Saturday, November 19, 2005

Ways of Seeing

The Indian Express Sunday, April 11, 2004
There is this fascinating book called My Name is Red by the Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk. The book is poised in the midst of a changing world. The sacred state of being that created miniature, painted elaborate borders and gilded manuscripts is being threatened by revolutionary European methods and techniques of painting. A whole philosophy hovers behind what is happening in this confrontation of civilisations.
On the one hand is the devotion to established rules and norms of painting, a total obedience to what has been formulated that leaves no space or scope for the individual voice, no possibility for different strokes. This state of being also required an ethical and moral integrity to accept this system. The threat to this world comes from the European painting methods of the seventeenth century, of many voices and styles, of the artist as individual, of different strokes for different folks.
This is the argument I wish to use. Before the artist became an individual and found expression in his own imagination, or in a particular style and technique, things were very different for the one who created. The artist belonged to a larger system of visual codification, which was in keeping with norms that were already established. Since there was no personal style in the system there was therefore no signature, only the following of a convention which developed around faith and religion. A lot of activity was around the architectural grandeur of churches, mosques, stupas and temples, the carvings to be found therein or the paintings and mosaics that decorated them further.
The result everywhere was of great beauty brought about by faith, talent and virtuosity. And, of course, no identity. The implication was that the self was not as important as the gift to God and the joy to be evoked in the viewer. The notion of artist as individual, as a person to reckon with, as star and celebrity really began with the Renaissance. Some of the artists were renowned, knew the rich and powerful and accepted commissions based on their ability and artistic expression. They had their own style, their own way of seeing and of interpreting reality.
There are artists in India today who state that their art so strongly bears their style that they do not need to sign. They say their style is their signature. For buyers the signature is important. There are those who buy signatures, not paintings. And it goes without saying that a fake will definitely need a signature to establish credibility. There are artists who develop different styles during their artistic career. Each style implies the release of passion and intensity. Once that is spent, the style too, is exhausted and loses meaning. Then the artist moves on to another style. There is a need to establish ownership to each style, hence the signature. Certain young artists today declare that they are too busy experimenting with medium, method and material to pause and develop a style that they get identified with. But they require a signature to establish claim.
How confused everything is, as we go round and round. There are as many opinions as there are people and no way of knowing the right from the wrong.

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