Traditional Skills, New Concepts and Pressure Cookers

Editorial : Traditional Skills, New Concepts and Pressure Cookers / Johny ML

I do not say art should not express sad things; art could, but there are ways of sublimation in the abject too. But the artists need skill and craft to bring that about. Painting poor people or images from war or mass migration does not help. It needs a different articulation, says Johny ML,editor-in-chief, Arthelka 


Sometimes certain works of art or the images of certain ‘things’ that are presented as works of art make me wonder whether that’s art or that’s not art. I have been taught that poetic enjoyment and poetry itself is the willing suspension of disbelief. Here there is a change; my disbelief in certain art objects comes not because I am uninitiated into such art but because I am an art and art history literate. Art history tells me to take urinals to artists’ breath and shit to be serious works of art. Going by that I should not doubt any of those objects coming to me as art. I am just a passive receiver of what’s given and what I am supposed to do is just wonder and praise the Lord for supplying me with such visual feast. Art writing has become such a bunch of Praise the Lord ecstasies.

However God almighty is not that an easy entity. God tells the sceptics to doubt and believers to trust. And to confuse the both he creates the universe anew at every passing moment. He is so clever that he invests a special ability in certain people to do something similar to what he does; ability to see shapes, forms, colours, designs, ideas and love in certain things. He just does not leave it there. He gives them also this thing called skill to realise whatever they ‘see’ with gross and subtle eyes. He is not illiberal as you think. He gives this capacity to every one but he knows that every one is not the same. For example let’s take identically produced plastic toys that we get from shops or with the happy meals from the McDonalds. Children are so happy to have them; when none is looking we too are. But look a bit more carefully. None of the kids uses the toy in the same way. There are subtle differences in the way the hold them, look at them, caress them and play with them. That’s why I said god has given creative abilities to everyone but each one expresses it differently. By the way, the god who has been mentioned throughout this paragraph is not a He but a She.

That means the artists who present some found objects in certain bizarre fashion also are endowed with the same creativity. But there is no beauty in it. Beauty is truth and truth is sublime; if art does not evoke joy and sublime what’s the purpose of it? If someone says that art could also make sense evoking abjection in the viewer. Then why I should go to the artist to see and feel abject things? Why shouldn’t I take a walk at the poor neighbourhoods or read newspapers or watch television news? There I find the gory side of life, coarse and uncouth, smeared with all sorrows of life. I do not say art should not express sad things; art should but there are ways of sublimation in the abject too. But the artists need skill and craft to bring that about. Painting poor people or images from war or mass migration does not help. It needs a different articulation. That needs skill and conceptual strength. When the artists lack both they paint a subject to bring forth the already recognisable meanings- for example so many of them paint Buddha thinking that painting the Buddha image makes them spiritual. Many of them paint ideal landscapes with forests and setting sun thinking that they are creating beauty. Some others in the name of concepts get all garbage into their studio and galleries. All of them have gone berserk. To find new materials they have ventured into anything possible; from used sanitary napkins to holy ash. But all of them fail to realise that God has given immense treasures to find out through art.

I cook for myself and I am not a great cook. When I stand in the kitchen looking at the pressure cooker I suddenly feel that it has something to tell me. It has been going on for quite sometime. Now the pressure cooker is a great friend of mine. If an inch of water is more it overflows while boiling. If the water level is right it behaves perfectly well. If the flame is more than required I will have to eat a mashed up paste. Through sizzling sounds and hissing the pressure cooker tells me how a simple but tasty kichri could be made. I can feel its pressure; its need to release. I can hear it mumbling to itself and going silent. It is time to open and see the food inside. Art should come like that; we should make it, speak to it, listen to it and observe it. It needs skills. If I put some plastic waste and holy ash instead of rice and vegetables in it and boil it will not give me food. But at times you could eat your own boiled shoes the way Chaplin had shown us in Gold Rush. But it should be done artistically. Even the shoe lace will taste like noodles then. Let’s be pressure cookers with a smooth functioning lid in place. Let’s not be scavengers looking for scrap to make art.

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