Over conversations, I said it; I wondered and spoke out. More like spoke out as much as I could and not as much as I wanted. Little fears cloud around and carry heavy rains; peculiar rains; no water, just destruction.
I asked, what would I choose – opportunity cost or self-loathing? One that visits sometimes dressed like a memory or the one that seeps through every vein of lived out life? What is to never choose and live and live but never choose.
What if I say I heard him talking as if he knows everything; words, his words, pulling their own meaning down. How much of meaning my words have given to him. Words, my words, making up for everything left unsaid.
There are rains, heavy rains, somewhere above the skies of Delhi, waiting to unleash. There are things in between, though; things that make the rains and us seem invisible to each other. So, I say much too much of dried up lives; their hearts, heavier than heat and lighter than moisture.
My niece, a six year old, used to sow stones in hope of them breaking out; through
The ground, breathe,
I’m writing this under the influence of sickness and the thoughts it dumps on me. This is somewhat like Kahlo’s ‘What The Water Gave Me’; much stripped down though. There are texts I’ve been replying to, calls that I’ve been answering; and making myself, sometimes. More than ever, and anything, I’ve been staring at my phone.
Down two days of nothing, there are days to come. Days, I have nothing to know of. And somewhere between these days, there is anticipation lost in ambiguities. Like the refracted light of setting sun, there’s illumination, scattered, red, in my head.
I was here a month ago, I’m still here, at least that; what he thinks. Should I call him ‘it’ if he’s nothing more than a thought? A desire unfulfilled, revisiting my bed like a nightmare I’ve been dreading of. Something sinks, puts a hook somewhere within, and then leaves like a soul. Where do we keep our medicines anyway?
So, this makes me, and I make this a show. A weekend still awaiting its demise like a plagued outcaste. As I am sick, and you know, I shall be forgiven if I puke my words out; they are, after all, a collective of self-destructive invisibles.
I almost bit my tongue for reaching at this public discussion at the time when chairs were being folded and conversations became private over tea. A talk on Hindi music ‘then and now’, four well-informed and passionate individuals came together at Oxford Bookstore to create a discourse on what they termed as a ‘transition period’ of lyrics in Hindi cinema. In whatever little time I had, minus the awkward hesitations, I managed to get few words from the two most interesting and diverging viewpoints – Shikha Jhingann and Gautam Chintamani.
Me: As I see this distinction between ‘then’ and ‘now’, I believe it’s because of the difference in motive behind making music; what was meant to be for engagement before, is made for consumption now. What do you think about that?
Shikha: I believe music was always made for consumption. It’s hard to imagine commercial production of music without there being a listener for it.
Me: Let me put this distinction into perspective. By engagement I mean a certain sense of emotional or cognitive relation one develops with the music, while consumption would be a pure non-critical ‘intake’ of music.
Shikha: That maybe true. But I believe that there’s no need of creating such distinction in the first place. I mean, the sort of music that we have today we had it back then as well, and vice versa. Even today, you have musical pieces with meaningful lyrics being incorporated in the movies.
Me: Agreed! But don’t you think discussions such as this one require certain sampling? Maybe a little more attention to what is being ‘popularly’ produced these days.
Shikha: You can do that but I don’t see the need of it. I’m more interested in how music is being used in films rather than what sort of music it is. Earlier, we had musical pieces that existed independent of the main plot of the film and were shown with actors lip-syncing and suddenly breaking into choreographed moves. Now, we see songs getting embedded in the narrative that no longer requires lip syncing and just stoically plays in the background.
Me: What do you gather from this distinction?
Shikha: I think that has led to further alienation between the listener and the song. We no longer relate to the song or remember the lyrics. Songs are just reduced to a background score.
Me: But I think I relate more to songs that are consequential to the narrative and are being played alongside the scene. It creates a more holistic and meaningful relationship with not just the song but also the context; taking it back to my point regarding engagement.
Shikha: Well, some people do relate to the ’embedded’ style of music. But I still feel that the lack of independent space for songs in films affect our connection with not just the lyrics but the song itself.
Just after my conversation with Shikha, I managed to take Gautam out of what seemed like a lighthearted private discussion, and had a brief talk with him that centered around similar questions.
Me: Do you see the distinction as one concerning with ‘engagement’ and ‘consumption’?
Gautam: of course there’s consumption. There’s a process in place that sees music as a product and the listener as a consumer. As attention span of public is getting shorter, producers are making music that can catch the fancy of the listener by the earliest.
Me: So, do you think there’s some sense of ‘research’ involved in deciding as to what sort of music would be suitable for commercial interests? For instance, psychological studies, market research, etc.
Gautam: I don’t think so, no.
Me: Then what is understood as ‘commercially viable’?
Gautam: One that was a major hit last week.
Me: Shikha pointed out to me that there’s no need for classifying music as ‘then’ and ‘now’ for there are all sorts of music present even today. Do you agree with her?
Gautam: No, I don’t. I believe such distinction is important merely because it is happening. There’s a cultural shift in the way we produce music today and people should have a knowledge of it. Such distinction and its consequences cannot be made apparent if it is not recognised and discussed thereof in the first place.
Me: Agreed! But as Shikha pointed out, what is the purpose we are trying to serve by creating such distinction? Is it political, cultural, or anything of value?
Gautam: It may not be political; it may not be of value. But it is definitely significant for critically evaluating the development in musical practices or identifying the best ones of an era. There’s a big change in how Rahman produced music in the late 90s or early 2000s and the way he produces today; same applies to Gulzar and his music. And nothing of it can be understood without sampling and classifying the ‘transition period’.
My talk with Gautam was ended abruptly by the arrival of his cab and unfortunately he had to leave without answering my further questions. However, whatever little that we discussed, one can gather some insight into how we critically evaluate musical practices, both in terms of as they exist and in relation to their development. On the other hand, Shikha shed some light on an interesting way of looking at our engagement with music; something that is often ignored by the viewer of a film. Apart from their diverging views, I managed to find a single concurring theme – and that – is our engagement with music. Out of the many things debated, both Shikha and Gautam want us to engage with music critically and emotionally and reflect upon such engagement at levels of varying degrees.
Hunger by Florence + The Machine is here and it’s such a visual rarity. Directed by AG Rojas, who seems to be the sole visual director for the new album High as Hope, has displayed an intelligent and intricate use of frames; a careful imagining of the space, objects and most importantly – art.
The restriction of the visuals within a square frame shows Rojas’s intentional reminder of how to acknowledge his effort. He has reflected narrative as a painting, words finding their meaning in the images, all reflected through a frame, or maybe, a canvas. A canvas where use of light, camera angle and elemental discontinuity makes every frame a work of art in itself. The recurrent use of long still shots, with the subject looking away from the viewer, is testament to the same.
It is not just the elements of direction that has caught my fancy; there’s much to be appreciated in the narrative as well. The most apparent theme would be the use of art as a metaphor to life. The statue shown in the early frames comes across as an allegorical representation of a human body in general, and that of Florence in particular – one may trace it from the hand gesture Florence makes in the first frame which is similar to that of the statue, and in many recurrent similarities in positioning in subsequent frames.
That said, we shall now look deeper into the statue and the reason behind using it as an allegory. Walter Benjamin in his essay Art in the Age of Mechanical Production has talked about as to how the meanings and values that are associated with an artwork changes with the change in the context in which it is placed. This perceptive change has much to do with how we engage with the artwork, our own understanding, rather than the inherent meaning or value of the same. The artwork is then merely an object of our understanding, our perceptions; our unilateral desires. For instance, the way we look at an object of every day use might change if we see that object being placed in an art museum, and then change again, if we later see it in the church. This coupled with the British concept of Seeing, which describes the ways through which aesthetics incorporates or subjects itself to the perceptive gaze, come across as a dominant theme in the narrative.
The statue, despite remaining the same, gets associated with various meanings with the change of the place and people handling it. For instance, for that disdained surgeon, dissecting the statue became a matter of ‘his’ satisfaction and claim rather than that of the statue itself. Also, we see the statue having certain voids which are mostly ignored except by one person who curiously wanted to go deeper in his understanding of an external figure. The moment he touched the voids, we see something unsettling Florence in the next frame – another sign establishing the allegory theory.
This is where I bring in the lyrics, or as Florence said it, the poetics. In a statement made to BBC she said: ‘
This song is about the ways we look for love in things that are perhaps not love, and how attempts to feel less alone can sometimes isolate us more”.
The constant positioning of ourselves, our bodies, to the fancies of others is what that resonates well with the statue allegory. The desire to be loved, the stretch of it to an extent that it becomes hunger, makes love a delusion. Despite being melancholic, she’s talking to herself as an other, and asking her to believe in her self and her beauty. For most importantly, sometimes it’s not about finding the answers, but about just knowing that thing; the thing that makes us feel the way we do.
Art relies much on representation, or maybe not. Aesthetics, as a discipline, has incessantly posed certain debates on the purpose and meaning of art. Such debates often place art as a matter of study within the meta-disciplines of philosophy, psychology and even science. While art for art’s sake is also a prevailing perception, what resonates as a ‘virtue’ among all is the inherent ‘authenticity’ of art. In this essay, I will talk about the understanding of ‘authentic’ in art (In aesthetics, one may also call it ‘authentic art’), the different perspectives on the same and how an artist achieves such authenticity.
Dardagny Morning by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot
In European aesthetics, it was the period of Renaissance that spearheaded the conscience of ‘real’ in art. What is famously termed as ‘humanism’, art began to look both inwards and outwards. The outward vision was oriented towards the life outside self, and the inward, was the recognition of the alike, the body, the human. This anthropocentric development was further given a spiritual direction by the Romantics. Suddenly, the concepts of ‘genius’, ‘sublime’ and ‘imagination’ rekindled the artists and the inward vision became much more individualistic. The art was no longer only the recognition of the ‘alike’ but it went on to celebrate artist’s own perception of life; sourced from deeper spiritual understanding of the ‘living’.
Starry Night by Van Gogh
As the individuation of art continued, it was during the 19th century that the concept of ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ in art became a matter of serious debate. In styles such as Impressionism, Modernism and Expressionism, artists were engaging with the outward subject matter but the representation of the same was not so clearly discernible as ‘real’. The shift in focus towards elements of art, namely light, colour and texture, the representation of the ‘real’ had to filter through the creative perception of the artist. In other words, the representation of the objectivity was refracted through the subjectivity of the artist.
With the development of science and technology, the world of aesthetics was presented with a peculiar version of the aforementioned debate – Photography. The medium of photography was peculiar because unlike impressionism, there was no indiscernible relationship between the subject matter and its representation. Rather, a photograph became the most realist and reliable representation of the ‘real’, the ‘outward’, the ‘life’. This gave rise to a new word in the debate on the authentic – the accurate. Unlike art, where authenticity, in different periods and styles, was determined by the different ways of expressing artists’s original creativity, photography left little for such ‘internal’ or ‘spiritual’ expression. The representation became so real that it was hard to call it authentic. This is precisely why photography had a hard time being recognised as a work of art; and the struggle continues.
Photographer: Guy Bourdin, Metropolitan Museum of Art
This is a right time to differentiate authentic and the accurate. Authentic, like in the case of impressionist art, is the representation of objectivity refracted through the subjectivity of the artist. On the other hand, Accurate is the representation of the objectivity with little or no refraction through the subjectivity of the photographer. This line of differentiation gave rise to two sets of parallel debates; first, whether photography only falls under the category of accurate, and second, which one between the two is ethically justifiable.
Miss Butterfly by Shadi Ghadirian
The first line of debate became apparent when the nature of photography saw a diversification. The rise of artistic photography dragged the medium away from its conventional understanding of a recording agent. The use of artistic expression through the medium of photography challenged the claim of it being an accurate representation of the real. The objectivity began to refract through the subjectivity of the artist, and the lines between accurate and authentic, blurred. However, not only the other forms of photography continued to flourish, the claim of artistic photography itself could not dismantle the distinction completely. The fact that the subject matter in artistic photography continued to be the most realist representation of the objectivity, the resultant accuracy continued. And so did, the debate.
Now, how do we move on to understand the ethical nature of art which is premised on this debate on Accurate and Authentic? The answer may lie on cognitive value of art. While Accurate gives us the most honest possible representation of the objective, it is the Authentic that makes us see beyond the representation. The cognitive value of Authentic digs deeper beneath the surface representation and bring out meanings that remain unseen in Accurate. The true meaning of original is what is true to an artist. If an artist considers a self-alienated and accurate representation of the objectivity as the only meaning of original, so be it; for there are also artists who believe that original cannot be produced without the refraction of objectivity through an authentic perception of self.
As Simone de Beauvoir puts it in he Ethics of Ambiguity, the true authentic self becomes meaningful only when its other-regarding. Authentic or Accurate; an original or true artistic expression requires an engagement with the outward. While, the terms of engagement might differ, the very fact that an artist consciously realises this engagement, makes her work not only meaningful but also transcendental.