Saturday, November 21, 2009

Appreciating art

What is it about M.F.Husain’s art that enables him to rake in millions? I can’t make out head or tail of his paintings and pull my hair trying to figure out what he is trying to portray. I recall that R.K.Narayan too had had some difficulty in understanding this artist. In one of his articles after his visit to the USA, Narayan had written:

“My next halt was at the Indian consulate where M.F.Husain was exhibiting his latest paintings among which a portrait of myself was included. I had given him a sitting the previous week, but when I saw the portrait, I remarked that I didn’t look like myself. He had smiled at my lack of taste and replied that I wouldn’t know my real self. I left it at that.."

I decided to do some reading on ‘abstract art’ and learn some fundas. Here is a site that provides a fair bit of history and information.

Why do we create art? “asks Harley Hahn and then proceeds to answer the question.

There are a number of straightforward reasons why human beings create art: to make a decoration, to tell a story, to capture or preserve an image, or to illustrate an idea. However, there is another, more subtle, but far more important reason why art is important to us.

The need to reach inside ourselves and manipulate our unconscious feelings is universal. We all do it to some degree, although most of the time we are blind to what we are doing.

That is where art comes in.

One of the purposes of art is to allow us indirect access to our inner psyche. Great art affords a way to get in touch with the unconscious part of our existence, even if we don't realize what we are doing. In this sense, the role of the artist is to create something that, when viewed by an observer, evokes unconscious feelings and emotions.

The reason abstract art has the potential to be so powerful is that it keeps the conscious distractions to a minimum. When you look at, say, the apples and pears of Cézanne, your mental energy mostly goes to processing the images: the fruit, the plate, the table, and the background. However, when you look at "Lavender Mist", you are not distracted by meaningful images, so virtually all of your brain power is devoted to feeling. You can open yourself, let in the energy and spirit of the painting, and allow it to dance with your psyche.

Of course, this only works if you cooperate with the artist. His job is to create a painting that is rendered so skillfully that, when you look at it, what you see actually changes what you feel at an unconscious level. Your job is to clear your conscious mind of thoughts and preconceptions in order to allow yourself to be influenced by what you are seeing. This means that, if you are to truly appreciate a work of art, you must be willing to let yourself go, to put yourself in the hands of the artist, so to speak, and let him take you wherever he wants.

Much of the time, this partnership fails, sometimes because the artist is simply not skillful enough; often because the person looking at the painting does not know how to truly appreciate it.

It is unfortunate that when I look at M.F.Husain’s painting, I don’t know how to truly appreciate it. From RKN’s admission, I can, at least, take solace in the fact that I am in illustrious company. I think both of us are too cynical and refuse to let the artist penetrate our inner selves and manipulate our unconscious feelings. I need to let myself go, put myself in the hands of the artist and let him take me wherever he wants.


Balajisblog said...

Raj - Artists like MFH look deep within the "inner soul" of the subject, and that is why they end up gathering extremely good looking ladies as their friends. Madhuri vs RKN - MFH is clear....Balaji..

Priya Sivan said...

The reason is we want everything to be handed over on a platter and that is why we are able to appreciate only understandable art! Visit, paint, animate and present it as a movie. Walt Disney's "UP" is an example. If a movie is made out of animated abstract art, how many will understand and appreciate?

Raj said...

Balaji : Perhaps the good-looking ladies were mighty kicked to learn that they had a soul in the first place.

Priya, so many 'art movies' come up in film festivals. They are the equivalent of abstract drawings. I watched one Malayalam movie once, in which the first half hour has nothing but a lorry being driven. The director was probably trying to plumb the inner depths of the lorry driver's soul.

Sudha said...

used to feel the same about Picasso's work. When I went to see his art gallery in Barcelona, I realised that he started abstracts at a different point in his life, whereas, he was brilliant in portraits. But when i saw the abstracts that related to the las Meninas painting of Velasquez, it suddenly made a lot of sense. So, we need someone to take us through that madness.. then suddenly there is clarity. So hopefully, if we go to some gallery of Hussain's works and someone has done some deconstruction, then .. there is hope for me , at least.