On Beauty (Chapter-3)

Abdullah Motaleb
Art & Literature
On Beauty (Chapter-3)

at the time, when i was doing these buildings with less lines, in the offices of others, there was no industrialised technology for that. i was making it up as i was moving along. there were rules and regulations that had to be followed. the firms, doing the work, would want those regulations to be followed, they would have to guarantee the performance of their work. tough job. i looked young and inexperienced. the firms could play the ball, as to their game. “can’t be done”. why not? because of the regulations. what regulation? i went  home and read. i read carefully, word by word. i went back to the site, discussed the matter with the company. we ran through the this regulations together, word by word. the language of the regulations had been difficult, i was struggling with the language itself, the language still being new to me. we took my drawing, ran line by line. no infringement of the regulation. can be done? yes, it can be done, but difficult to do. you tell them, they can make amendments to suit their comfort, if it doesn’t change the look. that would be the compromise. they can submit a drawing for approval, if they change anything. can we do it then? the companies do not like to do drawings, they would rather not change and do as to the original drawing. the naive world of inexperience. it is so difficult to hold on to the freshness of a childlike mind, to see the wonder every morning. an artist friend from far away told me this.

it’s always a surprise to note the corners where the hints come from, gets you moving further.

my upbringing had been difficult. from the beginning, the task was to prepare me to become an owner, an owner of wealth, of all. to own a property, to own monies, to own a family, to own a car, i would need to find an occupation. this occupation had to be one, that would enable me to get  a head start. be an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer. this was not an idea or a proposition, this was a demand. all effort were directed towards this demand. the schools i had gone to, in my childhood, were constructed to meet this demand. obedience and following rules, that was to be learnt. these two ideas would ensure that the demand is fulfilled. a teacher’s guarantee. asking question would be questioning the teacher. that would be disrespectful.  all the children going to these schools were programmed towards this demand. as a child, i thought that was what the world was about. as a child, i thought there may be more than this. what could that more possibly be, i had no idea. i had been greedy the first few years. i could not wait for the vacation to end, the school to begin. i had enjoyed the beginning, there had been much excitement in the beginning. there would be new books to buy, new notebooks with empty pages to fill. new pencils to sharpen. i would be curious to find out what these new books had to say. i would impatiently run through the books, i would finish the books so quickly, i would have nothing to do for the rest of the year.  there would be boredom waiting. the books did not have much to say. there had been repetitions in those books. in the classroom, there would be repetitions. there had been teachers, with a stick in their hands, repeating what was already in the books. the earth is a ball and the milky way was the end of the universe. there was nothing beyond that. why was this so? the teacher would not allow a question. i was told to slow down. i slowed down. this slowing down has remained with me. with me, the time would also slow down. the questions had remained with me.

later, when i went to higher schools, the situation did not change. by now i had become so used to not listening, i was without information. i had lost all tracks. it had become difficult for me to reach the demand that was once  phrased so strongly. i was still being driven by the demand. i was swimming in shallow water. i can not swim. my childhood questions remained unanswered. the disrespect for teachers who had little to teach remained. I had not dared to ask questions. I had forgotten the questions. my education had remained unfinished. the mechanical reproduction of knowledge became difficult. i had become very inattentive. the teachers had complained. i would fall asleep in the classroom, in broad day light and at times I could even fall asleep standing. every one around me had been concerned.

while i was in one of these schools, i came upon a german writer, another chance meeting, when i was running through the  books of the badly fitted small library in one of the schools I had been sent to. i saw this book by the german. i noticed, no one had ever borrowed the book. the title of the book had attracted my attention. the writer had been some kind of a scientist, an scholar concerned with the understanding of text of the european antiquity, the greek and latin texts. the book i had found by chance was about values, he had dissected the words good and bad. that’s all. i thought he was telling me something that had disturbed me years before, i had been a child then. it had been a laborious reading. my lack of knowledge, my limitations in language, was showing through. my slowness had become a problem now. i had to read the lines carefully, now very slowly. the author ranted about other writers, thinkers I knew nothing of. the book was difficult to follow. at the time of my reading, I knew nothing about the author, that made my reading evenmore difficult. that the time when and where the author had lived may have been of some consequence, I had not known then. still, it was the first book that gave me some answers, some possible answers. that was one beginning. i had read a few other books  of the writer, all very tedious. that the man was from a different century, that he had influenced many other writers , artists and even architects, i had yet to find out. in some ways he had helped me shape my world, clear up some of the questions. not all. i had left him there to move on. in time, i noticed how this author i had discovered only by chance without the help of others, in a badly fitted library, had become another point of reference, like david, magdalena, dontello.

when beauty is subjective, it’s liking. liking may not be discussable, it’s bound to many unpronounced wishes, influences. it is derived from a murky zone called unconsciousness, a difficult zone to penetrate. the liking may come from childhood memories. the mother had bought a shirt, the shirt was pink, there had been safety in the family, the mother may have pampered. mother may also have worn pink herself, she may have received the pink from her mother, now the grand mother. the playing with friends, in that pink shirt bore memories of good days. the days mIght not have been as good as the memory wants them to be. there may have been quarrels, crying, but mother was there to sooth. the pink by now has that memory, the pink may now have more memories than the mother. there would be the friends, maybe a feast to go with it. there may even be a touch of scent that would stay with the colour. there maybe the forgotten or suppressed memory of a pretty little girl who had liked the colour too. the growing sexual interest. liking the colour now was related to those memories, without the tears. some of these memories were not even remembered now. out of the liking grows taste. taste is now paired with the learning that had gone with it in time. the child is now growing up. it has learned what goes well with the pink. the pink can now even become an statement of a style. there are social conventions, that may inform the pink. the pink may now be intellectually defined, leaving out the early days. While liking is unreflected, taste is partly reflected. While liking may never disappear, taste may change in time.

beauty is not subjective, it’s discussable. beauty can be defined. a composer of our time once said, music is organized noise. listening to his music can be strenuous, he sets his idea at the very edge of the matter. he made up his own rules, simple rules. his rules make the musicians make rules. musicians are not used to that. they ask for notes, the composer did not write notes, just some rules. the music, when played, turns out to be different every time.

there had been rules, definitions set up to understand beauty. those were in the old days. the theories, the treaties, the manifestos. when a russian painted his black painting and a dutch his grid, a german designed his pavilion in spain, it only looked as if they had levered out the theories, the treaties. they did say they were throwing all treatise overboard, they did not need the old treatise. this did not quite happen. some of the old theories of beauty did remain, some newer ones were added. they brought in their own conception of what beauty was to be. “pure emotion”, the russian said. “less is a bore” had put the german in the doghouse. we returned to the mediocrity of the decorative, a popularism that didn’t take us far beyond disneyland. disneyland’s beauty would need to be discussed elsewhere. someone misunderstood and oversaw the beauty and poetic in the less. someone tried to define beauty with a sausage and a duck, an american beauty. whether these concepts are acceptable, valid, we can discuss.

i had walked around the seagram building in new york, the westmout square and some housing buildings on nun’s island in montreal, in the morning, at noon, in the evening and realized how much time i needed for these buildings to reveal their beauty. someone had made a grave mistake of thinking these buildings to be boring and apologized later. the architect of these buildings in new york, in montreal is coming back, now we can buy books on him again. he’s being rediscovered, rehabilitated. we’ll have to wait a little longer for marcel breuer. he is still being perceived as a chair maker. or eileen gray. she had simply been ignored.

time also defines beauty, its definition very decisive and absolute. we tend to accept this decision of the time, unreflected.  sometimes. it is very difficult to defy the definition of one’s time, the spirit of the time, zeitgeist. we are bound to this zeitgeist, a space with no exit. seemingly. i too live in this space, a prisoner of the zeitgeist. i am aware of this. the understanding of the zeitgeist, so arrogant, we easily oversee that this definition may not lead to anywhere, this maybe a freak wave and no more. freak waves may cause injuries and casualties. there are always powerful pens at work convincing us of the new definition to be the one and only. ten years later there would come other prophets, no one say that. one would look old fashioned, conservative if one questioned the zeitgeist.  zeitgeist may send one or the other down the road to perdition, never to reappear again. if the artist is lucky,, he/she will reappear again ten or twenty years later. a different zeitgeist will blow, make itself important. zeitgeist is not trustworthy, i had needed time to find that out. to run away from zeitgeist may be difficult, but i would like to give this proposition a try. this trying is not meant to be resistance for the sake of resistance, but has become a need. it has become a part of a search  for understanding. zeitgeist had taken too many artists and makers hostage in various period. i would want to have the freedom to decide for my own who may or may not help me with my growing. a pen can be a strong and efficient weapon, I had to learn that. the users of pen are very aware of this. they most efficient of them are also magicians of language.

i was once sitting with an artist in a café, he told me that if an artist wants to make money, he has to paint portraits of animals, horses and cats.  dogs are most popular. these are beautiful creatures, no doubt. i have begun to portrait cows, this was incidental. on my india trip, i had recognized how different they can look. they can be vain. the realization came first on the andaman islands. i was trying to take a picture of a landscape. there were cows laying in the fields. i thought the scene was sublime. a cow noticed me with the camera. it stood up and gave me a pose, as if a fashion model, an actor or actress on red carpet. when i tugged away my camera, the cow went back to its laziness. the same happened a few days later, in another place. then again in karnataka, where I had been running around. these cows looked completely different. same again in switzerland. these are such beautiful animals. i thought cows were cows, they always look the same. the cows have changed my way of looking, m way of understanding the world.

the artist in that café might have been frustrated at the time of the talk. i have not seen him paint a dog or a cat. he could, without a doubt if he had the desire to do so. he had done some large scale portraits in pencil, very realistic. in time he has taken a different direction. his paintings take time to make. he has a set of rules he follows. these rules are more technical, the size, the choice of material come first. there are other layers, obsessions that go with the making. the desh, language, the trauma of a liberation war. the world as it is, the bigger picture. his works tip send me off in all directions, make me think, review my perception. there are days, when i see more in his works. the artist may not have intended those mores I see. there will be questions, there will be doubts that rise from my seeing his works.

to be continued… ]

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