautiful to be a piece of art, like landscapes by Constable or a painting by Rembrandt with their perfection in lighting and well defined shapes. There is technical perfection and we marvel at the skills of the artist. That is “we always assume that all that is beautiful is art, that what is not beautiful is not art, and that ugliness is the negation of art. This identification of art and beauty is at the bottom of all our difficulties in the appreciation of art.”

Rembrandt's  Nightwatch

Constable's Salisbury Cathedral

 What would we say about the ‘Peasant Shoes’ or ‘The Potato Eaters’ of Van Gogh. There is nothing beautiful about these paintings in the literal sense. What about ‘Wheatfield with crows’ with its ominous feeling. It is only when we look at these paintings that we realise that these works were in a sense a liberation of the personality. There is something deeply intuitive about these paintings that is given expression. I am reproducing here a painting by Edvard Munch titled ‘The Scream’

Edvard Munch's  Scream
Munch's anxiety, as portrayed in "The Scream", was in large part due to Munch's agoraphobia. The main figure is in a vast expanse of open space, and feels overwhelmed.

You find that the artist has resorted to distortions in the painting so that the reality depicted immediately creates an emotional impact, which a perfectly painted picture on the same theme could not have brought out.

Like I have written in my blog on Van Gogh ‘He moved away from actual representation of things to representation of the artists subjective emotions. The works of expressionism are marked by violent colours and exaggerated lines.’ He had moved away from the influence of the impressionists as he found that there style of painting did not really provide an outlet for the build of emotions within him.

Impressionism on the other hand, if you take the paintings of Claude Monet, lays emphasis on the changing effect of light on the subject and visible brush strokes. This is very much seen in a series of paintings he made on the sunset called ‘Impression sunrise’. It is from this painting that the word for the movement, Impressionism has evolved. 

Monet's  Impression Sunrise

Impression 2

Impression 3

Impression 4

These are the two movements in art that moved away from the historical and the religious themes of Medieval art and the Renaissance, Romanticism and Realism. They provided the bridge for crossover to the later Cubism, Surrealism and Modern Abstract art.

I have just touched only the tip of the iceberg as it were, while trying to bring out the subjective nature of art appreciation. What is beautiful varies from individual to individual. Learning to build on the art forms we already know can develop our aesthetic understanding.

Art is an offshoot of the evolution of the human mind, which has passed through various stages in the history of mankind. The significance of history as per Hegel in his ‘ The Phenomenology of the Spirit’ is that ‘the understanding of any aspect of human life must be concerned with its history, its evolution, its genesis, or its roots, rather than with the empirical observation of it as it is now’. The history of art is therefore filled with so many movements which run parallel to the various periods in human history.

One can only marvel at the spirit behind each work of art, even though we ultimately evaluate and interpret works of art based on our own perspective.

There is so much to be said, but I would rather end with the words of Claude Monet, “It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.”

Monday, January 23, 2012


Of the hundreds of paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, I have taken these three paintings which broadly reflect the life he lived. ‘Lust for Life’ by Irving Stone is one of the most intense and emotionally moving biographies, though fictionalised, that I have ever read and remains one of my favourites. Much has been written about Van Gogh but the original material for all these are the letters written by him to his brother Theo. Theo was Vincent’s sole mode of sustenance throughout his life. So it is even more poignant to note that Theo died six months after his brother passed away.

Van Gogh was born on 30th March 1853 and died on 29th July 1890 at the age of thirty seven. He lived a stormy life filled with torment and poverty, admitted to a mental asylum and ultimately shot himself to death. It looked as though he was constantly in search of better and better ways of expressing himself. His early paintings when he was perfecting his techniques are marked by their sombre dark tones particularly dark brown. It was only later he came to Paris at his brother’s insistence, who told him that his paintings were too dark and not in line with the bright impressionist paintings that were the order of the day. He came into contact with the works of impressionists like Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Edgar Degas, Pissarro and others. It was here that he had a turbulent friendship with Paul Gauguin. Despite coming under the influence of the impressionists, he developed his own style which is labelled as Post impressionism or Expressionism. He moved away from actual representation of things to representation of the artists subjective emotions. The works of expressionism are marked by violent colours and exaggerated lines. These are very noticeable in Van Gogh’s paintings especially the later period. As he moved slowly in to mental instability, one can notice the hardening of the brushstrokes, as if the painting was done in a frenzy. That is where his painting ‘wheatfield with crows’ seems symbolic of impending doom. It is one of his most powerful paintings and painted only weeks before his death. It is believed that this was his last painting, but this is debated.

When one looks at the other two paintings, we are overwhelmed by the extent of Van Gogh’s identification with the hard life of the labourer and the poor peasant. The misery of the life led by these people especially the miners and their families when he worked as a missionary with them for nearly two years, is reflected in his paintings. ‘The Potato Eaters’ though painted much later in 1885 is considered as his first great work of art.
The purpose of this posting is not to chronicle the life of Van Gogh, it is only to pay a tribute to one of the greatest painters who during his lifetime lived in penury and only for his art and whose paintings sell for millions long after his death. I repeat Van Gogh’s own words as to the meaning of his life, which he was still in search of, when he killed himself:

"And my aim in my life is to make pictures and drawings, as many and as well as I can; then, at the end of my life, I hope to pass away, looking back with love and tender regret, and thinking, 'Oh, the pictures I might have made!'"

                                  Peasants Shoes

                                         The Potato Eaters


                                         Wheat filed with Crows                                        

Sunday, January 22, 2012


A quote from my previous posting ' The Fall in Saint Louis', "As I watched the leaves falling of from the tree near the balcony, once green then golden yellow, brown and now on the ground. The tree now barren stripped waiting for winter to be covered with white, with snow, rejuvenation in spring and glory in summer, to once again The Fall. And the circle continues. Is’nt it very similar to the processes we undergo during our lives. Then would winter signify the hibernation we undergo after death to be rejuvenated and born again during spring?"

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012



Time stood still,
Like the dust on my window sill,
I shifted my gaze,
To the vast open space,
Where once stood the Banyan tree.

You’ve watched,
Me, my father and many others grow,
How old you were,
None of us, we ever came to know,
You were always there.

You have shed,
Your benevolence on us all,
Be it spring, summer or the fall,
You let us swing on your arm,
Kept us out of any harm.

You stood there,
Through mighty wind and pouring rain,
You showed not a bit of strain,
You stood straight, upright,
Showed them all your might.

Now I gaze,
At that wide open space,
Once filled with your divine grace,
Now you’ve left us, made us brood,
Left us all in a sombre mood.

The sun has set,
And I have cleared the dust,
The air is filled with the winter chill,
All things go, and they must,
For time will not stand still.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


When we talk in terms of expressing one’s self, or an idea we always look for a medium to express it. It could be through writing, painting, music and dance or through any other means that brings you inner release and  satisfaction. We may call this mode of expression as language. One always chooses whichever language he is proficient in.

So it is natural to expect that a writer is proficient in words, a painter with his abilities to distinguish the various colours and put them down on canvas and naturally has to have good seeing abilities, a dancer has to express through bodily movements and a musician good hearing abilities as primary requirements. So it is all the more unbelievable that a musician who was deaf could express himself through the medium of music.

Beethoven started to lose his hearing at the age of twenty six. By the time he was thirty he had already conveyed to his friends describing his symptoms and the difficulties they caused both in his professional and social settings. Though thoughts of suicide did come to his mind due to his growing deafness, he resolved to continue living for and through his art. Over course of time he produced some of his greatest works. There is a well attested story that, at the end of the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned around to see the tumultuous applause; hearing nothing, he wept. His hearing loss did not prevent him from composing music, but his playing at concerts became increasingly difficult. He died in 1827 at the age of fifty seven.

Kierkegaard in his book ‘Either/Or’ in the chapter ‘The Immediate Erotic stages or The Musical Erotic’ says, “Music exists only in the moment of its performance, for however skilful one may be at reading notes and however lively one’s imagination, it cannot be denied that it is only in an unreal sense that the music exists when read. It exists really only when it is performed. This might seem to be an imperfection in this art as compared with the others, whose works constantly endure, because they have their existence in the sensual. Yet that is not so. Rather it is a proof that music is a higher, a more spiritual art”. He also says, “Language makes its appeal to the ear. No other medium does that. The ear is the most spiritually determined of the senses.” Kierkegaard was overwhelmed by Mozart’s music to such an extent that he considers his ‘Don Giovanni’ as one of the greatest compositions of all time and in the realm of an epic.

Having said that, one wonders as to how one can compose music when one is deaf. Beethoven did that and also performed, till he finally gave up more I feel, because he could not hear his own compositions, which had been totally internalised by that stage. It is easily said that you can compose by writing down the music through the use of the notations. Each note is to be heard before being written. So how did Beethoven write down his compositions when he could not hear them. May be that’s what happened, he heard them. Each note assumed its shape within him. His performance of the Ninth Symphony, when he was totally deaf is beyond our comprehension. Here we refer to Kierkegaard, who says that music is a higher, a more spiritual art. Beethoven must have heard his music within himself, he did’nt need an ear, his spirit heard the music and he composed. When he performed the Ninth Symphony, with his back to the audience, he was playing for his spirit and when he turned around after the performance and saw the audience standing and applauding which of course he could not hear, that was the moment perhaps when he felt the release of his spirit and he wept.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I have no different opinion regarding the subjective nature of man’s existence. The world is always “as I see it”. It is only when man experiences  the death situation, which he always sees in the external world, that he starts to realise that the world is there, and will continue whether he is there or not. Death cannot be a subjective experience, as nothing else exists after that. This could be an existentialist view point, as Sartre asks, “what is death? Death is my total non existence. It is as absurd as birth – it is no ultimate, authentic moment of my life, it is nothing but the wiping out of my existence as a conscious being. Death is only a witness to the absurdity of the human existence.”

It is to transcend this situation and the non acceptability of being reduced to nothingness, that man undergoes a subjective transformation. It is his awakening. He is not born with the knowledge of his own uniqueness till the moment he is faced with the crisis of non existence. Whether you need it or not, transformation has to occur.

It is very difficult for man to “simply understand as to what it means to be a substance and what it means by existence”. So in the process of understanding himself, man undergoes a transformation from a state of ignorance to enlightenment. What enlightenment is a another question. Whether he will find the meaning of life, of ways of perpetuating his existence and finds a way to immortality is a still a question. Of course he may find solace in the belief of a another life, in reincarnation and that death is only the beginning of another existence.


I am reproducing below excerpts from my “A Letter To God”, as the letter itself is too long for my blog. But I have taken care to see that the central theme of the letter is reflected in the paragraphs reproduced.

“Dear God,

I think I can address you like that, as you are dear to everyone. My dear, would sound too possessive. So I will leave it at that. This is the first time I am writing to you and so was at a loss as to how to start the letter. The next is the question why I am doing it. I am not sure why. I have been speaking to you for such a long time but I am not sure you heard me.
- - - - - - - - -
Whenever I faced a crisis, I prayed for a miracle to make things happen. It never did, the way I wanted them. Things took their own course. Sometimes good things happened and most of the time nothing. It looked as though my prayers were never answered by you. Things happened just the way they did. It appeared that even you had no control over the course of my life.
- - - - - - - - -
I still cannot understand why some people are born with everything they want while others in penury. Some live up to a ripe old age while others are cut away in their prime by accidents and terminal diseases. The only answers I get is, that it is destiny and the result of our past karma. Which means, that I shall have to wait for another birth to reap the benefits of the good actions that I have done now. This is not acceptable, as, who is sure of a another birth. I do not know what I did in my previous life, to deserve what I have in this life. May be if I did, I can plan for a future life, by living my present life accordingly. This would only make everybody strive for salvation. As to what is salvation is a another question.
- - - - - - - - -
People tell me “ ask God whatever you want and you will be given that”. Is it so? I believe that my integrity will be at stake if I do such a thing. If you are the all knowing as we believe, then what need is there for me to ask you what I want. You already know the answers. There is something in me which says that there is a good and there is evil. My conscience says be good. But this I guess is relative . what is good for me may not seem so to another. So unless there is a mode of reward and punishment we will never know whether we are on the right path and this has to be in the present. Here I am not talking about the laws made by the human. These are fallible. Your eternal law will have to be effective immediately.
- - - - - - - - -
I am sure that you understand my anguish. After all to whom else can I talk about these things. I am neither an atheist nor an agnostic and will not like to be dubbed as one because I still believe in you. Only I do not understand your game, all that thing about karma and destiny. I have serious doubts about miracles. Like I have now started maintaining that miracles do occur only if they are destined. I am using your words only. I am convinced now that even you are bound by destiny.
- - - - - - - - -
I agree that you give tremendous amount of hope to people who have faith in you. You offer the necessary prop to overcome the hurdles we face in life. But my only grouse is that I am not fully convinced in respect of the disparities in our conditions of existence and the explanations of karma. For me the only reality is the present. By that I mean the present life where I can still remember the past and correct my actions where I have gone wrong before, and to avoid repeating the same mistakes which had brought me pain and sorrow.
- - - - - - - - - -
Maybe like Hermann Hesse says” we are a wave that flows to fit whatever form it finds”.

But I believe in you, for without you I am lost. I live in hope, that I shall find the answers someday, with your help. I at least understand now, it is hope that drives us on.

You are a friend, philosopher, guide and GOD.

Yours truly, till I remain,


Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Maria Robinson had said, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”  Nothing could be closer to the truth.  But before you can begin this process of transformation you have to stop doing the things that have been holding you back.

One has to make a new beginning and Maria Robinson’s thirty ideas as to how to go about doing it is commendable in the sense that she has put it simply so that it is intelligible to people, who have no time to stop and think about what is really harming their lives and their relationships.

But first one has to recognise that something is happening which you do not want and you want to change it. Most of us live our lives feeling that we deserved more than what we have and that life has been unkind to us. Such a feeling arises out of comparisons and we spend our whole life in misery. We do not stop to think that it is on account of the choices, we ourselves keep making at different stages in life.

Transformation does not happen overnight as it is a process. An individual’s transformation begins only when he is confronted by a crisis in life. For some it could be a slow process and for others it could be life changing. Every individual is at different stages of awakening. This can be attributed to his past- his upbringing and experiences in life. To a large extent his attitude is moulded by the type of parenting he has been subjected to ( please read my posting on Parenting, Choices and Life Without Regrets?) 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Of late I have been blunt in expressing my views to others, especially my own children. I can see the hurt in their eyes sometimes and that saddens me. I am at an age where I find it difficult to make compromises. I have to speak the truth about how I feel about situations, my body language also conveys whether I am comfortable with my surroundings. If it is not, I move away, rather than submit myself to an uneasy atmosphere. I speak because I am concerned, that my children should be able to stand on their own, speak for themselves and realise their intrinsic worth. I am saddened when I watch them not able to stand up for themselves.

Sometimes I wonder whether the mistake is in the way I brought them up, over protective may be. But I am happy that they do have a lot of empathy and take care not to hurt others. This does not mean that they be submissive. 

I have also made compromises in my life just to ensure that my relationships are intact and my family is comfortable. However I was not afraid to to speak for what i believed in, it had cost me promotions in my carrier, but my relationships with the people I was  working with, had always been excellent and of mutual respect. This also applied to relationships outside my work situation

May be I should move away, more into myself, into silence. Then I would be accused of not taking up responsibilities and not participating. Do I really care?

May be it is time for me to move on and leave them to take care of themselves in molding their lives and their relationships. They have to develop their own philosophies, what to believe, what to stand up for and when to be tolerant. Let them own their responsibilities.

The process of growing old has to be accepted and the futility of holding on should be shed. In the present day context, whether your children will look after you when you are old is not a certainty, nor should we expect them to do so. I am sure if we have brought them up with affection without expecting anything from them, but only because we love them, they will develop that empathy which will only help them in molding strong relationships. Let us first learn to live by ourselves. Have’nt we learned enough in the process of our own living, to feel confident that we can carry on by ourselves? After all what do we carry with us when we go. Let us not strangulate our children.

“ Leave them to their own priorities and let them be “. We shall always love them.