How do we come to know about art? How do our art critics and writers compare the locally produced art with the international art that they have seen only in digital mediums or in books? In that case is it possible to review a work of art without seeing it in the real time and space? If we extend this question, is it possible for us to even talk about what has been happening in Marina Beach in Chennai where the supporters of the rural sport Jellikkettu have gathered? Is it necessary for the cultural commentators to be in the actual space of happening? Does the physical proximity with the work of art or an event give the cultural commentators and critics an added edge of legitimacy than those people who have seen it in digital mediums or books? Where exactly this kind of authenticity parts ways with the cultural commentary that takes the event/work of art as a point of departure to speak about a larger socio-cultural or political phenomenon? We see both the cases in the newspapers; journalists reporting from the actual field of events and the experts analysing and deducing critical factors of the same from the already reported events. If we go by the physical proximity equals to legitimacy, then we have to always look at the commentators with a fair amount of suspicion and have to go by what the reporters have said. Then, what about art? Will you listen to a person who has visited the show or a person who has seen it in one of the mediums and makes some comments on it?
I am that kind of an art critic who would like to write on art/things/events that I have directly/physically experienced. I walk many kilometres to visit a gallery (this helps me to combine my health walk with my aesthetic adventures) and spend considerable amount of time before the works of art. Generally I do not prefer to converse with the artist if he/she is present there. But if he/she would like to have a word with me, then definitely I give a patient ear to what they have to tell. I am put off by many an artist when he/she explains things to me because their art may look brilliant and their explanations absolutely lame. So it is always safe to be away from the artists’ explanations. At the same time I earn to listen to the artists who actually make you feel whether their works brilliant or their words. Excelling both in verbal explanations and in execution of the works, such artists are rare ones like the Kohinoor diamond. I am equally sceptical about those artists who excel in their words but fail miserably in their works of art. To put it in nutshell, I prefer to see the original works of art and comment than to look at them in some digital mediums and dare to make comments. This, why I say is because the feeling of being in a place and before a work of art is much more intense than seeing it at your desktop in a digital medium.
At the same time I have been faced with certain doubts; suppose if I am reading a book by say, Orhan Pamuk in Kindle and reading the same book in paperback or hardbound, taking equal amount of time, is there any fundamental difference between the aesthetical experience? I could argue that I am reading the same book, written by the same author. In the former I could have it whenever I want by just clicking a button on. In the latter I can have the same by picking it up from the desk and reading it. The only palpable difference is that in Kindle, one page goes and the new one comes; I know that the previous page is there but not yet there. But in the real book, it is like feeling the previous pages that you have gone through. Like a terrain that demands climbing and each level you could see the areas that you have covered. You can have a sense of elation. Reading in Kindle is passive and reading in book is performative. All the conventional acts of art enjoyments are performative. I walk miles to buy my books. I enjoy the days when I go out to buy the books. I could literally imagine the books waiting for me in the shelves of the book stall. Each step I take towards the book stall, each visual, the honking of the vehicles, the hand holding couples, the bikers, courier men, security guards, the bulldozers that bring down old buildings to make way for the new ones, the house maids going home in the evening, girl in western clothes eating very traditional ‘chat’ from the wayside vendor, the woman in traditional saree dragging at a cigarette and what not; nothing escapes my eyes because I am on the way to buy books. I get the books and walk back as if it were all a dream. Then I get back to my home, I start reading. This is an event in itself; an experience; my marriage, right from seeing the girl to my nuptial night and more. But Kindle? A click, she is all nude before me, yes, the book.
It is applicable in the case of looking at the works of art displayed in a gallery. You drive or walk to the gallery. See the works if possible even without the gallery assistants, executives or the owner herself not disturbing you. There you go; you are alone with the work of art. You wonder and wander, you drag yourself back to the work. Read the captions , move forward and backward. At times you nod your head in approval; sometimes you shake in disgust; sometimes your eyes sparkle and at times you pout in sarcasm. There are a whole lot of things happening in there; your very viewing of a work of art. Then it is a pleasure to write about it. But.....it is a real ‘but’ here. A work of art is not like a book. A book published elsewhere could be made available here digitally or physically. But a work of art cannot always be bought here. If the artists are not locally placed or if it is not a travelling show or if the show is not opening in your city, then it is difficult to see the works physically. So you have to see them digitally. Once you see them, now with the help of 360 degree digital mapping, you get an idea about the work of art. You may be doubtful about the size because a low angle shot could make an ant a dinosaur. But you keep looking at it from a variety of angles; from various posts, reports and sharing etc. You see and you finally get the work of art you want to see.
Does that render you an inauthentic critic or commentator? In my view, in this world of digital reproduction, we cannot say that we should be seeing the original work of art even if it is not possible to physically get there. If I again make a comparison with the books, I would say we are not reading the manuscripts of the authors even if we are reading the same book in print or in digital format; nor are we reading the first copy of the printed book. Though there cannot be an accurate comparison between books and works of art, the aesthetical experience could be imparted through looking at the digitally reproduced works. Hence, the claim that everyone should be looking at an original work of art/event before making a comment does not hold much water. Even the idea of legitimacy and authenticity imparted to the people who have been the actual witnesses of the event/work of art could be disputed for the actual analysis and in depth study may come from those people see the work of art/event over digital mediums. In fact most of the theoretical studies are done using expanded methodology to include international events and works of art in its field of discussion. Therefore, I would say, while I always remain a stickler to the idea of going to see a work of art physically in real space and time, I would not discount people talking about the works of art that they have seen in digital media and making critical comments on it. Only thing is that there should not be too much of a distance between what is seen online and what is said in ‘real’ time. That needs training, sensibility, sensitivity and the rare ability of inner vision.