She asks me why she is not mentioned as the disciple of a particular guru, in my essay written for her catalogue, as I had mentioned a few others so in their catalogue essays, again written by me. I ask her whether it was a complaint or a compliment. She says, neither. Still she wonders, why. I tell her that if she really wants to be qualified so I could add a line or two to that effect. But she says, no.
I feel that I owe an explanation to her. So I tell her that whenever I see the works done by students under that particular art guru, they all tend to work like him. That’s quite natural, I add. But it becomes really curious when female students also work in the same way; masculine bodies, male point of views, dark backgrounds and so on. Is there a woman’s visual language and man’s visual language, she asks. I say, yes, there is. As language, visual or verbal, is a medium of expression the gender gets inscribed within the body of the text. What about the neutral subjects like still life and compositions, she probes. Even those genres could have gender inscriptions, I tell her. She looks at me with her unbelieving eyes.
I tell her the story of another artist who had come to meet me a month back with her works. She too was from the same school and taught by the same guru. She paints household utensils, vegetables, bathroom taps and so on as her predominant imageries. I find it interesting because she stands quite distinct from other disciples of the same guru. She told me that she was quite meditative. And for her meditation does not mean sitting in one place or concentrating on something. She found peace and harmony when she worked in kitchen, tidied up the rooms, washed clothes, cut vegetables, looked after her infant baby and painted at night when the baby slept.
Even if she had not told me about all these, I would have still made out that the works were done by a woman. There is a different sensitivity about a woman’s language, visual or verbal. V.S.Naipaul recently made a statement that he could tell the gender of author by reading a first few lines of a text. He received flak for his comments because he said it in a condescending fashion. He thought women were inferior writers. When I say that I could sense the gender of the author of a visual text from the embedded gender specification, I do not make a condescending statement. I congratulate myself that at least I could discern the sensibilities expressed in the visual text.
But I find it a problem when women artists work like male artists. Speaking strictly from the perspective of a visual language, one need not give much attention to the inscribed gender within the expression. Most of the artists argue that they are not here to produce a male language or a female language. They produce a language which is gender neutral. But no language is gender neutral. If some women artists are employing the language of a male guru, then I would say, that the students are not able to transcend the rules of teaching. In Zen stories it is said that one could use a boat to cross the river, once crossed it is not necessary to carry the boat on the shoulders; may be one could keep the memory of it with some amount of gratitude.
My artist friend says that she is not influenced by her guru therefore she is not reproducing his language. I tell her that even that is a false argument because the primary principle about learning is the amount of influence that one gets from his/her teacher or from the immediate surroundings. She tells me that when she joined the institution she was absolutely a novice and did not know how to do a composition decently. Hence, she started looking upto the guru for the perfecting of language. He is a perfectionist, she says. I agree and ask her whether she has seen the works of other gurus to which the answer is a no. I ask her to see more gurus so that she could transcend the teaching of the first guru. Also I tell her that the idea of perfection or perfect language is just illusionary on the one hand and on the other, it is quite relative. It depends on how much you are exposed to the world of linguistic perfection. And for me perfection is something comes with an awareness of defect; awareness does not mean that one should be conscious of the defect outweighing the assumed perfection. Perfection becomes appealing when the awareness defect adds a virtual value to it. At times, may be an apparent defect could also heighten the sense of perfection.
She asks me if it is a problem to aspire for that language of perfection and I tell her that there is no problem to it. But the issue is that once you learn the grammar you should be able to perform a language without its grammar also. Pushing the possibilities of the grammar and almost making it look like without any grammar is the success of any art. But the primary requirement is knowing the grammar well. When you are stuck with the beauty of grammar what you could become maximum is a grammarian and even the best grammarians in the world start their thesis with an apology that I am not a grammarian, because grammar is a rule and it also presents the possibility of breaking that rule and coming back to its safe havens. It is exactly like a musician with a genuine felicity to sing. He/She may belong to a particular school (gharana) of singing. But he/she becomes a distinct music personality only when he/she breaks the grammar and comes back to its protection off and on. It helps the language to flow, grow and flourish.
Are you trying to question my guru, she asks. I say, no. There is no problem with the guru. Guru is supposed to be like that and that is why he is called a guru. Guru is a person who has been grounded in his own language. He has moved enough till he decided to roost in one place. So he does not have any problem to be a guru. Is there a problem with the disciples, she continues. I say, there is no problem with the disciples either because the schools and gurus ask the disciple to function from within the grammar and idea of perfection. And the gurus at the same time know that only when the disciple breaks the grammar without asking for permission he/she becomes and independent artist. So it is guru’s job to show the way, but it does not come under his prerogative to push you out of the way. It is your job. Then there should be a problem with the school, she says. I tell her that don’t worry about the school either. The school in itself is not a problem. School exists because there is a guru and disciples. When guru vanishes school also vanishes. When disciples vanish, then also a school vanishes. Hence, it is a three pronged relationship. Guru, disciples and school, they together make the problem and the solution also is embedded in the problem itself. Once you come out of it, once transcend the boundaries, once you break the rules of grammar, and once you kill the guru in you, you are liberated to reach your language.
I do not know whether she is convinced or not. She looks at me and smiles. I look at her and smile. She pays for my time and energy and takes leave. Then I get a phone call from another artist friend. She is in a Eureka mood. She has finally found out her problem. She has been an imaginary invalid all these years. Now she has found the root cause of her pain. She says that she is helped by a plastic surgeon turned psychologist; in fact his book. While reading it, she tells me, she found out there were three kinds of people; one, who attached their personalities with the defect they have, like a mole, wart, or a pair of protruding ears or a bulbous nose. These people, once the defects are removed by plastic surgery, gain a lot of self-confidence and become new people. Two, the people who attach their personalities with the defects and still remain the same bitter people after getting the defects removed by plastic surgery. Three, the people with no defects but still behave as if they have some defects and mold their personalities according to the defects. She says, she has been there in the third category all these while. Now she could come out of it as she realized that there was no defect in her.
You too belong to the third category, she jokes. I say, no. I am like God, perfect with an awareness of defect that makes me complete. She says, no, you are Amitabh Bacchan, the angry young man. I say, then I would be stabbed at stomach when I am at the peak of my career. She suddenly goes silent. I could listen her breathing. Then we laugh as if life was more interesting than art.