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Monday, October 31, 2016

Quality standards for the arts?



Quality standards for the arts?  Ouf…..

The article in link given at the end was brought to my knowledge for the second time after a gap of some years so I was compelled to write this post.


At the outset even to articulate the many aspects of Indian classical music in English is, in fact, a difficult task and to make it understandable to a large number of readers is all the more difficult.

How can anyone determine quality of Indian classical music, though it needs to be done anyway, but on what basis?

It is generally difficult to measure the quality of any art through any scientific method because it is difficult to define art through any unit of measurement [even in science we are not aware of the vagueness of certain measurements like kilo- read James Trefil’s ‘101 Things You Don't Know about Science and No One Else Does Either’ - or a broad framework of measurement, even a highly relative one.

Defining quality is a general problem in matters of taste, trends and traditions.

It would be equally foolish to look out for socialistic justifications or stupid still to sully art by scrutinizing it trough any ideological lenses.

These general issues become all the more complicated when we are dealing with an art like Indian classical music imbued with enormous aesthetic appeal, entrenched in enormous traditions of various schools and excess of   subtle nuances in terms of techniques as well as substance and content of sound structures labeled or classified as Ragas.

I am confining only to the musicality of music, i.e. sound structure, not even venturing into lyrics, dress, traditions, different schools and methods all of which may offer lot of controversies and debates-probably may be suggested for news hour high decibel verbal duels.

Besides having all our own pet theories and notions about quality or tradition I feel what is more important than the commercials involved is that we face the harsh reality of the more difficult art of carrying out the necessary transition from tradition into transformation in classical music and Natyams [dances] of India.

This is required to make it more relevant by various means, I am neither competent nor arrogating myself to make suggestions in any aspect, but this transformation is required to make it more appealing to many youths.

Art and culture cannot be allowed to become too stereotyped, trite, redundant leading them to be fossilized or ossified but they have to evolve, like everything else, by wading through the tides of trendswhich could be contributory, complementary, contrasting, conflicting, contaminating - with the oars of compulsions and compromises and sail smoothly and safely to ensure the fundamental and basic principles or inherent aspects of the art forms are kept intact and appropriate doses of  innovations are introduced to ensure that there is a subtle transformation through a  smooth transition from tradition but not away from or apart from it.


All said and done culture is an important part of life and creates a very powerful impact through various forms of artistic expression the multiple meanings of life as a journey of the soul's experiencing, acting and interacting with all its tools like body, mind and emotions.

We need to understand and appreciate in proper perspective that our traditional arts and culture though are mostly imbued with and/or embedded in Bhakthi orientation with lot of religiously venerated mythological, historical, and theological and some esoterically conveyed philosophical concepts and scientific aspects as well.


However, most aspects of Indian culture are multifaceted splendors with each facet revealing itself according to the frame of reference and scale of observation of the individual. A very important but unfortunately often ignored short coming of our perception.


At the same time most of these traditional cultures and arts were neither constrained by these aspects nor confined to these aspects but rather used them as a medium to convey through different art forms certain emotions; in some cases  high philosophical concepts; in some cases social mores; in some cases appealing to the aesthetic sensitivities of human beings; in some cases portraying the sensuous and natural aspects of life; in some portraying and appealing to the various senses at different levels; in some individual morals and principles for enhancing one’s inherent potential , embellishing one’s character and so on.

So, in a way most of the traditional arts and cultures of this land permeated almost into every aspect of life and society and therefore they had to manifest the many human emotions.

But as vast and varied it may sound. The traditional arts and cultures, like all traditional arts and cultures, is at the same time very difficult to depict or handle because any aberration anywhere can hurt the sentiments of purists as well as those who are sentimentally or ritualistically attached to those sources [religious bakthi orientation ] wherein they are embedded.


Purist kill art and tradition by sticking on to classicism too much like sticking on to King’s English and Chaucer’s spelling and end up petrifying all traditional arts and cultures.

There is another brigade which creates lot of noises, mostly to seek attention, by taking on a very radicalized and diametrically opposite stand of  breaking into pieces everything that is part of tradition and end up putrefying the arts and cultures, unaware of the fact that the new scheme that they are creating will become a new tradition, forgetting two important facts that life has no permanent trends or taboos and that we can neither defy nor deny the importance of anything or anyone, as everything is interrelated, interconnected and interacting constantly as pieces in the unsolved jigsaw puzzle of life.

 Denying and defying things which have stood the test of time, either with reason or irrationally, is all the more difficult task and before denying their importance we need to first understand what has contributed to their survival through long periods of time.


The greatness of predecessors in any field is not meant to weigh down on the avid learner or the performer but make their perspectives, perceptions and preparations wider, wiser and wonderful. As the great Sir Isaac Newton used to say, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
We are able to witness this particular welcome trend - I mean evolutionary advancement [like evolutionary biology, evolutionary sociology, evolutionary philosophy, evolutionary politics etc] - in most domains of life.


Of course there are domains where it is caged in narrow walls like in certain ritualistic and religious observances which have refused to allow evolutionary trends and instead opted for verbal vindications to sustain the status quo and therefore are likely to gradually move away from the radar of involved participation and move into diminished interest and then saunter around for attention before finally fading away through indifference into the inevitable bin of insignificance and oblivion.


For any art form to survive it must ensure to manifest its inherent aesthetic and artistic appeal and relevance to the human body, mind and soul. Themes can change but must ensure commercial support for the artist to at least survive and lead a normal life with social acceptance and respectability. Only when art fulfills all these important aspects it will remain in the radar of involved participation, interest and public attention.  

This is proving to be true even in the realm of sports, let me confine to cricket, where five day test matches [which are undoubtedly still the best form of testing a skill of a player] have given room to one day matches and to T-20s of all hues and colors to make it more interesting and commercially successful. But no one ever wrote about playing cricket without 11 players or without a ball or without a bat or without a boundary line etc because you cannot dissociate cricket from these factors.

Similarly, I have listened to 5 to 6 hour concerts with two to two and half hour Ragam Thanam Pallavis, but nowadays we have artists who render  similar items very nicely within ten to fifteen minutes, quality need not be determined by length. After all we had the pioneers of SMS and Twitter in Tiruvalluvar and Aviayyar .


I have launched on to this lengthy preamble of general perceptions to put in right perspective the inevitable positions and avoidable perceptions in the minds of  young rasikas of music and dance, who were swinging like a  pendulum between some purists, critics and elders who treated  most new performers/performances with condescending comparisons [ I am not passing any judgment as to whether it is right or wrong] with very high standards and some street smart artists who used their PR machinery well enough to propel into realm of popularity [again I am not passing any judgment as to whether it is right or wrong].


This scenario was fair enough and expected but what is worse is now they are being confused and swayed away by irrelevant and incorrigible comparisons far removed from art. I shall explain about this [again I am not passing any judgment as to whether it is right or wrong].


Art and the cultural milieu and context where any particular art has evolved have to be evaluated only with those parameters.


We can adopt and effect necessary changes to embellish it, but to create controversies to confuse the general public with arguments as if it is a socio-political phenomenon to be approved and sanctified by some particular political ideology is totally wrong and worse still is misusing the fourth pillar for propagating such views.  Let us get it clear that unfortunately music is not made for the deaf, canvas painting is not made for the blind and dish antenna is not made for frying vegetables.

Culture develops only by change, developments etc. At the same time we must remember that if we all had to stick to traditions strictly then we must be either moving around nakedly or with bare minimum leaves covering certain parts of the body as that was the most ancient tradition of human race.

While analyzing anything we must explore only the relevant facts and while doing that we must desist getting distracted from the following major traps:-

1] Mutilating the facts,
2] Analyzing them with preconceived notions or prejudices,
3] Generalizing the particular and particularizing the general,
4] Approaching facts with unloving criticism or uncritical love,
5] Evaluating facts with our pet isms or philosophies,
6] Resorting to statistical justifications,
7] Unleashing unworkable utopia,
8] Mask them with logical fallacies,
9] Bury them in pleasant jargons, and
10] Give historical justifications or passing judgments based on traditions which are contextually not suitable or valid or hold water or which in no way contribute or affect the essence of what we are analyzing.

Art and culture serve in their own way certain social and public purpose and more importantly contribute to certain neural activities which have nothing  whatsoever to do with any political- ideology defined victimhood creation or has any hidden intention to ostracize or isolate anyone as proclaimed by some publicity seekers.

So to talk or write in a tone of trying to sound over generalizing or over simplifying something as vast as classical music to me is being ignorant of many aspects of it.

I believe in what Phenella writes in “The Unwritten Comedy”.


“To be ignorant of many things is expected
To know you are ignorant of many things is the beginning of wisdom.
To know a category of things of which you are ignorant is the beginning of learning.
To know the details of that category of things of which you are ignorant is to no longer be ignorant.”




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