Friday, November 18, 2005

Art Attack


For years I used to be in awe of art. Not 'awe' as in respectful bewilderment, but deep dread at the thought of encountering, and having to comment on, mystifying masterpieces. In corporate foyers, my host would halt in front of an expensively mounted work and pause knowledgeably. In an upwardly mobile (if inwardly puerile) world, style can be bought from a designer and clipped accents picked up from the nearest call centre. Talking intelligently about art is the most difficult skill to acquire, and I had nearly given up being able to do so, until inspiration struck. The secret lay in approaching the problem the way a boy scout would, i.e. by being prepared.

I prepared myself by spending a sabbatical pouring over anthologies and memorising the artists' signatures. An assiduous fortnight later, I could tell the impressionist's squiggle from the post-modernist's flourish. When next I stood before an abstract outpouring of colour, I was ready. "Ah", I said, stooping low (in both physical and moral sense), and shooting a glance at the corner of the frame. It even seemed to wink at me conspiratorially. "Husain", I said, turning to my host, "has such candour. Even his hubris has a touch of innocence about it". As important as knowing whom one is talking about, is knowing what to say. Comments like 'how beautiful' and 'so pretty' have no place in the art con-noisseur's (hyphen intended) lexicon.

Ideally, your words should be as mystifying as the paintings themselves. With practice, I also learnt not to rush headlong into comments. Instead, I would murmur, "Subtle, very subtle", and pause reflectively before coming up with: "Hebbar seems to be in continuous dialogue with his own archetype". The admiration of my listeners was palpable and my culture quotient soared. When I had eloquently declared that Bhupen Khakkar 'connected to forbidden quarters of the soul', that Akbar Padamsee's 'world-view was the healing balm people needed', and that sculptor Adil Davierwalla's stark lines were 'fraught with myth overlayed with contemporary sensuality', the world hailed the arrival of a true aficionado.

Just when I thought I had mastered all the possible perils of art appreciation, a new one reared its head. I am actually beginning to like some of the stuff. THE TIMES OF INDIA : October 11, 2005

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