If historical ignorance obscures the true nature of a literary achievement, an obsession with commercial value — which has dominated reportage on the realm of contemporary Indian art during 2005 — can destroy the possibility of viewing the real accomplishments of visual art. The torrent of words wasted to express rage and outrage at the phenomenal price-linked developments in the market for postcolonial Indian art, for instance, eclipses all serious discussion of works of art as invitations to the senses, provocations to the intelligence, gestures staged against several contexts of feeling and viewing.
The fact that art works are not only objects carrying monetary value, but that they are also discursive and communicative objects — that they reveal their meanings most fully when they are talked about with sensitivity, attention and insightfulness — is being eclipsed by the shallow, ill-informed, often factually incorrect and painfully naïve reportage that passes for cultural journalism today. Unlike Ghalib, contemporary Indian artists do not even have to wait for the gates of the final passage to open; the truth of their art is already being buried by trashy coverage that misses the point of an artistic project, accompanied by the tunes of a publicity apparatus that plays up the man (or woman) and not the work.
The epoch that opens up before us will be one in which transitive selves and their nomadic creative impulses will have to confront, not only official structures, but also the more destructive fixed-frame approach of the mass media.
- How, as we go along, is India's creative capital to be rescued from the oblivion of excessive visibility?
- How shall we evolve forms of attention that enhance aesthetic experience, rather than killing it?
- How will creative individuals find communities that sustain them, rather than relying on fan clubs that cannibalise them, or remaining trapped in ghettoes where familiarity has long ago bred an aesthetic complacency that is far worse than contempt?
- How are writers to win the space of retreat, and artists to secure the repose so necessary for them to tap the deep springs of their art, to maintain contact with the operative rhythms of their work?