The power of art…

Have you seen the statue of the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre museum? Or David in Florence? Or Venus de Milo? There’s something about art, particularly sculpture that makes you want to lose yourself in it. I’ve never been a great connoisseur of art. Primarily because I could never remember all the different styles and textures. Although I’ve been a student of art history for over 15 years now, I’ve never really bothered with the technicalities of art. But, there are days when I see a piece of art and wish I could lose myself in the beauty. I wish that time would stop. That I could just stay there taking in the piece of art in front of me with a sense of awe and wonder.

Each of the sculptures I’ve mentioned inspires a different emotion. The first time I saw the Winged Victory of Samothrace, I was awe-struck. I felt small, insignificant in the presence of something so powerful. With Venus de Milo, it’s pure love. The kind of love that makes me want to stop time. The kind of love that makes me want to experience life all over again, just to relive that moment I first saw Venus. David is a different matter altogether. It’s a marvel, a testimony to the sheer genius of Michaelangelo. David. The perfect man. Created by Michaelangelo. The perfect artist. And then there are dozens more, sculptures, paintings, even charcoal sketches. Pieta, The Last Supper, and many more.

Sometimes, I wish I could at least reproduce these beautiful works of art. I wish I could paint. I wish I could immerse myself in the world of art and lose all sense of time and space. For now, I will have to content myself with just the written word.

Of love, art and Greek mythology

Looking around the Musee d’Orsay on Saturday last, I came across several works of art based on various Greek myths. I’m not really surprised given that most Greek myths centre around the theme of love and beauty. And who doesn’t like to talk of these two?

Of all the myths I’ve read, I find the Judgement of Paris the most fascinating. Haven’t heard of the story? Let me tell you.

One day, three Greek goddesses had an argument on who was the most beautiful of them all. Hera, the Goddess of Wealth and the wife of Zeus, Nike, the Goddess of Victory and Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Unable to agree upon a judgement, they invited Paris, the most handsome man in the the world to judge. These women, being women, each offered Paris a bribe to judge her the most beautiful. Hera offered him all the wealth of the world. Nike offered to make him the invincible ruler of the world. But Aphrodite, offered him the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen of Troy.

Paris, being a normal man of course, accepted Aphrodite’s gift and judged her the most beautiful. And thus started one of the most destructive wars in history: the Trojan War. For wasn’t Helen’s the face that launched a thousand ships?

Love has been a powerful theme in art throughout its history. Who doesn’t love a good love story? And if it involves lust, intrigue, murder and war, even better.

What makes love such a powerful emotion? What makes people do things for love that they would never otherwise do? What makes them forget the rules of right and wrong, of social mores and of moral values and pursue something to the end of their lives? Is it really love? Or is it something more basic? Lust perhaps? Or perhaps it is a need for validation. Or maybe it’s none of the above. Maybe it’s just what the heart wants.

Did Paris really believe that by abducting the wife of another there would be no repercussion? Or did he not care about the repercussions? Did the love of Helen really mean so much that was willing to put his country, his family and his own life on the line?

We can never get completely satisfying answers to any of these questions. But, we are human and therefore not infallible. If there is one thing that makes us weak like no other, it is love, especially the forbidden kind. But great love is also great art. As is great tragedy. And by loving without reservations, we open our souls out to great achievement. And perhaps heartbreak as well. But, that’s really part of the game isn’t it?

A day with art…

A dreary and raining day once again. Prague seems to conspire against me in my quest for sightseeing.

But, I decide that there is no point in coming all the way to Prague and sitting at home, however cozy and inviting it may seem.

First stop: National Gallery. Three exhibitions. Starting with Neoclassicism in the Salm Palace.

This is so quiet. With so few tourists. Stark contrast to the galleries in Rome and Florence.

Discovering the works of one Ludvík Kohl. A proliferation of greys. Neoclassical painting. Captivating. I wonder why I’ve never heard of him before.

Still life paintings seem quite taken with the idea of lizards. But why?

There is something powerfully attractive about nocturnal landscapes. Perhaps it’s the mystery, or the use of colour, or perhaps it’s simply because the night seduces.

Lake in the Mountains by Charlotta Piepenhagenova. Breathtakingly beautiful in its use of light.

It’s only after someone mentioned it that I am beginning to see the several shades of grey in painting. Grey indeed is beautiful. I had always assumed that landscapes had more green.

Second stop: Schwarzenberg Palace: Baroque in Bohemia. Fascinating experience mainly because Baroque is a very important period in the history of the Czech lands. Not that I understand Baroque very well apart from the fact the themes are Christian. I did notice two portraits of a penitent Mary Magdalene though. Quite in contrast with Catholic art where she is a companion of Christ.

Final stop: Sternberg Palace: European painting from over 300 years. The great masters. Interesting study of Rembrandt’s “A scholar in his study”. It’s fascinating how paintings are studied under infrared, ultraviolet and X-ray lighting. Must do some further research.

Fascinating. That’s the only word I have for these art galleries. Makes me wish my creativity extended beyond the verbal. But I’m so bad at using my hands that I will probably not be able to fashion a single tea cup or draw a straight line. The sooner I accept this limitation, the better.

Random thought: Human anatomy is notoriously difficult to master. If the great masters were such great fans of nude paintings, there must be something powerfully attractive about the female form to an artist.

Therukoothu – spontaneous street performance?

The September 21 issue of Outlook carries an article by Shruti Ravindran titled Life’s A Proscenium. If you can read this article, and not take offense, then it means one of two things. Either you have an inordinate amount of tolerance for bullshit, or you have no clue what Therukoothu is all about. In the latter case, Shruti is even more responsible for having created an entirely wrong impression of Therukoothu. Before I go on, check out this justifiably angry piece by Sriram.

Sriram quotes a few lines from Shruti’s article that infuriate and disgust.

“Urban denizens who’ve actually heard of this art form often mistake it for its disreputable half-cousin ‘Therukuttu’ (street performance), unpractised, spontaneous roadside performances that take place during temple festivals—and indeed, the word Therukuttu has also come to mean “making a disgraceful spectacle of oneself in public.”

Several things about this sentence infuriate. First, calling an art form a disreputable half-cousin of another is entirely uncalled for. Secondly, Therukoothu, as the name suggests, is indeed played out on the road. In fact, it is at the origins of the three Tamils (Iyal, Isai, Natakam) and is performed on crossroads (naarchandi in Tamil). The fact that an art form is performed on the street does not demean its worth in any way.

In fact, Bharatanatyam, the much-revered classical dance form of Tamil Nadu has its origins in what was called Sadir Attam or Dasiattam – the dance of the Devadasis. This is precisely why dance as an art form was considered demeaning for a woman from a good family to practice until its popularization by Rukmini Devi Arundale. Devadasis, for a certain period were nothing but courtesans (prostitutes to be blunt), and maintained by the Saraboji Rajas of Tanjavur. Does this mean that all Bharatanatyam dancers today are not worth respecting? Also, Therukoothu is by no means unpractised. Practice sessions for Therukoothu stretch over several days, sometimes weeks or months.

If Therukoothu were indeed the disreputable half-cousin Shruti claims it to be, why would there be organized groups, as Sriram so rightly points out, working tirelessly to promote the dying art? For those who need the stamp of “international recognition”, there is even a course on Therukoothu offered by the Singapore National Arts Council. What more do you need?

This article by Shruti Ravindran is nothing more than a piece of shoddy journalism at best. It simply proves, once again, that journalistic standards are at rock bottom today. If Outlook can allow publication of such an article without editing or verification, it makes me wonder what kind of media we have today. I suggest Shruti look for an alternative career, that has nothing to do with either journalism, art or even writing.