Can This Too Be Art?

The experimental nature of contemporary art often leads to incomprehension.

To the average Indian, contemporary art remains a sealed package. While books and writers get considerable play in the media, the only time we hear of art is when a work fetches a fabulous price or attracts controversy. But art is more than chisel on stone, or brush on canvas. Its dimensions have grown elastic, its meaning stretched almost to the point of incomprehension. Contemporary art spans a far wider range of genres than most of us are aware of.

Time was when categories of visual and performing arts were simply and clearly defined. If you used paint, you were an artist; if you carved material, a sculptor; and nobody had doubts about what dance, music and theatre were. In newspapers and magazines, the “artist” was a painter or sculptor and the “artiste” a performer. Today everybody who practises the arts is an artist. They often work in multiple mediums: words, images, sound and movement overlap or merge. For instance, Jayachandran Palazhy, director of the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, extensively uses digital art in his choreography, and when Navjyot Altaf presents a video art installation based on a Bastar tribal myth, she draws the audience in through light and sound as much as through the physical material. Installations, performance art, video art, digital art, graffiti art, sound art – these are only a few of the genres that Indian artists have embraced with enthusiasm.

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