The greatest charm of the art world is that nobody needs to have a clue about anything, yet all concerned can go about with a smug superiority and talk with words that are not featured in household dictionaries. Sometimes usages that no lexicon anywhere has are also dropped. This is what is classically defined as artistic freedom.
Suppose you see a painting of two rectangles one over the other and you somehow feel it to be nice, then normal freedom lets you to sum up your feelings eloquently as: ‘nice’. But artistic freedom will make you say ‘the objects are broken up, analysed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form; instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, they have been highlighted from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles presenting no coherent sense of depth. The background and object planes interpenetrate one another to create the ambiguous shallow space’. This is sheer magic. I have been able to fill this column with 65 dense words in place of a single tame term. A few sniff of artistic freedom would be, it seems, is good enough to fill this entire column.
But don’t start thinking artists are just vaulting dreamers, devoid of any practical relevance. Those who know the story of Vincent van Gogh would surely understand how pragmatic he was. This celebrated Dutch painter and plumber, despite the obvious handicap of a strange middle name that does not use any capital letters, understood that to be a great artist all one needed was a pair of hands, a set of eyes and a nose —– The first to paint, the second to close when feeling sleepy and the third to snort cocaine in artistic solitude (Trisha, we confirm, was not present then).
After this van Gogh realised that he had a clutch of ears that wasn’t of much use. So he went ahead and did what any high-minded artistic person will do in such a situation: Chop off those ears. It was only when the need to wear glasses arose that he felt slightly constricted as driving a nail into the side of the head to support the spectacles was thought to be impossible (he had misplaced the hammer). But he overcame this ticklish problem by the simple expedient of committing suicide. This ensured that he never needed to wear glasses.
If this is the story of van Gogh’s innovative approach to life, then the saga of Michelangelo can be classically termed as the triumph of mind over matter, otherwise defined as, well, we don’t know. It’s a usage in English that we were familiar with, and we kind of felt that it would sound nice in this place.
Anyway, the famed Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, engineer and possibly Municipal Commissioner of Venice, painted his famous Last Supper on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel. Now most of you would be wondering why would anyone want to paint, what is supposed to be a masterpiece, on the ceiling when your Pongal whitewash fellow can hardly get his brush across the top.
This is where Michelangelo’s engineering brain came into play. He had smartly worked out that if a huge painting, with a lot of naked people around, is put on the ceiling, no one dare hang a fan from it. So this brainwave straightaway lead to the invention of window AC.
Contemporary artists are no less inspiring. M F Hussain’s life is one dedicated to painting, as you would have doubtless noticed by his dedicated growth of a beard, which insiders insist, is what he uses for painting. This school of painting is termed pseudorealism.
A lot many people are incensed that he painted goddesses and Bharathamatha in the nude. But this is misplaced anger. For, Hussain has a habit of not attiring his subjects. His oeuvre consists of many paintings of horses, none of which, it is pertinent to point out here, have even a stitch on them. By painting things in nude, Hussain liberates your imagination and allows you to wear the subject whatever dress you can think of.
But Hussain, as a matter of practical principle, will never paint his family members in the buff. If you have any idea of high-brow art, you will not ask ‘why’. Because a true creative person cannot afford to be monotonous, he has to vary his ideas and emotions.
This fine sense of balance, while ensuring variety, also leads to the all important freedom of expression, otherwise defined in lay man’s terms as, ‘I don’t care’.
You dare not criticise this. Or else, Hussain will use you as the subject for his next painting. Worse, Michelangelo’s ghost may have you for the last supper on the ceiling or van Gogh’s spirit may use your ear for a replacement.
In another sense, too, we have a duty to preserve artistic freedom at any cost. For, what has happened to Hussain can also possibly happen to the other true genius of our times, the van Gogh of visual arts, the Michelangelo of movies: T Rajendhar.
Now, would we want TR to be sent to Qatar? Not unless we are at war with it.