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Friday, August 6, 2010

Art: The Craft of the “Beautiful”

“Transformation of impression into expression is art”, and experiencing the rhythm balance and proportion behind it transports a man into a state of “sublimity”.

Man, it is often said, cannot live with food alone. It doesn’t, however mean that he can live without food. Similarly, he cannot live with “thinking” alone. Nor can he live without “thinking”.  If a man lives only with thinking, he could at the most evolve into a “rationalistic-analyst”. But he cannot acquire rasanubhuti – the art of experiencing the beauty of artifacts. It means, if a man had only “intellect and knowledge”, his ability to experience ananda – “bliss” – remains dormant. He, therefore, remains “incomplete”. It is only when the ability to “think logically” and the ability to “experience beauty” are in equilibrium that the man’s living becomes samagra – “full”.

It is from this samagra – “fullness of life” – that the acumen of man for creation surfaces. And the “perfection” that emerges thus in whatever creation that man attempts, becomes art. That’s why Thomas Aquinas said: “Art is simply a right method of doing things”.

Art is created by man. And man is also a social creature. Therefore art, to a great extent, is the outcome of the society. But society is the creation of man as much as art is the creation of man. Doesn’t it therefore mean that society is the output of art? Whether it is true or not, one thing is certain: art for its survival and growth relies on the society as much as the society relies on art for its sustainability.

That is why, perhaps, historians consider art as a great chronicle of human experience: its reflections of the beliefs and fears, the joys and sufferings and life and death. Simply put, art, in its highest and refined manifestations, is life at its best. And all this “distilment and refinement” – of beauty in sculpture, poetry or music and whatsoever form of art it is – is brought into existence by the artist, while the “experience” and the accompanying empathy with the beauty in the refinement is that of the society. Thus, an artist stands between art and enjoyers of art. Hence, man becomes the critical entity for the existence of both art and society.

In reality, an artist essentially sculpts an artifact for his own bliss. And yet the artifact remains internal to an artist till its creation but once created it becomes the possession of the society. That could be one reason why during the days of Stone Age ‘art’ remained as a property of society than that of an individual – its creator. Indeed, it was said that in those days that it was for the benefit of the society that art was practiced. An artist drawing the figure of an animal before the tribe set out for hunting is the best example of the social cause that the art of those days expounded. That’s why what Bradley said: “Man is not man at all unless social; but he is not above the beasts unless he is more than social”, is equally applicable to art.

“Living” sans vedana – agony and samvedana – ecstasy is not living fully, for when these two are absent there is no rasanubhuti – experiencing of art. Sans rasanubhuti, life becomes dry – remains an unquenchable thirst – which means no bliss. It is to evoke and fulfill these desires that the artist creates artifacts. But the inability to enjoy art is a handicap and this well echoes in what Darwin said: “Formerly pictures gave me a considerable delight. But now I have almost lost my taste for pictures. The loss is a loss of happiness and may probably be injurious to intellect and more probably to moral character”.

Rasanubhuti – the “ability to experience the beauty of art” confers on mankind “psychical distance”, said Edward Bullough. There is an excellent description of this phenomenon in one of the scenes of the ancient drama of India – Mrichakatika. One night a thief enters the house of Charudatta – the hero of the drama – by making a hole in the wall and steals all his valuables. Getting up next morning Charudatta realizes that he lost all his possessions. In the meanwhile, the beauty of the hole made by the thief in the wall attracts the attention of Charudatta. Forgetting the sorrow of losing every valuable in the house, he stands still staring at the hole: he appreciates the cuts, angles, lines – straight lines, perpendicular lines, curvatures – and the very perfection associated with the hole. Indeed, the beauty of the hole makes him happier than the sorrow of the losing valuables. Rasanubhuti, thus, transforms a man from a “materialist status” into a rasajna – a seeker of aesthetic pleasure.

Art and the ability to experience its beauty thus transports one from the mundane state – of competition, market differentiation, profit margins, sustainability of market share, and all those anxieties associated with the ultimate bottom line – to a state of “sublimity” – a state in which everything is at ease with itself, in harmony sans incongruity. No resonance, no disharmony – only pure stithaprajna – a state of equanimity!

And that is art, the ability of experiencing art and the resulting divine state of brahmhananda – bliss!
                                                                                                     - GRK Murty


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