Thursday 8 January 2015

How Do I Engage With Art?

As I was whiling away time on internet, I stumbled across an idea –treat art as if it is a human being. The idea was an image representation- of art and onlooker embracing each other in a kiss. The image spoke to me, telling me something I was struggling to articulate for a long time – how to engage with art? The answer given was simple - engage with art like it is a human being. But can we treat art like a human being- we can’t give art food to eat, water to drink, put it to sleep or actually kiss it.

I remember having left art galleries and auditorium feeling very inadequate for not having understood the painting hung on the wall or made sense of dance performed in an auditorium. Being a student of history and philosophy of art, believing that I was passionate about art, it was disappointing to realize that when it came to understanding specific art work, it was a totally different ball game. This summer, joining Antara as a Research Affiliate, I spent my time observing dance in the dance class and eventually also dancing. I listened to the staccato of the wooden taala, sometimes watching people move to it and eventually moving to it myself. As I started being in this space, how I tried to connect with art in general and dance in specific shifted fundamentally.

What was so different about how I looked at dance in an auditorium and how I looked at it here, at Antara? Settings like art galleries and auditorium do not allow us to explore art, play with it. Often my engagement with art in these places is limited by distance and regulation. Antara was a free space, it let me do what was not allowed in auditorium and galleries, it allowed me to play with it. It let me engage with dance by including me in the environment rather than excluding me from it. In an auditorium, the stage excludes the audience. At Antara, even as an observer I was inside of the environment and felt physically and psychologically close to dance.

When dance is performed in an auditorium, when a painting is kept in a gallery it is decontextualized, we do not know where it comes from, which world it was made. In contrast to this when we see a writers room full of books, a scientists room with equipments we don’t just see objects. Such environments express the relationship of the writer with her books and scientist with her equipments. “Relationship” is the word of focus here. I might buy a book and keep it without reading it. Then I am not really owning the book or have a relationship with it except in economic terms. Only when I read it, engage with it, listen to it and speak with it, can I take the text from the author and make it my own. The environment at Antara allowed me this kind of engagement- allowed me to bring dance closer to myself and establish my own spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual relationship with it.

Some audience can be really moved by a performance in an auditorium so this is not to imply that one cannot engage with dance in an auditorium at all. This is to say that community spaces like Antara facilitates one to listen to art for more closely and deeply when compared to an auditorium. What the image meant when it suggested that art is human was that it is beyond just any other physical object. What makes it more than a mere object is our relationship with it. So it is not about making art human but letting art make you more human, to let art be the stimuli that evokes your emotion, intellect, body and spirit- all the qualities that make a one a human being.

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