It’s not that I have anything against artists or art. It is the very opposite actually. Hitherto, I considered my personal critique of various forms of art quite out-of-the-box. Only to discover lately that my assumption was simply based on naivety and that my understanding of art is not only superficial but fallacious to the core. How, you may ask, did I arrive at this consensus on my aesthetics. Simply by getting up and close with what is universally applauded as genius. Art, for me, is like Shakespearean insult for someone who knows nothing of him. You say ‘Frailty thy name is woman,’ and she’d think you are referring to her frail frame.
As an editor at a weekly, I skimmed through contributions for art pages regularly and usually passed them off as someone’s personal reflections on others’ work derived from their experience in the field or their over-the-years encounter with different forms of art. I’m referring to art critics who, like critics everywhere, take up this responsibility of scrutinizing artistic creations driven by the belief that they are shaping public taste. This should mean that Imanullah has done a better job at shaping public taste than these critics. Art criticism, let’s assumer here, has little to do with the masses, as does art. This is where people like me come in — the Joe next door who likes junk food and Antonio Bendaras’ smile with competing intensity. We don’t care about what art critics say, we like what we like. Pop, all the way.
Some of you might remember a project taken up by Pakistan’s ace photographers a few years back involving photographing (and photoshoping) the local icons like Begum Nawazish Ali, Edhi (yes these two names in the same sentence, this is what things have come to), Ardeshir Kowasjee, Mahin Khan and Javed Miandad among others. A friend, who is currently in the running to become the country’s leading fiction writers, asked me to accompany him to the exhibition at Lahore’s National College of Arts. Excited, since the press was raving about it, I went to witness what was suppose to be ‘nothing out of the ordinary.’ It took the respective art critic in me nearly fifteen minutes to absorb what my friend called an outburst of creativity. Only to hear at the end of it that my reading of this extraordinary project was mindblowingly superficial. So, some of us are not good at it. Most of us actually. It was embarrassing and awkward but it did make me ask questions of myself. Is this what they mean when they say art is not for the masses? Or are artists so afraid of criticism that feeding it to the ordinary minds could cause irreparable damage, both to the artist’s ego and art? But then art is public property, who thinks it too redundant to claim it.
The second hit was bigger, and worst because this time Monet and Van Gogh were in the picture. Excited, again, I looked forward to witnessing the work of the impressionist giants up close and personal. Before setting off to LA’s Getty Centre I did some preliminary research on impressionists only to prepare myself for the moment which — when it actually came — was closer to the reaction at the end of Tendulkar’s first catch dropped at Mohali. What I expected to be larger than life impressions looked, to put it mildly, little orange dabs on the otherwise grey canvas. And Van Gogh, let’s not even go there — his famous ‘Irises’ was in my face, literally and I gasped for something, anything but the moment ended as it came. Just like that. And off I went to Burger King.
The anticipation of catching a moment in history through Van Gogh’s ‘Irises’ involved a lot of expectations. May be that’s where the problem starts, expecting art to be pleasing and satisfactory. Mona Lisa is an artist’s dream, so when you see it you expect something which might not be there. Not to expect is the key perhaps. With this attitude art might become more, let’s say, bearable. So I like a painting because it looks beautiful to me, I don’t need to come up with a more scholarly reason, I like a song because it sounds good to my ears. Picasso, for me, could be random lines and disfigured women, Renaissance is too much flesh and modern art just absolute nonsensical. Those who are involved in all of these do find meaning in these, away from the chaos surrounding them. Meaning can’t be forced, it comes to you effortlessly. And when it doesn’t come to you, you do something about it rather than waiting for a miracle. For an ordinary person, there might be more meaning in Shahrukh Khan’s determination to be with the woman he loves, even it mean reincarnation than an installation showing human voices chanting ‘the time shall come.’
A background in literature, empowers you with an understanding of appreciating creativity in its many forms. Even while studying literature, the process of choosing a niche — drama, poetry, prose or fiction — is an in-depth study of the multifaceted human creativity. One shouldn’t however take it for granted. Appreciating art is acquired taste, especially modern art. But it is important to let art into the front gate of the mind, now and then trying to make it feel at home.