The big question in art

Has the online world killed long-form art?

I recently came across a YouTube video of Mythili Prakash dancing to T.M. Krishna’s singing. Their Instagram posts are about the declining standards in performance art, thanks to the demand for short “recorded” performances. The beauty of longer, “boring” presentations is fast being replaced by made-to-order, “less-than-a-minute”, high-resolution capsules. For one, this has changed the very art forms as they are presented on social media. Secondly, it has led to a surfeit of content that stands the danger of becoming cookie-cutter stuff. But, more significantly, and I have written about it earlier in this column, the very purpose of art is now to please people and see how to make the content go viral.

This has deeply impacted artistes who have been groomed in the old system of learning and performing. Recently, a friend of mine called to ask if I could create more interesting reels. For a minute I was taken aback, since the word ‘reel’ in Madras bhashai means to pull a fast one. But a reel is a one-minute (or less than) rendition for Instagram. Once on the gram, it competes with millions of others, who dance to the latest film numbers, reveal their unbelievable six-pack abs to adoring young audiences, or display other more titillating slices of virtual perfection.

It’s as if the entire world loves to constantly break into song and dance. This might not in itself be totally bad or undesirable — if it is going to help build a happier planet or lead to wellness. But what if, on the contrary, artistes are forced to surrender to the demands of these drastically changing times. What happens to their lifelong sadhakam and deeper dive into art? Do we just brush all this under the carpet?

The 21st century post-pandemic reality calls for an urgent examination of this environment.

I recently attended a panel discussion, where participants spoke a lot about what constitutes art now, how performances should be curated, and the need to adapt to the new. To me, it was both underwhelming and conflicting.

Many of us are today being forced to take a stand in the virtual world. Stand in support of or against certain topics or statements. Anything we say or do assumes a political colour, while keeping silent is not taken very well either. Writer Manu Joseph summed it up perfectly when he said that being famous is a punishment in today’s world, and that it is easier to find contentment in having a niche for one’s work and adequate support to keep it going.

The questions that Krishna and Mythili were asking, therefore, are important. What is the nature of the art we are creating and performing today? What kind of pedagogies do teachers need to craft? Is the long-form dead? Do we focus only on titillation and byte-sized renditions for the virtual medium?

But do we have the answers?

The writer is a well-known pianist and educator and associate professor at Krea University.

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