The Blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine – we DISSENT

Art in contemporary times

Art by Lonfeldt

By Rekha Revathy

Art works always have that capacity to reflect a thought, fact, etc. Arts also have the power to take such thoughts and facts to the common man, making them think and react. Art works have a very key role in knowledge creation and creation of public discourse on many issues.

Art works intended to create awareness among the public seem to carry a flame within it and this flame boosts the power of resistance. As Mark LeVine writes in his 2015 paper, “…art has always been a handmaiden to revolution and culture its fuel, for no other reason than social and political (inter)action are inherently symbolic and performative, and thus inherently aesthetic and affective. It is impossible to move large masses of people into the streets and convince them to risk everything for the slim chance of changing their future for the better without having a powerful cultural and artistic component to convey the messages in the most affective—that is, emotionally effective—manner possible.”

In my view, the intention to light up the lamp of resistance and solidarity in somebody’s mind through an art work can be fulfilled by making the work more attractive. Along with that the work should also possess the capacity to make people think that the work reflects a situation, issue, etc. in their surrounding or an experience which they themselves have been undergoing, if not undergone. A situation they have to resist and they are also able to do so. Art has to be more than just a tool of critique, as Mark LeVine said in his work quoting Dalai Lama: “Art must awaken people to compassion.” Simplicity of language and presentation, in addition to excitement and beauty, is important for an art work if it is meant for creating a sense of solidarity and resistance in the minds of public. In my view, short stories, poetry, songs, plays, etc. designed at the pre-independence period possessed the aforesaid qualities due to which these works succeeded in bringing together people for the Indian independence movement. Artists along with freedom fighters played a very key role by presenting situations, happenings, issues, and facts in the real form with appreciable creativity and beauty. In the words of Mark LeVine, art works cannot stop with merely highlighting never mind heightening a discord; it has to take the next step and promote a vision, a path and a method to create a new kind of accord between the people who must act and consort if the system is to be seriously challenged. In my opinion, art forms other than that of the classical ones are more suitable for conveying current happenings and challenging the decisions of power-holders. I feel that art forms like roadshows, amateur plays, parody songs, light music, cartoons, short stories, novels, features, articles, other than the classical art forms such as classical music, professional theater, classical dance forms, give artists more flexibility to innovate. I feel that these non-classical art forms are more emotionally effective than that of the classical ones.

In the era of technological growth and globalization, the aura of art forms are also changing. The present-day artists are getting more platforms to exhibit their art works, attracting more people. Today social media platforms are becoming a good medium for the artists to publicize their creations, calling our attention and reaction to the current happenings. These days art works cross boundaries and create a space for dialogue and sense of solidarity among the general public. Using computers, mobile phones, internet, artists present their creation to more people belonging to different classes and places. These works interact with the audience and call for their reaction.

In my view, literary works are more effective, in comparison with visual arts like dance, movies, etc., for knowledge creation because many aspects of visual arts such as costumes, actions, background, music can divert our attention from the idea that the artists actually want to convey. As we tend to concentrate on multiple things at a time, some portions of the work will not stick in our mind. In case of literary works, we undergo a three-stage process of reading, analyzing, and visualizing the situation on our own. In case of visual arts, we are more given to seeing (consuming) than analyzing them; hence we keep those things we expect otherwise gone through in our minds. And here it is not necessary that we will consume the whole idea. Thus we may not always be in a position to share full information and engage in discussions and take appropriate decisions, showing our solidarity and resistance.

In my view, art forms in the modern times are more complex in nature. The common man may not always be able to understand the actual message which the artist intends to convey. Sometimes we may not be able to comprehend the essence in the art work and remain confused about the things to pay attention to and the things to ignore. This results in insufficient knowledge creation leading to ambiguity in discourse, too. In such cases, we are unable to empathize with the scenario and we are left with some broken facts and ambiguous conclusions which will not allow us to give the appropriate reaction that the situation demands. The abundance of artistic creations leads to increased competition putting the audience in a dilemma in reaching their stance. In the early days, the number of artistic creations in any genre was less, letting people choose from few alternatives. Today, the use of internet, mobile phones, and different softwares for editing have reduced the cost of production and dissemination to a large extent. Walter Benjamin aptly argued that the aura of art was lost as artistic production and circulation became industrialized, mass produced, and commodified.

The present day audience have a lot to choose from. We can see repetitions and similarities in different creations which reduce content quality of such creations. On the one hand, the audience have more freedom to make their own choice from a large number of options before them; on the other hand, many such art works fail to touch the depth of our mind which is a requirement to create knowledge and a sense of solidarity among people. Information transmitted through different art works mislead people often. There seems a reduction in enjoyment that the audience get from many art works these days. As we enjoy less the art works we encounter, we don’t absorb the facts presented through them to the best possible extent. All art works are not meant for creating awareness among the public about something or the other or for creating a sense of solidarity or resistance; some are purely meant for entertaining its audience. An example could be comedy shows. As the content quality has deteriorated, the preferences of audience for enjoying a show has also changed. There are now many sources available before the audience to get information about a particular art work in advance. Since the audience already know about a particular art work, they may disengage from a work right at the beginning if they feel that the work is not up to their expectation.

Today it is a challenge for both artists and their art works to catch the attention of masses and sustain it. There is an increase in both creation of art works and information available to the public. The audience come to an art work with certain expectations. A tone of superficiality has pervaded present-day visual arts, which remain attractive just on the surface. The capacity of art work to create a sense of solidarity and resistance has reduced to a great extent. Due to abundance of artistic creations and their availability to the public on the online space, the social purpose of art has become banal and diluted.

Rekha Revathy G
 works at Indian Overseas Bank, Kerala.


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Revisiting the Partition of India”, edited by Kamayani Kumar, University of Delhi, India.

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