Art is the Art of Going Beyond the Obvious
This article was originally published in October 2016.
There is a story in Vishnudharmottara Puran, much referred to by scholars of Indian art, that I am reminded of. King Vajra approaches Sage Markandeya and requests him that he wants to learn painting. The sage looks at him, smiles, and says that he would need to learn to write before he would learn to paint. In order to learn writing, he needs to learn dance. For dance, he needs to learn music. And the story goes on… The sage’s cyclic rumination is probably what describes the prerequisite of being an artist. In order to be a good photographer, a good artist of any medium, you have to develop an overall understanding of the arts. Give art your heart. Do remember, I am using the word ‘art’ in a broad way. Any creative pursuit, where you convey a thought as a form of expression, can be classified as art.
Having traversed both photography and other disciplines of art, there is one aspect where I find a lot of young photographers lacking, because of the over reliance on technology in the medium. Their exposure to alternate ways of expression is often limited. Getting involved with other disciplines of expression, like music, theatre, poetry, painting and so on, helps acquire better understanding of one’s medium. How will this help a photographer? When you indulge yourself in multiple art forms, you learn to appreciate different nuances and subtleties, each of which you can then imbibe in the next chapter of your photographic journey.
There is another reason why I am advocating this. Photography, by its sheer nature, is a very spontaneous medium. If you engage in other art forms, one thing that you will appreciate about them is how you have to work towards something. So be it the thousands of strokes required to make a sketch or a painting, or the amount of deliberation needed to compose a song. Photography is instant—point shoot, you are done, no time to mull things over, no time to sensitise yourself, unless one is consciously involved with the need to treat every photographic pursuit as riyaaz.
The most important reason this has happened is that personal contact is so much lesser. Most of us look at pictures on our cameras or on our computers. The tactility, the experience of touching and feeling the print, dodging and burning it, is not there anymore. There is just a gadget in our hands now, designed to help, but which ends up being a hindrance between us and our sensitivity. How do we achieve this seemingly abstract sensitivity—from the idea of rasika, by developing an aesthetic. And that takes hours, days, months and years. You have to have an eye that is receptive and perceptive.
It’s the simple things that matter. To sing well, you need to have good ears to listen. To write eloquently, you need to have the ability to read. To shoot well, you have to develop the capability to see. It’s a neverending process, and maybe that’s the joy of it. But art is not just about practising it. It’s about getting into its madness, understanding its history, recognising its limitations and then experimenting. It’s about pushing the medium to its limits, about doing all you can, transcending barriers, and then going beyond… beyond the obvious.Tags: Visual Musings, July 2014, Diwan Manna