Sunday, May 27, 2012



It is not everyday that I have a good laugh in the morning after reading the morning newspapers, but today I did have one and a hearty one at that. The saturday edition of the Chennai Times on page seven carried an article with the headlines ‘Now, there is Invisible art’. I showed it to my daughter and her instant reaction was “oh! like the Emperor’s new clothes”. My God, how true!

“It actually looks like the gallery just got robbed, but don’t get taken in by that. Empty sculpture stands and canvasses are the main attractions of a new genre of art that’s there by not being there – and it’s called Invisible art! And it’s shaking up the culture world for sure.”

I am not an art critic or an intellectual who can decipher something out of nothing. My first reaction was “what a whole lot of crap!”. Then I sat down to digest what was written and found immense possibilities for lesser mortals like me. Immediately I imagined myself giving a musical performance on stage with an imaginary flute playing imaginary music, a music that was not there, but is there. You cannot call it a mime because a mime does convey a message through the movements representing a concrete event. How will you interpret whether I am playing raag Bagesri or raag Yaman. Of course I leave it to your imagination and you have the liberty to imagine whichever raag pleases you. Wonderful is’nt it? And wow! I get paid for it, and all I have to know is how a flute is to be held while playing it, or maybe even that is not necessary, I can just make an announvement that it is a flute recital. Imagine how Hariprasad Chaurasia would feel, he may have to reinvent his whole repertoire.

It gave me some pleasure to read the reaction of the Indian art fraternity, I sounded credible enough in my views to see their description of this as “an eggless egg curry” and who will buy these things they cannot see”.
You see they were speaking for the Indian Art scene. But consider this, “Come June, a stark white canvas will be displayed at the Hayward Gallery in London in a first- of- its- kind show that explores invisibility and emptiness. And its not cheap either, as invisible art is said to fetch upto US$10,000”. Also its director is quoted as having said that “it leaves so much to your imagination. There is a lot of invisible art out there, there is a lot of art you’re never going to see”. My God you are never going to see what you want to see, so how does it matter so long as you pay for the experience.

But it was what an Indian Art curator is reported to have said that really made me hit the ceiling, with laughter of course, he called it as an amalgamation of science and imagination “Its about an art work. We definitely need galleries and museums of the future, after all we have so many brilliant artists. Its high time India had a space to show Invisible art.” He is also reported to have said that it is about paying respect, he adds that taste cannot be taught and that we need more awareness on this subject. You see I can understand, he was just doing his job.

If I may borrow an analogy something I have heard in the past and which was quoted by my wife when I showed her this article was – a person was staring at a blank canvas wondering why there was nothing on the canvas, the artist who was standing next to him explained to him that it was the painting of a cow eating grass. When asked where was the grass he replied that it had been eaten by the cow, and where was the cow, it had gone away after eating the grass. Wonderful, need I say anything further.

You see, I of course am an ignoramus on this subject and so I say things as they come to my mind. I do not weigh the pros and cons. But I understand what a con means. For me art is from the heart and not from the mind. I still belong to the old school and am still overwhelmed by the old masters.

Hegel in his ‘The Phenomenology of the Spirit’ says 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. So also art is an offshoot of the evolution of the human mind, which has passed various stages in the history of mankind. So we see the development from the prehistoric to Renaissance, Classicism, Realism, Romanticism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism to Modernism and various movements. If one follows their development, one can see the themes varying from the  religious to forms of intense self expression moving away from the biblical, to representations of nature in all its glory, to subjective impressions, to distortion of reality to enhance the emotional effect. Of course art has now become so subjective that it is difficult to comprehend what the artist is conveying.

Subjective representation can be very powerful as can be seen from the expressionistic paintings of Van Gogh and Edvard Munch. The distorted realities of Picasso or the symbolic paintings of surrealist painters like Salvador Dali. With the advent of modernism the subjectivity becomes so intense that it is in a sense incomprehensible at least to me. Though I cannot understand the paintings of the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, I saw the movie ‘Pollock’ starring Ed Harris and liked it. He brings out the neurotic behaviour of the artist so well that one can feel this neurosis on the canvas. One can at least discern a pattern and understand the artist.

So where does this take us. We have a new art movement and maybe we can call it ‘Invisibilism’. This explores invisibility and emptiness or is it nothingness, Sartre must be  turning in his grave.

Finally I am reminded of what Van Gogh said, "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!". We may have to modify that and with due apologies to Van Gogh say “ oh! why did I have to undergo all this agony of painting all these pictures, I could have left blank canvasses instead.”

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