Is art taken out of context, still art? Do people appreciate art only when they can recognise it in a museum or on the stage? Do people applaud art only when they spend money to access it?
Who decides what is a good piece of painting, or a well written piece, or praise-worthy music? Who decided what is art?
These and many existential questions were raised when writer Serge Volle sent 50 pages of Claude Simon’s 1962 novel, The Palace, set during the Spanish civil war, to 19 French publishers. 12 rejected it, and 7 did not even bother with a response.This is an irony of modern writing, as Simon Claude won the Nobel prize for literature in 1985.
Image Credit: youtube
But this is not the first time that questions are being raised about people’s perception of art. A similar phenomenon occurred when Joshua Bell played the violin incognito at a metro in Washington D.C.In the experiment by Washington Post, the acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell played an instrument worth 3.5 million dollars, but collected only $32 worth of loose change and very little attention at a metro station in Washington D.C. in 2008. He played an intricate Bach piece for 45 minutes, and commuters rushed passed him, few stopping to listen to him. Those who paused, did so for a few moments before heading off for work. But people spent at least $100 to buy tickets when he played to a full theatre in Boston two days later.
Image Credit: indianapublicmedia
The treatment meted out by publishers to Claude Simon also raises the question of the recluse writer versus the self-branding author. Does one have to be popular to get published? How will emerging writers see the light of day when their work in brushed under the blanket of obscurity? Is it a chicken and egg question?
At the recently held TimesLitFest in Mumbai, publisher Chiki Sarkar clearly spelled out that whoever the author may be, manuscripts forwarded by agents are a priority over unagented works. So, if you are a novice novelist, the trick may be in finding a good agent, and that is a no mean task in itself.
Meanwhile, it is up to each individual, either to thank the social media, or curse it, for giving a voice to hidden talent. It is said that now there are more writers than people who want to read. In a way, it is good movement to revive the written word.
But the Crossword shelves filled with bestsellers, and the time ravaged dusty jackets of timeless works raise many questions? Are we becoming a mob of hypocrites who understand art just enough to be featured on the Page 3? Is real appreciation limited to the Instagram page of a fan? Or are the real connoisseurs of art numbed by the vanity that complements the pseudo-intellectual?
Are we becoming an era of instant gratification, far removed from what it means to understand a timeless classic? Is this age of stats-driven bestsellers and breaking headlines eroding our understanding of art?