Do artists see things differently?

INSIDE OUT

Aarthi Ramachandran often works on the assumption that to feel is to believe.

“If an artist didn’t see what others don’t, she wouldn’t be an artist.”

A few weeks ago, I attended an informal musical evening, where the musician in question – a renowned Veena virtuoso – spoke at length about her relationship with music. The evening was a Q&A session interspersed with showers of music that rained down on an eager audience after short bouts of conversation that delved into the inner life of an artist. It was right at the start of the evening that the Veena player casually mentioned the words in quotes you see at the top of this column. Now, this is a subject that I have been mulling over for a while and when she brought it up, of course, it made me pull up short.

What did she mean? She did not address the question directly, but the many things said that evening danced around the subject, illuminating it well enough.

For the purposes of this column, let us assume that by an artist, I mean someone with a talent for something – and almost everyone has a talent for something or the other. So how does a specially talented person become capable of seeing things that others don’t see?

From what the Veena exponent said, it is perhaps not the artist’s doing at all!  

Speaking of her instrument, the Veena, the musician said it was a living being. In fact, she went one step further. She said it was not just any living being, but a divine being. “You have to ask for its help,” she said, noting that if, for instance, the artist did not play for a period of time, the Veena would not recognise her. “You have to remind it who you are. Do you recall, I played in the morning, you have to say to it.” The artist’s primary job is to make herself available to the act of music, she seemed to suggest. In this account, the artist is a medium through which something else manifests.

But what does it mean for the artist who is present – both physically and attention-wise – at the site where music happens? If she is lucky, she is plunged deeper into ‘reality’ and can see things more clearly. Interestingly, the listener/viewer/reader of art, too, can access this space and enter a deeper stream of perception. Going back to the Veena artist, this is not an honour reserved for a supposed ‘artistic type’ alone. Rather, it is a function of a person’s total dedication to something.

Which is why the pithy words the Veena player said that evening are also perhaps the most important: “You have to make yourself worthy of it.” There has to be a complete lack of resistance in the artist for something else to be embodied through her. And an attitude that makes her willing, interested and cheerful – at least towards her practice.

In a sense, artists are not too different from lovers. They willingly submit and are subsumed by their immersion into something else. They enter a state in which there is tremendous sensitivity and vulnerability – they can feel things deeply, they can see things intensely. The single dewdrop clinging to the morning grass, but also the horror of war and the pain of a people disenfranchised. This is the experience that makes them capable of expressing what others can’t or don’t. No wonder that powerful people are afraid of artists and won’t hesitate to persecute them.

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