Friday, December 16, 2005

What is Art?

Silika Mohapatra VISTA
Leo Tolstoy in his essay ‘What is Art’ discards all aesthetic theories that identify art with the ideas of good, truth and beauty. For him art is solely a condition of human life and a means of experiencing the emotion that led the artist to produce his work. To him good art is what infects the viewer, and the more it does so the better. What Tolstoy seems to be emphasizing is the perceiver’s outlook in art, but he appears to be failing in looking at it from the point of view of the artist herself. He talks of art as a relationship but does not realize that art may also be seen as an individual’s enterprise. For the artist, art is an expression of freedom. An artist’s canvas is a place that gives her unbounded liberty to play with myriad colours and forms.
Art may be seen as so personal and unique a venture that the emotion that led the artist to produce his work may be completely different from the one that the perceiver receives. So what do we call such an art? Is it to be categorized as bad art? Art might infect the viewer with some feeling, but it is not at all necessary that it is the same as the one that the artist felt while producing it. Michael Reddy’s speaks of the conduit metaphor as involving a model of communication in which the first person puts his ideas into symbols/words, sends those symbols/words to the second person, who then extracts the ideas out of these symbols/words, as though describing a successful transmission of thoughts, ideas or emotions through a conduit or pipe. Tolstoy seems to be working in this sort of framework in relating art, artist and the observer.
Rather than seeing art as the successful transmission of the artist’s emotion to the perceiver, as Tolstoy did, it may be regarded as either the perceiver’s interpretation, or the artist’s construal, in which case there will be no single defined sentiment that is conveyed. The question of where art resides, whether in the artist’s creativity or the perceiver’s imagination, is a difficult one to answer. Oscar Wilde remarks in his essay, “The Decay of Lying” that the beauty of the sunset is a product of a painter’s imagination. For him art was a beautiful lie. The work of art is thus not merely to emulate an object, as it was perhaps for Plato, but also to enhance and alter it.
While a painting may depict, for instance, the pain of hunger and lead the viewer to feel a similar pain, there is firstly, the possibility of a qualitative difference in the sentiment from that of the artist and secondly, there is a beauty inextricably linked to it, the beautiful depiction of such an emotion. Even if art is to be viewed as a social interaction of sentiments, the idea of beauty cannot be detached from it completely. Beauty might not necessarily be seen as some mysterious idea of metaphysicians. If Tolstoy’s aim is to demolish a notion of absolute beauty in art, that may still be acceptable, for what may appear beautiful to me, might not appear so to somebody else. Aesthetic values may not reside in objects as properties independent of the observer. This is because art is an extremely subjective phenomenon. But to say that it is absolutely detached from beauty appears a little exaggerated and undesirable.
To connect art with delight is not a shallow attempt either. The Indian concept of Ānanda, which is the notion of joy or bliss, emphasizes this very character of art and art forms. In trying to answer the question, “What is Art”, what are we seeking? Is it a definition that we want? But no one perspective will be sufficient enough to elucidate the extensive nature of art, art by its very nature being beyond all confines, all limits.

No comments:

Post a Comment