Sunday, February 10, 2008

Art of Work. Work of Art.

Why is it, I have always wondered, that when great work is done, it is not marvelled upon too long? Why is work done with diligence & passion & skill not celebrated too long after it's over? Why is it that what people devote their life, their creativity & the best of themselves is lauded for sometime & then forgotten? It has always troubled me, what will I create that the world will remember & celebrate after I have gone? Why are so many passionate lives spent in vain?

I recently thought of something. There is work & then there is art. For argument sake, let's assume this is top quality work & art we are discussing. Work is celebrated when it is done - it's the flavor of the month. But that celebration does not last long because truly good work is just the foundation for more good work. Thw good work eventually comes into the realm of the ordinary, infact that is probably the test of it's success. Unless it becomes ordinary - it is still not useful. As opposed to that, art may or may not be lauded when it actually is created but is celebrated for aeons after. Work enables something, it is a mean to achieve some other 'end' but art is an end in itself.

The science of making aeroplanes is hardly feted anymore - but planes ferry tens of thousands of people & has obviously brought in tremendous social, cultural & economic growth. If we compare that to a great work of art, say the Mona Lisa - it inspires awe & respect everytime it is looked at or spoken about but has little direct, tangible bearings on humankind in general. The telephone might be indispensable today, but we rarely invoke the spirit of Graham Bell to thank him for his invention. Nokia epitomises human technology & easy user interface for a lot of people - but I am pretty sure that is not the first thought that comes to your mind when the phone rings. On the other hand, a beautiful sculpture, a lilting melody immediately rouses respect for the beauty, the skill, the art, the greatness.

Ofcourse both work & art have their own place in the scheme of things. We can't do without either. Work is needed so people are better off, comfortable, healthy. It's benefits are tangible so it motivates people & stokes ambition. Art is uplifting - it elevates you from the ordinary to the divine, it brings life to a halt for a few seconds, it forms memories & impressions & links us to each other beyond boundaries of generation, time, language & distance. Without art, life would be empty & mechanical.

So if we believe both to be important, what should we devote ourselves to? It depends. The first thing to establish is that work and art need not be mutually exclusive. You could be a hard nosed investment banker by the week and a singer (or atleast a listener) by the weekend. You could be a paper pusher somewhere but choose to spend your evenings decorating your home with 'rangoli'. You could be the most talented actor but still might need to wait tables before your calling is also your living. Secondly, it is also important to remember your orientation & the outcomes of the different kind of work discussed earlier. If you like to see hard results and have the drive to see solid outcomes of your work pretty often - maybe you don't want to spend 3 years of your life perfecting a symphony.

For me - it's a tune in my head & I walk to it. I don't know the whole song but I like what I hear so far....


Artemis Fowl III said...

hey bhavna...

i nod in full agreement... this time, i have no comments to make... :-)

i liked the idea: work is a group thing, done step by step while art is an individual thing, done at one go

pretty insightful as always :-)


Kartikeya said...


naari said...

well a bit different is my views here. the result of a lot of our work is not as visible or not significant in fundamentally impacting people's lives or their imagination. unlike the work's of art u mentioned or other artisitic activities that you can list out; stuff which has an audience who can evaluate it in terms of personal experience - moods, emotions, feelings, etc. etc. and our ability as an audience to judge & appreciate it comes from the need for such activities after a long, hard day/week/year spent doing mundane seemingly uneventful stuff at "work". hence, the perpetual debate on "what's the point of all this" amongst people around us.

Srivats said...

you ought to read zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. work and art is an important distinction and I'm glad you're spending time trying to explain your point of view. Read zen - it's not quite the same, but it's important nonetheless. It speaks of the difference between the classical (or scientific) and the romantic. It analyzes analysis itself.