Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The function of art, according to me.

I find art fascinating because it allows for contrary forces to operate at the same time. It is one of the few subjects in the world that can function at opposite ends of different spectrums simultaneously.

At the most general level it affects both the individual and the collective. Individually, it allows the viewer to remove him/herself from emotions while also experiencing them, creating an almost cathartic effect similar to what Aristotle speaks of when he analyzes Greek tragedy. At the same time, it affords the viewer the transcendental experience that rasa theoreticians like to claim is its purpose.

An individual also does not need knowledge of a genre's particular vocabulary to appreciate art, making it a universal subject that crosses and breaks boundaries. Yet, it remains regional: a person armed with that kind of knowledge is at an advantage nonetheless, and art sometimes is not wholly functional for the spectator without it.

While the individual has the capacity to be transformed by art, it can change the face of a society as a whole is as well. Indian classical dance, in the face of extinction fifty years ago, intertwined itself with the well being of India as a nation state and became an integral part of the independence movement, both dictating and reflecting the values people hold today.

Art is also not transformative in nature; simply reflecting the world around it in a poignant manner. For instance, Indian dance recently saw a huge spurt of productions about the power of the female. An analysis of this revealed a backlash to governmental ideals of women during the Independence movement - so art has shown a revealing look into the psyche of women post-revolution. Again, at the other end of the spectrum, it can also be representative of an artist's notions of the world around it, like Picasso.

So, art is full of simultaneous dichotomies - it both transforms and quietly reflects, it is individual and societal, it is real and transcendental, it is cathartic and can rile the soul. Politics in art has its place, just as sticking to tradition and not creating new work does, and those who claim anything one way or the other seem to have no idea that art has no rules. Society likes to give it rules and restrictions to make it easier to comprehend, to claim that we know what the supreme meaning of art is, but at the end of the day art has a vast myriad of functions and we can only point out what these are and perhaps analyze how to achieve them as such.

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