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What is Art and What Makes it Timeless?

What is Art? Can I call any expression art? If I can sing beautifully, is that an art? Or, if I can hold a pencil in my hand and draw something captivating, is that worthy of being called an art? Is the final product called art irrespective of taking a look at the process in which it is born? Why some art lives beyond the boundaries of time, language and culture whereas some ‘art’ fades out? What makes art timeless?

Before we talk more about the above mentioned topic, let us try to figure out what ‘timeless’ means. Does timeless mean something that lasts for centuries? Or does it mean something which is equally relevant after centuries? When we talk about any art form or an artistic work of any artist, just survival is not enough; otherwise any piece of stone would be timeless. A singer’s intense rendition, which is neither recorded nor documented in any manner will fade away the next moment; is it not timeless then?

That’s why, understanding what ‘timeless’ means is very important to understand ‘timeless art’. Take example of two saints as a case under consideration – Kabir and Raidas. Both Kabir and Raidas learnt from same Guru. They were Gurubandhus in that sense. Another contemporary and celebrated saint – Meerabai, when met both of them, she chose Raidas as her Guru and not Kabir. Today, Kabir is more well known and can be considered to be a ‘timeless’ saint in the conventional meaning of the word ‘timeless’. What about Raidas? Is he not timeless?

I feel, ‘timeless’ art carries with it the energy to give its experiencer an experience of ‘timelessness’. Actually how many people take that experience and then talk about it does not affect the quality of art.

When you read a couplet of Kabir, it makes your mind stop for a moment. It establishes a direct contact between the reader and the timeless. Same is true about a single note which comes from a musician who has tasted even a bit of truth in his or her life. The purpose of art is to free the mind of sense of time; if we judge art on the basis of how long it lasts, that would be hilarious. In most of the cases, when people realise some art is truly timeless, they try very hard to practice and preserve it which makes it timeless in the normal sense of that word. Buddha’s words are timeless not because they are around even today. Since they were truly timeless, his disciples and then their disciples devoted their lives to practice and preserve it.

Before we explore our topic deeper, I would like to share with you how Osho looked at art. In one of his talks, he very beautifully distinguishes between, science, religion and art. As he describes,

Science is our effort to ‘understand’ the truth.

Religion is our effort to ‘experience’ the truth.

Art is an expression from the one who has experienced the truth.

To be very honest, if one defines art this way, 99.99% (or even more) artists no longer remain artists. Artists who are sincerely practising their art form are actually Sadhaks, the ones who are trying to explore truth from their practice. As per the definition of Osho, true art begins after the experience of truth has happened. If we again go to Kabir as a case under consideration, the Dohas i.e. couplets and various Bhajans or poems of Kabir are his expression of truth. They are not his words while struggling to find what truth is and hence, they can be truly called art.

If we look at what is commonly associated with art, three separate things are being called ‘art’:

The art whose sole purpose is self promotion, getting more money and recognition.

Art to make a living from it. Practised sincerely, but to make a living.

Art practice as a way to self realisation.

If we accept the Osho’s definition of art, none of the above can be called artists. Even the last one, which sounds like a very authentic definition of artist cannot be called art. For the third category, they are practitioners of truth and have not experienced it yet. True art can come from the one who has experienced the truth. The sincere artists, who are dedicated to their art form become ‘walkers on the path’ to become an artist.

How does one become an artist who creates timeless art? I feel that this question itself is flawed. After the experience of truth, can one exist and function as an individual? An experience of truth would be something like what Kabir describes in one of his couplets :

लाली मेरे लाल की जित देखु ऊत लाल
लाली देखन मैं चली, मैं भी हो गई लाल

The crux of this couplet is, ‘individuality’ does not remain once a person gets to experience the truth. Rather, letting go the personality is a very first step towards experiencing the truth. If you feel that I am being too idealistic or simply lost my mind, let me bring your attention to the fact that some of the greatest artists, who are known as timeless artists have repeatedly expressed the same feeling.

Take this line from the all time great painter, V. S. Gaintonde :

कलानिर्मिती ही ईश्वरकृपा आहे; वैयक्तिक यशाची गुढी नव्हे.

The above line can be loosely translated as – The process of art creation is a grace from the god. It’s not something an individual can boast about.

Gaitonde himself would regularly listen to the talks by J. Krishnamurti and Shri. Nisargadatta Maharaj and these two ‘timeless artists’ impacted him a lot which is clearly visible in his works. Gaitonde also practiced Zen Buddhism.

To conclude, our common understanding is that the practice of any art is a process to realise the truth. In reality, art is the the matured expression which starts flowing through one once he or she has experienced the truth.

By Mandar Karanjkar

Mandar Karanjkar is author, motivational speaker and consultant based in Pune. Mandar works with handful of organizations helping them with strategy, communication and culture. Mandar is trained in Indian Classical Music over a decade. He is a classical singer and flute player.

Mandar has written columns for many reputed newspapers. Engineer by profession, he conducts workshops and delivers talks on subjects as wide as strategy, innovation, online marketing, spirituality, Kabir, Zen etc.

Mandar is a published author.

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