A Defence Of The Arts

Pranaya SJB Rana

Ever since our inception, humankind has striven to become something more: more than animal, more than savage, more than civilised, more than tolerant. We are trapped in our bodies, these shells that house minds that leap, bound and fly into the stars, unfettered by any worldly ties. Our imagination is limitless and boundless; everything, and anything, remains possible. To counteract this imagination, to limit this euphoria of madness, we developed reason: our critical thinking, the superego; reason that slices imagination like a hot knife through butter. Reason is what grounds us, it is the tether that ties us to the world and makes sure we don’t float off into the endless space of possibility. Reason, like my mother, says get a safe job, something that will pay the bills, put food on the table, lights in the house and warmth in the winter. But for those of us with overactive imaginations, reason takes a backseat while creativity gets into the driver’s. And then, it becomes a wild uncertain ride, speeding through unknown territory, making split-second turns and careening left and right. Reason holds on for dear life while harping on from the back: slow down, take it easy, be safe.

From imagination and creativity, we get the arts. By art, I mean anything created with a specific purpose—to appeal to an emotion, the senses or the intellect. I am not going to try and debate what is art and what is not. Much like United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s declaration of pornography: “I know it when I see it”, art too depends as much upon the observer as the artist. Art is the crutch on which society supports itself. It can be a celebration or a condemnation or anything in between. Art defines categorisation, simply because it is so subjective, in both its perception and its creation.

For me, art is what makes you feel something. When the world is harsh, cruel, uncaring, arbitrary and crushes you, art reminds you that you have a soul. I can think of a moment in high school, when Nepathya’s Amrit Gurung came to talk to us. He handed out CDs of their album Bheda ko Oon Jasto and in the midst of his talk, he burst into song. It was just a few lines, maybe just seconds but the walls reverberated with his voice and I felt a stirring deep within myself, something that threatened to come alive and out of my mouth. Only it stuck in my throat as a dry lump and I was struck dumb and immobile. In those few seconds, I realised conclusively what it meant to truly be alive.

Another memory: at Pilgrim’s Book Store in Thamel, a little ways off from those over-priced books, I attended a reading of sorts. There were young people reading poetry from loose sheets of printed paper, from between pages of old, worn diaries and some from off the tops of their heads, their poetry alive and resonant inside of them. I remember Alok Tumbahangphey and Chirag Bangdel (I think), but it is Pooja Gurung I most remember (forgive the coincidence that all of my inspirations seem to have the same ethnicity) and how she read, as if trembling, as if unsteady and yet her voice was powerful, the voice of a performer as it filled the spaces between those of us listening. I felt another stirring, an almost convalescent desire to yell, scream, cry and laugh. And although I did none of those things, I felt them all. I cannot pinpoint them to a specifc space, to just say inside me would be repetitive and cliché, but it wasn’t in my mind, neither was it in my heart, but maybe my stomach, that most sensitive of organs (the stomach tells you when you’re in love with its fluttering and flip-flopping).

Art is communication. I believe that there is no art that is objective. Art is the expression of subjectivity. It recognises that it is a product of a certain set of experiences, limited though they may be to one consciousness. Despite that, it reaches out to something within us, something intrinsic to all of us, and that is imagination. Art allows you into another’s subjectivity, it lets you put on a different shade of goggles to see the world through. It lets you access another’s imagination and this, above all, is art’s redemptive power.

So why there a stigma against the arts? Nepali society, generally speaking, looks down on the arts. SLC graduates are expected to take Science and Commerce courses if they obtain good grades and courses in Arts and Humanities otherwise. For one thing, art doesn’t pay very much, and that is an understandable parental concern. But the satisfaction, oh the satisfaction of creating something, of expressing that very personal subjectivity that is within all of us. If there’s an artist inside you, it doesn’t rest until it finds an outlet. It twists and turns, frets constantly and gnaws at your soul. No other profession will do. You will sit at a desk and doodle, your imagination will run wild while you daydream nine-to-five. And then, maybe then, you’ll write late at night, huddled over your computer, the screen your only illumination, or maybe sketch on the bus ride home.

Nurture the artist in you—communicate what it means to be you, to see what you see, to feel what you feel. Make art your release, your frustration with the state of the country, with politicians, with loadshedding, with hooligans, inflation, and the world at large. We need to come to terms with the fact that not all of us need to be wealthy to be happy. Happiness comes from satisfaction in whatever you’re doing. Contentment is essential to happiness. For a lot of us, making art is the only way to be content with the randomness of the world—by creating something purposeful to counteract, however temporarily and subjectively, the blind haze through which we stumble, searching for meaning only to find that there is none, except the one you make for yourself.

Rana is a student of the arts at Sarah Lawrence College, New York

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