Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A small chat with Ania Loomba, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Shankar Mahadevan, Unnikrishnan, Priyadarsini Govind, and Namit Malhotra: Wharton Economic Conference part 2

So now that I've told you of the gist of this conference, I would like to tell you more about the panel itself, or at least my observations of it.  It all stems around the question I asked to the panel in general:

"We all accept that tradition has an ever changing value system.  But what I would like to know is, of the tradition you see changing before your eyes, is there anything in particular you would warn us of losing, any aspect that you see dying that you'd prefer to preserve or aspects that you are excited to see go?"

The question was not answered properly, and I received some fairly generic answers in return, more or less hearing that change would always happen and not to worry if it did.  For instance, Unnikrishnan brought to light the point that the violin, an undeniable force of nature in Indian classical music, was only added to the genre in the 18th century or so.  However, this was a change that was an addition, and not a removal - all was gained and nothing was lost!  So I think there was some confusion as to my question as well.

What was far more interesting though was what I gleaned from listening to this panel and speaking to Ms. Govind a bit more afterwards:

Artists (and perhaps I am iterating the obvious) who have made art completely financially viable for themselves with no issues - do not seem to worry about their form at all.  Example number two: in a later conversation with only Priyadarsini I mentioned how dancers use abhinaya less and less these days and there was no worry.  There was also most certainly a vehement "no" when I asked if she was concerned about gradual diminishing of abhinaya in the classical arts today or if she thought there was a
diminished nature at all.  To summarize, her point was: Change will happen as it does and nothing serious will be lost.

Yet, many, many artists - including Kalanidhi Kuchipudi and Nrityagram - have admitted to leaving out abhinaya pieces or doing less of them as "Westerners do not understand them".  Further, an enormous number of the lesser known artists I have spoken to wonders at some level what is being lost or question the changes that are happening around them.

I wouldn't say that financial success makes an artist complacent, and I definitely don't claim a right or wrong view here, but the evidence seems to show that if you are making money off your art, you are less likely to question the change that is happening in the world around you....

I do realize this wasn't the most in depth analysis (er...really? People who make different amounts of money off their profession think differently about it??) but hey! it had to be noted.

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