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A layman’s guide to why the artist is needed

The artist is just like any other worker, but he is also not exactly that. Santanu Borah helps you negotiate this irony

Somebody once asked me how is the work of an artist any different from the work of a banker or a sanitation worker. The question is not entirely without reason. The simple answer is, work is work.

There is no way of measuring what work we could do without. You could argue that we could do without an artist or a singer, but a banker or a sanitation worker would be needed to conduct our lives in a practical manner. If you think about it, probably a sanitation worker is more important than a banker. You might be able to do without a banker, especially in the light of global recessions brought on by finance professionals. But that’s another debate.


If you really looked at how an artist works, you would see that the concerns are similar in many ways. The process may be different, but it is work all the same. A banker has numbers before him to add up, an artist has colours or form in front of him to add up. Interpretation is what matters. For example, if you want to confuse a statistician, all you have to do is present before her or him a lot of statistics. Different statisticians would have different ways of construing the same truth. Similarly, art is no different. There are many ways to interpret it, but only one way to do it: by constant practice.

Just like you can be fooled by a stockbroker about the stocks he is swearing by, you can also be fooled by an artist who talks a good game. Duplicity is not the preserve of any one profession.

There is no reason to look at the artist as a higher being. A teacher helps in shaping culture as much as an artist. Or an entrepreneur who creates wealth, and is often the reason why artists get paid for their work at all.

However, there are subtle differences and these get wider as the body of work of an artist widens. Then you can see the myriad motivations that drive an artist to work. Technically speaking, an artist does not have to present his or her case before a human resource department. S/he does not have to make an excel sheet of the targets achieved. The artist merely explores, often without having a semblance of an idea what the next goal is. That makes artistic work different – there are no set rules of how one must undertake one’s work. Even the scientist, who has to be profoundly creative, is bound by many rules.

The artist is special because he does not have to be an artist in the first place. Why negotiate with an intangible plane at all, when you could be doing something more gainful? The artist is often not the one who chooses art. It is the other way round. Art chooses the artist.

Why the artist is required was amply demonstrated by the lockdown. People stayed home and survived each other’s tempers by watching films, looking at art and listening to music. To use a metaphor, art feeds the soul and the artist is the chef for the soul. While I do not really know what the soul is, the work of the artist can summarise complex emotions brought on by isolation, love, loss or depression, succinctly. These “summaries” help us in coping with our lives because it gives voice to emotions that are often forgotten or are too serious to be discussed at dinner parties. Man is not just a social animal. Man is also an emotional animal. And that drives us to be social. You cannot be emotional all by yourself. There has to be an element of transference, like, “Oh, I feel blue today. Have you felt blue?” Your emotions are tiny stories that connects you to everyone. The artist is the one who weaves these stories so you can look at yourself, while being removed from yourself. Of course, this is not easy to decipher or explain, but you feel what it is in the core of your being.


The other thing is harmony. Nature is a great example of this. A bio-diverse system is perfectly balanced. The deer eats the plants and the lion eats the deer. Fractals work the same way. The arteries of the lungs look just like a huge tree. Sunset over an ocean or a mountain has a certain harmony to it. The artist actually takes pains to study these events and figure out how that same harmony can be replicated on a canvass. Harmony is then “artificially” created by the artist using various theoretical tools (like the rule of thirds) or tools that s/he has invented. Since we humans seek balance and patterns, seeing such harmony created on a sheet of paper is thoroughly enjoyable. Or why look at a painting of a sunset, when you could actually look at a sunset?

The work of the artist is important because s/he becomes the window to your heart and the fodder for your brain. The artist helps you see that part of yourself you might have suppressed or never even noticed. Which is why, probably, there are anecdotes of murderous Nazi officers who would be reduced to tears when they heard a great classical symphony or saw a mysteriously beautiful picture.

I might go so far as to say that the artist is the sanitation worker who helps you clear the chaos of feelings or ideas or struggles that you have within you. One powerful image can transcend a thousand explanations or a million confusions. While this might sound illogical and ironical, because the artist is not needed, we must have him.

There is much more to this and this is only tiniest tip of the iceberg. But this is good starting point for those who wish to know how is the work of the artist any different or why is it important.

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