Friday, February 27, 2009

Picasso on the Beach

As Roy looked down from the cliffs, he saw a man drawing on the sands of the beach. He peered closely to take a look at the image and his heart jumped a beat as he viewed the emerging drawing that showed multiples angles of an extraordinary face. It seemed like a Picasso! He lifted the binoculars to his eyes and he was dazed as if he was in a dream, for the man drawing on the beach was Picasso himself! He was painfully aware that the high tides of the beach would soon erase an original Picasso and his thoughts were racing to find some means to preserve the work of art. Well, he couldn't try to hold back the sea, nor could he try to save all the sand holding the drawing. He could perhaps run home and fetch a camera to record the picture, which would anyway just be a record copy and not the original. But if he did try to run home, he would never make it in time to save the work from the waves. Perhaps the only thing he could do was to enjoy the experience of the work of a magnificent piece of art from the master himself. Yet, Roy had mixed feelings and didn't know whether to smile or cry (Source: "In a Season of Calm Weather" by Ray Bradbury)

It's obvious from the excerpt that this is not exactly a puzzle to be solved; there isn't really a solution to Ray's dilemma. I guess the essence of this hypothetical scenario is to reflect on our views on art, the immortality we tend to associate to visual arts, and probably how the spirit and essence of participating/experiencing art is often overridden by the materialistic significance attached to the physical form of art.

Is it trivial of us humans to try and preserve Art? If Michelangelo's, Picasso's, Monet's works were not preserved, wouldn't our generation be deprived of reveling in their splendor? If Beethoven's, Mozart's and Bach's musical notes were never recorded, I would acknowledge that it is indeed a loss. But at some level, is the real spirit of the original piece lost when there are reproductions of these master pieces? There can be millions of color prints of Monet's paintings, but none of those come close to the actual piece, or is it really so? Is our intent behind preserving master pieces a vain attempt to immortalize the artist and the work, in a denial to acknowledge our own mortality, and the inevitable mortality of the physical form of art?

I've always seen the preservation/restoration of Art as one way of passing on a rich heritage and culture to the future generations. Art evokes sensory and spiritual pleasures and it seems quite reasonable for us to want to cherish the sensory treats and expose the next generation to those. So in that regard, was it a tragedy that Ray could not find a way to preserve the Picasso on the beach? It is indeed a loss for millions of art enthusiasts and future generations, but what Ray experienced is priceless in comparison to the loss. Ray not only got to view a masterpiece, he was also privileged to experience it's creation. The Native Americans believe that a part of our soul and spirit fuses into our creations. In that sense, Ray participated in the creation of the art work, thereby experiencing a level of spiritual and visual treat incomparable to just viewing the physical proof of the work.

I've always craved to see an artist at work; observing a painter from their very first stroke, a composer humming the very first set of notes to weave together a musical piece, even a cook starting from the very first ingredient... experiencing creativity is something subliminally beautiful and awe least to me. Another aspect which is special about visual arts is our perception that the significance of their portrayal is immortalized, coagulated in time. Is it an attempt to not acknowledge our mortality? Well, I feel it is our acknowledgment of mortality that creates a sense of awe on the art piece that was not only present before our lives, but will probably be so, even after the end of our lives.

The following beautiful lines from John Keats' immortal poem, Ode on the Grecian Urn is what comes to mind.
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
O Attic shape! fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,

With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.' "


Perception said...

Preserving Art, I think great art when preserved serves as a bar, standard and inspiration for the sucessors. But as for Roy, I remember listening to a live classical concert, same old song, sung by the same old singer, yet there was this one aalap he sang, one murki he took which just held the audience in trance. How could one preserve something like that? So then I feel, maybe some things cannot be replicated and are not meant to be replicated. Those are experiences of the moment, for the moment and its few who realise to live it right there and right then :)

Anonymous said...

yes i agree with perception.. some moments in life are to freeze in our memory only.. for Roy it was one of those moments. if he had run to bring the camera he might have missed both the process and the creation. but now he'll have this memory for his whole lifetime.

maybe some creations of the artists are for themselves to enjoy and not to show off and get admired. or why would Picasso make an art on the sand near the sea. maybe he wanted it for himself as a moment of self.

SUMI said...

Interesting topic. Although art in its preserved form may not speak of everything that has gone behind its creation, I don't regard it as a vain attempt to hold on to the material remnants of something. Consider this - the artists themselves in most cases want their work to be immortal in the hearts of people, by its being around. A preserved piece of artwork can still evoke different reactions in different people, which is part of the beauty of art. So it is always interesting to preserve it for generations to enjoy in completely different contexts, as the mindset and interpretations keep changing. Moreover, from the point of view of knowing the path of evolution of an art form, it is in fact important to preserve it. I agree with the idea that part of the artist's soul goes into every work. Not everything may be captured in the piece being preserved, but it is still worth preserving it.

I completely agree with Perception's point about the preserved work forming a bar for future wanna-be artists. Also agree that certain nuances can never be captured, especially in the context of the performing arts. The connection between the artists and the audience is an important part of the whole deal in that case.

That was about preserving. With regard to replicating, somehow I don't feel passionately against it. I mean, if someone is replicating the painting of a master painter - every painter anyway gives it their own touch, their own kind of strokes, and their own kind of overall style. Even if they didn't, I don't see anything wrong with it, unless they do it with ulterior motives of wanting to make money by faking it as the original or some such thing. WIth regard to mass replication like making prints of paintings, I find it completely annoying. It completely takes away from the novelty of a great art work. Like the number of Mona Lisa prints around the world. I don't know if Da Vinci would be particularly flattered by it if he comes back alive. :)

SUMI said...

Oh, and with respect to Roy's situation, I think the right thing to do was to soak in the experience at that moment...

But my mind wandered off reading your passage. I didn't even understand it fully until I read your thoughts that followed it - I couldn't imagine how Picasso was drawing something that was likely to fly away - if he had been holding it in his hand, how could it just fly away, or if it was on an easel- it must've been clipped if he were working outdoors. My other thought was why didn't Roy run over to Picasso and tell him to be careful... All these thoughts came to my mind, leading to some confusion, but based on your write-up I gathered the essence of the questions that followed...

SUMI said...

On the other hand, if you consider that Picasso himself would've felt a sense of loss on losing it, the right thing for Roy to do would've been to run up to him (even if he was disturbing Picasso at work)... is this getting silly? :)

SUMI said...

Dang! I just realized he was drawing on the sand itself. hehehehee

I thought ("Picasso was drawing", "on the sand"), didn't realize ("Picasso was", "drawing on the sand") - linguistic ambiguity- two different parse trees u see.. :-)

Anonymous said...

Your comments on the life of art make me think about life itself.

The following phrase comes to mind:

"Life's love for itself".

Life procreates and mutates so that it can live forever. But living for ever would be meaningless if you didn't live every moment along the way.

SecondSight said...

Rather than helping Roy decide, I think I'd question how we define art, and why we want to preserve it.. Preserving art, or material objects, for inspiration or sentiment, works up to a point- as long as preservation does not obstruct flow. For example, if Roy had unlimited mechanical genius, would he be justified in building a wall to preserve the sand art? And would it be okay to block the waves to preserve the art?

On a side note, have you heard of this project where a group of people tried to throw out all their material possessions- they would take pictures of everything they 'treasured', keep the pictures for sentiment/posterity, and remove the 'clutter'- I think it was part of the Petri project or something..

SUMI said...

After having pondered about this in light of the fact that the art was on the sand itself, I just got reminded of something - a friend of mine told me that years back in Baltimore this huge group of Buddhist monks came down and created a lot of art on the street sidewalks with coloured sand - how long would that have stayed? When I heard about it then, I immediately thought that it gelled completely with the concept of life itself, which is transient and volatile.

In the case of the voluntary choice of Picasso to make art on sand, knowing fully well there is no way it can be preserved very long, I think the whole choice and exercise demonstrate a romance of the impermanence around us. So in this situation, that spirit in itself was the biggest part of the art. It would therefore not have made sense for Ray to have given up on his experience to try to photograph it or preserve it.

I have read Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, years back, but surprisingly don't remember this chapter at all...

Neeraja said...

Perception - I agree, inspiration is one of the key aspects of preserving master pieces. Performing arts is quite special due to the intense interaction that's possible between the artist, the art and the audience/patron. And such experiences can never be frozen except in our memories :)

Oorjas - Very true, most artists express due to the intense passion to live that moment of creation; they seldom look beyond.

SUMI - I totally agree with your views on preserving and replicating art. Sorry, the passage wasn't clearer... it was sort of confusing to me as well when I read it in the book! :)... I often wonder the same about street art and other forms of art on sand, ice, cakes&candies (hehe) etc., were the creation is born not to be preserved but to evoke precious few emotions/experiences. (But having said that, I always feel terrible to cut into a beautiful cake and eat it too!)

Anonymous - Thanks for visiting my blog and sharing your views! Your insightful comment succinctly expressed the essence of the article :)

SecondSight - I agree... to what extents we should go to preserve Art and for what intent, need to be thought (especially if it stems from a monetary/materialistic standpoint). I haven't heard of that project! Thanks for introducing me to all these novel projects!! :) I admit I would have a really tough time throwing out my sentimental possessions! Somehow physical treasures do a great job of stoking the memories :)