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Culture and intrigue

Print edition : May 20, 2005 T+T-

Creative differences will inevitably take art forward, only if the artists and creative people in the country stopped their fractious quarrelling.

ABOUT two years ago, there was a great deal of excitement in the Sahitya Akademi and tension abounded as two persons - both of considerable eminence - sought election as president of that august body. Although the Ministry of Culture strongly denied it, the issue was, essentially, political. One candidate was backed by the ruling party and the other by the Opposition, essentially the Left, parties. As we know, the candidate blessed by the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won and continues to be president of the Academy of Letters.

No one, as I said, can doubt his - or the other contestant's - credentials. That is, in any case, not the point. The issue is simply this. Must we reduce all public bodies, no matter how distinguished they are, to a matter of `my candidate' versus `your candidate' and what does that demeaning, distasteful mindset have by way of value? Does it enrich the institution? Has, for instance, the Sahitya Akademi gained by the manoeuvring that went on to get the ruling party's man elected president?

A few years before this happened, there was an even more distressing scramble for positions in the Lalit Kala Akademi. Statements were made, stories appeared in the media about various persons with artistic pretensions, and someone or the other was elected to a particular post - or perhaps a number of people were elected to the Executive Committee, one does not remember in the dust kicked up by the various intrigues and factional duels that have gone on in the last several years.

And now, we have the goings on in the Sangeet Natak Akademi. One group of performing artists are opposed to the continuance of the Chairperson, another lot are for her. Statements are being made, eminent personalities on the board of the Akademi have resigned. How does all this help the cause of dance, theatre and the performing arts? Will the victory of one group ensure an instant rejuvenation of these art forms, and will the victory of the other ensure that they collapse?

It can be argued that, in institutions such as these, headed by eminent personalities in the cultural world, differences are bound to surface, and there will inevitably be some groupings, some confrontations. To some extent that argument is valid, but it surely cannot be that the Akademis should spend most of their time on such matters and turn away from what ought rightly to be their real concern, the development and nurturing of the arts in their different forms? And even while accepting the argument that some differences may exist between artist and artist, between writer and writer, those, surely, relate to issues linked to the arts, to the forms - poetry, painting, music and all the others.

As long as they are, one can even say that such differences are not only inevitable but in a larger sense, of value, as they enrich the discourse of artists and creative people, making them look within themselves, and at their art forms more closely, and perhaps be the better for it. After all, the major changes in the arts have all come from disagreements with existing dispensations - the romantic poets consciously dissociated themselves from what have been loosely called the Augustans, the `classical' poets of 18th century Europe; the artists of the Bengal school of painting moved away from what they saw as a derived, synthetic form of art, and, in turn, newer artists moved on from them and what they saw as a over-sentimentalising of subjects to something more direct, earthy, symbolised by the strong lines and colours of Satish Gujral, to take an example.

These are creative differences, disagreements and, as I said, an integral part of a dynamic discourse that keeps an art form vigorous and live. But is that what we are seeing in the disputes that have been afflicting the three premier institutions for the arts in the country? Sadly, no. In these arguments there is little other than personal agendas being put forward for purely personal, selfish ends; nothing is being done to invigorate or infuse new life into an art form.

What is it, then, that drags down these bodies to truly mean, base levels of squabbling and argument? One cannot help feeling that it is more in the nature of the people involved in the squabbling that we will find the answers, not in what they are actually saying. Many seem to consider it a virtue to resign dramatically, to move away from the Akademis, to be seen to dissociate himself or herself from it. But does that serve any purpose at all? If our distinguished artists and creative minds were to move away from these bodies, what would be left of them? They would become empty, bureaucratic shells, with some persons of very little merit hanging around them, pulling them even further down because they are themselves so very ordinary.

The worst thing that can happen is for the government to step in. The assumption that government officers have the wisdom and creative people do not, is not only naive, but foolish. Nor will the intervention of political leaders, no matter how enlightened they are, help. The way out of this dilemma - and future dilemmas of this kind, for there will be more - is for the artists, writers, musicians, dancers, theatre directors and others to find it for themselves.

Some among them need to take the lead to bring them together and resolve issues by throwing out the merely selfish and self-seeking intentions and `solutions' that some may be touting with much fanfare.

Serious thought needs to be given to what these bodies are doing, and what they need to do. No one knows better than they do what needs to be done, where the real problems are, problems that rise above mere personal interests. They, too, would know who would make worthwhile leaders of these institutions - people who are respected, but along with that have the acumen to lead, to make the Akademis work with some definite goals in mind. Above all, they need to reject firmly any attempt to foist on these bodies persons claiming to be artists, or musicians or performing artists but are really nothing more than political creatures, or persons who have sold themselves to some political group.

THERE is much the Akademis can do to develop and nurture the arts. They may claim they are doing a great deal already, and, yes, they are doing a fair amount. But much, much more needs to be done. If they can make the Akademis focal points of a dynamic cultural discourse they can make a strong demand for more funding, and also look at different, newer ways of accessing funds. When the idea of starting a national lottery to raise funds for culture was first mooted in the United Kingdom, there was a good deal of derision and cynicism. Today, the funds from the lottery have helped immensely in supporting plans to revitalise the Royal Opera, theatre, the ballet and the arts across the country.

We may not need, or consider, a lottery here; but I mention it, merely to highlight the fact that new ways of raising funds are possible and need to be looked at. I believe very firmly that our creative people, who are among the finest in any country, have it in them to put aside their differences and hostilities and find ways to bring a new dynamism to art.

Dynamism in art will always mean disagreements, differences; but these will be creative differences, not petty, personal ones. Creative differences will inevitably take our art - literature, music, dance, theatre, and other forms - forward. If only the artists and creative people in the country realised this, and stopped their fractious quarrelling.