I want to share this little clip that brought to mind something my dad had often told us as kids – he had several of these quips that he would subject my sister and me to, rather often. And we would roll our eyes – and exchange a “oh there we go again” look.
(Allow the whole video to stream first: Click ‘play’ on the frame, then after a few moments click ‘pause’. While it streams, read on. By the time you finish reading, the video will be ready for you)
Anyway the story goes like this. An exquisite piece of sculpture was on display, and a very captivated, hyper excited ditzy lady runs up to the sculptor and asks – “How did you sculpt this! How did you sculpt such fantastic horse from an ordinary stone!” The bored artist replies, “Quite simple, ma’am. I just chiseled the non-horse part off the stone.”
The full story, which we have allowed dad to narrate only once or twice, was that Michelangelo actually thought that way when he embarked on a sculpting exercise. He saw the final product as being trapped inside the stone and went on to remove the excess stone off the statue.
That perfectly captures what sets an artist apart from the rest. To be able to see more than what the ordinary eye can see. To be able to find beauty in things that seem ordinary or downright boring. To be able to perceive beyond common perception.
But then, the more I think about it, the more I realize there are several aspects of art that make art, art.
I can show you at least three talents everywhere you can show me man-made art.
- Processing and interpretting Input. One needs to have this crucial special perception of things. But that alone wont do…..
- Innovation, Creation. One needs to then put that input, that perception through a ‘chewing-the-cud’ process and conceive its expression through a medium that can represent it.
- Expression through a medium. And then one needs to be able to actually represent it with justice through a medium that others can see, hear, feel.
These are three different gifts by themselves. And when these three come together, I predict the presence of a genius.
In Michelangelo’s case, his genius did not end in what he perceived and how he perceived them. He had the gift of expressing what he perceived with the skill of his hands.
That’s true with poetry. The genius of the poet does not end in the beauty he sees. Or the marvel he makes out of it. It still needs the medium of language to be given a life.
A music composer feels the music and concocts a new composition in his mind. And does justice to it when he represents it through a performance. Tyagaraja, the genius composer, did not leave such a rich legacy by chance. That was a man where these three talents, each exalted, met, merged and erupted into such art that spell binds generation after generation.
More often than not, we only witness the final expression – the sculpture, the poem, the composition, the painting, the rendition and take that to represent talent, or even a genius. But there were two other critical contributing talents prior to that final expression.
I think its a mistake to see it as three aspects of the same talent.
So, to truly allow art or the work of genius to overwhelm you, which I think is how art can appeal to us, is to fathom the jugalbandi of these three separate talents. Why do you think we enjoy and roar from the audience when we watch Zakir Hussain perform a certain mimic on his Tabla of the lead instrument in the concert? Because when Zakir Hussain innovates right there in front of you, you see a glimpse of all three talents.
Watch this video again. Do you hear how the audience responds when they see the eye of Louis Armstrong open? What do you think created that roar of appreciation? That is the moment when the artist creates what I’d like to call the Gasp Effect. What prompted that reaction? It is simply a candid reaction to being overwhelmed by the control the performer wields over the art.
Ah, I am so carried away. All I wanted to do was share that clip with you.
Can you think of an art-form, the raw material for which is darkness?
The clip you just saw, in abstract terms, the controlled use of darkness. And that’s Louis Armstrong singing.
What a perfect song for this post. A wonderful world.
And what a perfect day for this post. Dads birthday.