Commoditization of Art
- Deepa Chakravarthy, Chennai
e-mail: apoorini@gmail.com

April 11, 2012

The art scene today has undergone a metamorphosis of change. Do we attribute this change for the good or should we just step from within the circle and try to understand a bird’s eye view and look around.

There can be many and more for the media, and our own government institutions to project that our tradition is the oldest tradition. I don’t want to go into how many centuries old – I still read many different things in different places.  The cultural wing of the Government of India likes to grant grand funds for excavating dancing figures in order to project India as among the oldest civilization, evolved and advanced that had the aesthetics to promote art and culture even as early as 4500 years ago. This no doubt immediately puts India on the spotlight in the international scene for being the most sophisticated civilization then. The girl in the statue here conveys volumes of the time and space murmuring secrets of a cultural lifestyle followed in ancient times. And from there on there is no looking back in justifying the question of our heritage or the tradition that we follow now.

 
 
 
Today, the scene has been taken one more step forward by the media. They love to latch on to this proven ancient tradition and further add a shade of color to the sketch by calling it as a living tradition which can be experienced in the classical art industry and in all cultural activities that takes place around it.  Week long music and dance festivals are happening all over India all through the calendar year featuring different heritage monuments as a backdrop showcasing the passage of time. Corporate cultural patronization for these large scale events has never been a problem.  An event now-a-days has media partners, travel partners, hospitality partners, venue partners. And then, there is always the main event sponsor followed by the co-sponsors and support sponsors. These events are attended by the elite of the society and the best of artistes are flown in to perform. The general pomp and show in relation to such events… every one of us are a daily witness to many such events in nearly all heritage sites, metros and cosmopolitan centers.

Now, when I shift my focus a little bit, I also see another picture. A common sight that I come across in social gatherings is how they introduce themselves as a practicing doctor and a classical dancer, or a Phd student and a classical dancer, or an IT professional and a classical dancer, or a small screen star and a classical dancer. Is not practicing a classical art form a full time task involving a lot of sacrifice and devotion? There are some fine people who have such established careers and are wonderfully able to pursue their passion being performers and at the same time fantastically balance their family life. So this leads me to ask if practicing any classical art is a fashion. Will I be leaving a style statement in introducing myself at social gatherings as a classical dancer? I wonder…

What does all this boil down to? What are the moral responsibilities of a festival organizer, the media, and the Government institutions? Does it lie in giving an opportunity to a talented IT professional or does it lie in giving an opportunity to a struggling full time learner of the art? Are we more interested in projecting Indian classical artistes like the Chai walla becoming the Slumdog Millionaire through a TV game show capable of adding a crowning glory in winning the Oscar Awards?

An artiste is learning the art form as a full time job and his/her learning could maybe not result in a performance in front of an audience. For a true artiste the stage or space to perform is an opportunity to share that experience felt from within to a larger crowd who are “looking” to connect for such a similar experience. That is the reason why the Indian classical art forms have a certain spirituality attached to them and why the audience must have some knowledge of what they have come to experience. To an artiste, every day of their routine is a prayer in offering and this prayer is never any different in terms of involvement whether it is a practice hall or an auditorium, a simple movement paid in obeisance or a full length margam. And here we are trying to find ways in strategizing classical art forms to model a business plan that can generate volumes of money. And who consumes this money? I don’t even want to tread the path in finding where the math lies.

Finally arriving at the questions - Are our art forms being commoditized? Who can answer that question – the scholars, the gurus, the artistes, or the audience? Who makes an artist? The media, the PR office or the art? Are we still following 4500 years of tradition or commercializing it shallowly? Well…… what are my options to choose from?
 
Where have we come when we try to equate our 4500 years of tradition and slate it against a 20 year old Bollywood mixed masala event by involving venture capitalists in marketing it, whether it is at the heritage backdrops within India or at the International centers outside India?

Deepa Chakravarthy is a Mohiniattam artiste.

Comments

The article is all over the place. What is the writer actually intending to convey? The writer has some abstract notions which are thrown all over the place.

- Anonymous (April 11, 2012)


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