Sunday, January 18, 2015

ARTICLE 1371 - Art for the Untrained Eye

How to Stop Pretending and Actually Enjoy Art

Herbert Lui  for Lifehacker
You might roll your eyes when your in-laws want to visit the art gallery. You might also get anxious and start thinking of things to say so you don't look dumb. But art doesn't have to be a chore. Here's how you can better consume art so you can have a shot at enjoying the experience.

Read the Explainers and Pay for Voice Guides

Whether it's a painting, recording, sculpture, building, or some other art form, a piece of art is the result of feelings from a certain time and place in history. Even just a brief explanation of that history empowers us, as an audience, to understand and empathize with artists more.
It helps to follow experts as they explain their interpretations of art pieces, because they've spent more time with it, and likely have studied the field. Similar to how a chef takes raw ingredients and prepares food, an art expert spends time with a piece and prepares explanations so you can consume art more easily. For example, have a look at Art as Therapy.
Naturally, different art forms will have different types of explainers. Voice guides are great for art galleries, books can be helpful for visual art. It could also get more specific: is great for hip-hop culture and music, and is quickly expanding into other musical types.
If you have a friend who's extremely knowledgeable about the art form you want to see, go with them. It makes a world of difference. I went to an art gallery with a friend who studied art history, and she shared relevant information that I wouldn't have known about how the artist's life affected their paintings. 
Remember to balance between getting context and actually feeling the art. I spent a lot of time reading the captions to reinforce my own understanding, but she spent most of her time looking at the actual piece and pointed stuff out that I likely wouldn't have seen. Although understanding context is important, actually consciously consuming the art is equally (if not more) important.

Pay Attention to Your Reactions: Consume Art Consciously and Mindfully

A lot of times, we try to examine a piece of art based on skill (e.g., "Wow, I could never do that," or, "Oh, my kid could have made that that"). However, it's important to remember that judging a piece of art takes your attention away from your reaction to, and feelings about, the actual piece. Instead, shift your attention to your reaction to the art. How are you feeling when you hear the piece, or see it, or walk through an incredible piece of interior design or architecture? 
This is why exploring abstract art can be so challenging. Many people quickly dismiss abstract art as something elementary, vague, and/or pretentious. This makes it the perfect practice for being mindful as you consume it. Don't judge it. Immerse yourself in it and feel it. Quora user Christopher Reiss advises against trying to "see" things in abstract art ("It's not a [rorschach] test,") and explains how to consume a Jackson Pollock painting:
It's paint and surface, nothing else. Feel the swirls. Their energy. Their tangling. Pollock goes all the way to the edge of the canvas where it's just as busy as the center. Feel the tension as everywhere the eye looks, you miss something. It's hard to take in.
It's can be tricky to balance spending time understanding context and history, while also being patient and attentive enough to examine the art and how you react to it. To help with the balance, ask yourself some questions without judging the art or comparing it.

Think About Art: Ask Guiding Questions

Questions can be great guides to focus your mind as it processes the art piece. There are different things to be sensitive to in each art form. For example, in visual arts, you'll want to look for symbols. Consider the color palettes and combinations. When walking through a piece of architecture, ask yourself why the artist designed certain details or nuances. I'm no architect whiz, but have a look at the concrete blocks on the exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House. When you're listening to a live performance or a soundtrack, think about the beat, tempo, and mood changes throughout the songs. In some cases, listen to the lyrics and think about their possible meanings (or double and triple meanings). 
When art academic Terry Smith confronts a work of art, he describes the four questions he tries to answer:
  • What am I looking at? (Or listening to, or walking through?)
  • How was it made?
  • When was it made, and what was happening in the world at that time?
  • What is it saying? What is its meaning to the artist, and to us now?
There are many guiding questions you can ask, and each art form has different specific ones. For example, here are dozens of questions that you could ask while looking at a piece of visual art. You could tweak some of these questions to be more relevant to another art form (e.g., Change, "How would you describe this painting to a person who could not see it?" to "How would you describe this song to a person who could not listen to it?").

Learn How People Make Art

The final product of art may look like it's easy to make. However, you never truly grasp the difficulties and nuances of a process until you learn about — and ultimately try — it. For example, rap may not sound like anything more than simple rhyme schemes and poems. Yet as Complex Media's Editor-in-Chief and Chief Content Officer Noah Callahan-Bever writes:
If you're gonna shit on someone's rhyme, you should try, at least once, to sit down and write a 16. It's hard. Don't get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion as a listener and consumer, but a little respect for the difficulty of the process may inform how you express your dissatisfaction.
A good first step to understanding how people make art could be to simply watch the process. For example, one of my favorites is watching how much work actually goes into producing whatsome may call a "simple" beat. 
If you find yourself particularly curious about a certain art form or type, consider taking a class. It's a step that will almost definitely further enhance your taste, understanding, and empathy for art. Quora user Joshua Engel explains how to understand Shakespeare, but his advice can be applied to all art forms:
It's not a secret, any more than it's a secret to learn to enjoy food by eating and cooking things, and not by reading cookbooks without ever tasting. Yes, the language forms a speed bump, but it's not nearly as big a hassle as it's made out to be, because it's not the point of the exercise. Watch the plays, enjoy the plays, then read the plays to see how the words went into making up that enjoyable experience.
Once you explore the process behind the art, you may grow to appreciate the dedication and work ethic that goes into each piece even more. 

You Might Eventually Even Like Art

Hopefully, some of these techniques will enable you to hate art less (and maybe even grow to appreciate certain forms). Enjoying art doesn't take a completely different way of thinking. Instead, it takes a bit of empathy and understanding, and a lot more focus and being mindful of the experience. In today's fast-paced world, simply consuming art can be a challenging experience, but it's one that is also extremely rewarding.

Novice Art Blooger

—Craig Hubert 

For those that think art critics are stuffy and pretentious, you now have a solution: the Novice Art Blogger. Stripped of human feeling and perception, the Tumblr page created by the British-Colombian artist Matthew Plummer Fernandez uses deep learning algorithms to write about art.
The results are weirdly fascinating, more poetic than straight description. For example, here is what it churned out for an untitled work by Brice Marden, from 1971:

“Two urinals are in the corner of a building behind it or quite possibly a picture of a small public building. It could be related to a shadow on a brick wall lined with old toilets.”

But what seems like a joke is, according to the creator, a more honest way of writing about art. “I think there is a value in having a machine describe art without the burden of prior art knowledge, art history, trends, and favouritism,” he said in an interview with Dazed. “It makes us reflect on whether art should be able to stand on its own and elicit unaffected experiences of art, or whether to read art we need that cultural context and formative background, or a mix of both.”
While an art world completely populated by robots is appealing, I don’t think art critics should begin fearing for their jobs quite yet. You can read the rest of the reviews by the Novice Art Blogger here.

 (Image: Brice Marden’s “Untitled,” 1971, via the Novice Art Blogger) & Vinod Dave

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

ARTICLE 1371 - The Art of Stealing & Other Stories...

Exceptionally well funded: the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP

The news that yet another Indian work from the National Gallery of Australia has been found to be stolen could be spun as evidence that the NGA under the directorship of Ron Radford was especially lax in exercising due diligence when purchasing ancient Indian works of art. But those with even a rudimentary knowledge of the art and antiquities market are rarely surprised at stories of fraud, theft or forgery.
While sites such as Chasing Aphrodite give a sense of immediacy to tales of career art thieves and fraudsters, this is not a new story. Bonnie Burnham first wrote on the full extent of the modern market for stolen objects in her 1975 book, The Art Crisis, and the looting of sacred treasure goes back at least to the grave robbers of ancient Egypt.
On one level the private market for objects of beauty and antiquity is based on a desire to possess the rare and to contemplate the sublime.
It does not hurt that ownership of antiquities, or evidence of their authenticity, is not recorded in any easily accessible database. This allows the private market to operate as a useful form of currency exchange or a way of concealing wealth from pesky taxation authorities. This same fluidity is what has made art attractive to some of our more colourful entrepreneurs.
Museums have a slightly different agenda. Some of it comes from that same lust for beauty and history, but there is also national identity and the bragging rights that lead different cities or countries to proclaim themselves powerful and cultured tourist attractions.
Well-established collections, such as the British Museum, the Pergamon and the Louvre, received the bulk of their treasures in the centuries when plunder was regarded as a reasonable policy and there was no awkward legislation to protect the cultural property of colonised nations.
Newer museums need to buy on an open market. The National Gallery of Australia’s collection policy cites a need both to display the cultural diversity of the population and to reflect the geographic context of the country, which is Asian and Oceanic, not European. For many years, it has been an exceptionally well-funded art museum with private donors supplementing the initial pump-priming government funds.
Because title is so uncertain, and because the art world is especially aware of the potential for fraud, there are standard procedures for due diligence. But these are always supplemented by that essential quality in every transaction – trust. Artdealers rely on credibility, a quality enhanced by the number of years they have been in the business.

Asian artworks at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP
Subhash Kapoor, who sold the stolen Shiva (and other works) to the NGA, had been operating in New York since 1974. Over the years he had sold many works to some of the world’s leading museums, not least in the US. Some of these works are now proving to have been stolen. How was it that these institutions so easily believed the magnificent works they were sold were legitimate?
One answer: there is very little difference between art dealers and real estate agents. They both rely on a combination of desire and flattery to convince a potential purchaser that an acquisition is unique, a fulfilment of desire – made all the more urgent by the certain knowledge that others are also in the hunt.
Unlike real estate agents, however, art dealers do not have to be registered. And, while establishing the legitimacy of title to a piece of land is not hard, documentation is all too easily forged for works of antiquity or art bought on the secondary market
Legislation to protect the movement of antiquities is relatively recent; dealers can always draw on the bad behaviour of past generations to explain present possession. Many 18th and 19th century adventurers returned home with loot which has sometimes ended up in public collections. One of the glories of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s collection, the Ming Dynasty guardian figure of Wei To, was looted by Captain Francis Hixson, an ancestor of the Fairfax family during the Boxer rebellion.
Most well established collections have work with a similarly dubious provenance. A personable dealer can spin a yarn about a private collector inheriting an antique taken in the distant past. Because they fear the very act of insuring a work may signal to thieves, some private collectors do their best to keep ownership of priceless works reasonably secret.
More recent art is easier to track. In the 1970s it was the very alert James Mollison, then interim director of the institution that was to become the National Gallery of Australia, who first noticed discrepancies that led to uncovering Marlborough Fine Art’s fraud against the Rothko estate. Perhaps Marlborough thought a country 10,000 miles away was not going to notice the fine details of provenance and exhibition history – in those days distances seemed great.
It’s fair to assume the modern market for art and antiquities is no better, or worse, than the past. What has changed is ease of access with low-cost international travel (which helps the thieves) and the internet (which helps legitimate owners). That well-spun narratives of provenance eventually come undone is a tribute to modern technology and Interpol’s database of stolen art.
The NGA was an early adopter when it came to putting its entire collection online. This has made it easy to identify it as the purchaser of stolen goods, but it should also inhibit future acts of theft. Some art is not so well protected.
Using existing scholarship, we could create an interlocking series of online databases of all works of international cultural significance. The cost would be considerable, but this act alone would made the lives of fraudsters more difficult. Dealers who wish to be considered “honest” might even contribute to the cost.
   -Joanna Mendelssohn for the Guardian

Joanna Mendelssohn is a curator, art critic and associate professor of art and design at the University of New South Wales, where she edits Design and Art Australia Online
Finally Indian authorities get a wake up call from their cultural deep sleep!
NEW DELHI: In 2013, a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General had noted that a few of the country’s museums had not acquired any art work or antiquities in many years, while artifacts in their custody were rotting for want of upkeep.Promising improvement in the management of  museums across the country and the way antiquities are handled, the Ministry of Culture has framed an acquisition policy on art objects and antiquities.

The first ever comprehensive acquisition policy aims to equip museums under the ministry with the power to acquire more national and international art work and antiquities to increase holdings. The policy, if put into effect will curb the illegal smuggling of Indian art abroad. In one of the major recommendations of the draft policy, available in public domain since January 1, is the setting up of an Art Acquisition Committee (AAC) in each museum, which will be responsible for acquiring new art works either through purchase, donation, gifts or field excavations.  
The policy suggested that AACs, with a three-year tenure should have a chairman -- a scholar whose integrity and scholarship is indisputable -- six well known experts and senior officials of the ministry and a museum director.The main work of the AAC would be to assess  the authenticity of objects, negotiate price, check for duplicity and be on the lookout for genuine art dealers.
For any art work to be bought, the AAC would put out a list, and when the authenticity of the object concerned was ascertained, the same be displayed in the museum for a month and details of transaction be made public.
Officials claimed that the acquisition policy would help in curbing the smuggling of Indian artifacts, as some of the pieces can now be acquired by museums.Last year in September, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott  had handed over two antique statues of Hindu deities to Modi. These idols - Nataraja belonging to the Chola dynasty of 11th-12th century and Ardhanariswara - were allegedly stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu before these were bought by art galleries in Australia. The country will return another stolen 2nd century Buddha sculpture to India soon.
Earlier, France had returned a 1,100-year-old Yogini sculpture, stolen from a temple in Uttar Pradesh, to India in 2013. This is now displayed at the National Museum in Delhi.
The setting up of the AAC can further help Indian museums to acquire these goods. The ACC will also liaise with investigating agencies whenever they seize stolen goods.
“The collection practices, being largely unplanned, and unregulated, lack coherence and focus. A large number of objects lie undocumented and unused. The absence of a comprehensive policy in museums can trigger trafficking of art as people cannot easily find good buyers,” the policy document said.
Pratul Sharma for the New Indian Express

Saturday, January 03, 2015

ARTICLE 1370 - Banksy or Guesswho?

Over the past two years, graffiti art in cities across India has gotten a lot of press. Walking through the alleyways of Delhi's trendy nooks, you'll notice a lot of new color on the walls. Local artists have been pretty active, and this year, the city also saw a huge international Street Art Festival, which several well-known Indian and international artists attended. But it's not only in the big cities; murmurs about street art have reached a crescendo in smaller metros, like the Southern city of Kochi, says a graffiti artist from the city who goes by Guesswho. In his new body of work, he (or she) satirizes India's artist community and its old and new audience.
"All of a sudden, everyone in Kochi is interested in contemporary art and street art," Guesswho writes in an email. "People can look at these images and laugh at themselves."

Guesswho has been hailed as India's Banksy (though he's not the only Indian street artist to be called that) because his previous work was said to criticize the Kochi art biennale—India's first and only biennale—held in his city last month. But Guesswho shies away from calling his work protest art.
"It was never a protest ... these images are trying to poke at the purpose of art—not just established art practices but graffiti as well," he (or she) says. "It is more of a introspection."

Guesswho's beef is not with a particular art festival or exhibition, but with the way art is regarded in India. In some circles, the emphasis is on exclusivity—on restricting the audiences to only those "who are serious" about the art: In some arts circles, "seriousness" is measured in money spent to attend openings and in one's ability to understand English captions and titles. Other Guesswho works question how to make art more accessible. Opponents of this view say that opening the doors of high art to everyone might mean that the value of the art itself gets lost in the crowd, Guesswho explains.
"These conflicts interested me," Guesswho says. "Art is for whom?"
Guesswho's beef is not with a particular art festival or exhibition, but with the way art is regarded in India. In some circles, the emphasis is on exclusivity—on restricting the audiences to only those "who are serious" about the art: In some arts circles, "seriousness" is measured in money spent to attend openings and in one's ability to understand English captions and titles. Other Guesswho works question how to make art more accessible. Opponents of this view say that opening the doors of high art to everyone might mean that the value of the art itself gets lost in the crowd, Guesswho explains.
"These conflicts interested me," Guesswho says. "Art is for whom?"

Tanvi Misra for Citylab

Guesswho spoke to BBC Tamil and BBC Trending: he or she wouldn't reveal their identity to us, but they did agree to answer some questions via email.

What can you tell us about yourself? Are you one artist or several? Male or female?
Somebody who likes graffiti.

Do you have a political point? What's your message?
I don't believe it is art's purpose to send any message. It was mainly an alternative way to use a visual language that people are unfamiliar with here. But at the same time they can connect and communicate with the image and subject while being subtly political. It is also about using public spaces and subversive tactics as potent means of speaking about social realities.
he superheroes and Shikari Shambu with Appi Hippi (a character from a cartoon strip) pieces were done in response to the Kiss of Love campaign that has been going on here. [BBC Trending previouslycovered the debate over 'immoral acts' in public] People who were coming on to the streets to kiss and protest are being arrested. But what if fictional characters do the same? Do they arrest them too?
What are you hoping to achieve?
Unfortunately we don't have a culture of graffiti here [in India] and there aren't many artists who choose to depart from the hierarchies and definitions imposed by the traditional art institutions. It's an effort as a visual artist to start looking for new and meaningful ways to engage a wider audience and inspire more people to take up this as a powerful medium of free expression.
What reaction have you got?
Absolutely amazing so far. Totally unexpected to be honest. Never thought people who don't otherwise care about art and stuff would start talking about it. It certainly seems to have created an interest and opened up doors.
What kind of risks are you taking - what would happen if you get caught?As long as the images and subjects aren't very provocative and explicit in nature, which is the case now, it should be ok. But the day it becomes otherwise, it could be a problem and one could land in serious trouble.
Graffiti's against the law. What do you say to people who argue it's just vandalism?
Why just point your fingers at graffiti? We live in a visually polluted place. The streets and walls are flooded with movie posters, advertisements, election campaign signs and notices. Are those against the law? Can those also be called vandalism?
Do you really think you can keep your identity secret?The Times of India reportedthat they guessed who you were and rang you.
It is not a question about if one wants to keep the identity a secret, but whether others would understand the reasons behind that and respect it.
What are your future plans - do you plan to post artwork beyond Kochi? Tackle different subjects? Hang your work in art galleries?
I would certainly love to expand, explore new cultures and do works that are relevant to the cultural characteristics and landscapes of each place. Yes, there are a few things in the pipeline. An alternate medium like graffiti finding a place in a mainstream gallery space would be a very interesting thing to see, but that isn't something new in the West though.
You made a route map of your graffiti in Kochi. Have any of the works been whitewashed yet?
Yes, some of them have been. But isn't it the characteristics of this medium and taken as part of the process?
Finally, do you mind being compared to Banksy?
That would be too much of a compliment ... He has been in the business for decades and has very high standards that not many can catch up to. But of course, as a new kid in the block, would certainly love to know about his thoughts on these works and hope to meet him one day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ARTICLE 1369 - How to View Art: Be Dead Serious, But Expect Not Too Much

Photos by Vinod Dave
Article by Philip Kennicott  for The Washington Post

Photographs in this post document confused reactions of a museum audience in front of art works that are not of a representative nature.  People visit museums regardless of their interest/non-interest in art as it is a symbol of cultivated taste.  Visitors to a museum of representational art could pass their pretense for real interest, but concealing bewilderment in a modern art museum is not easy. A sizable number of people do not have a clue of what they are looking at when it comes to modern/contemporary art. Their body language proves that.  And for a really amusing pastime, try to overhear their comments on art.

These images explore this long observed phenomenon.  In order not to plainly document this, a deliberate imagery was created with black & white slow exposures to simplify and center the idea by blurring the moving subjects - the blur symbolizing the perplexity.  The Museum of Modern Art in New York is an obvious and effective venue for this - though not the building. Ironically, the MoMA architecture is not symbolic of the art collection it houses. So the most recognizable works that can stand for the museum were incorporated.


1. Take time
The biggest challenge when visiting an art museum is to disengage from our distracted selves. The pervasive, relentless, all-consuming power of time is the enemy. If you are thinking about where you have to be next, what you have left undone, what you could be doing instead of standing in front of art, there is no hope that anything significant will happen. But to disengage from time has become extraordinarily complicated. We are addicted to devices that remind us of the presence of time, cellphones and watches among them, but cameras too, because the camera has become a crutch to memory, and memory is our only defense against the loss of time.
The raging debate today about whether to allow the taking of pictures inside the museum usually hinges on whether the act of photographing is intrusive or disruptive to other visitors; more important, the act is fundamentally disruptive to the photographer’s experience of art, which is always fleeting. So leave all your devices behind. And never, ever make plans for what to do later in a museum; if you overhear people making plans for supper, drinks or when to relieve the baby sitter, give them a sharp, baleful look.
Some practical advice: If you go an hour before closing time, you won’t have to worry about what time it is. Just wait until the guards kick you out. Also: If you have only an hour, visit only one room. Anything that makes you feel rushed, or compelled to move quickly, will reengage you with the sense of busy-ness that defines ordinary life. This is another reason that entrance fees are so pernicious: They make visitors mentally “meter” the experience, straining to get the most out of it, and thus re-inscribe it in the workaday world where time is money, and money is everything.

2. Seek silence
Always avoid noise, because noise isn’t just distracting, it makes us hate other people. If you’re thinking about the mind-numbing banality of the person next to you, there’s little hope that you will be receptive to art. In a museum, imagine that you have a magnetic repulsion to everyone else. Move toward empty space. Indulge your misanthropy.
That’s not always easy. Too many museums have become exceptionally noisy, and in some cases that’s by design. When it comes to science and history museums, noise is often equated with visitor engagement, a sign that people are enjoying the experience. In art museums, noise isn’t just a question of bad manners but a result of the celebrity status of certain artworks, such as the Mona Lisa, which attracts vast and inevitably tumultuous throngs of visitors to the Louvre. But any picture that attracts hordes of people has long since died, a victim of its own renown, its aura dissipated, its meaning lost in heaps of platitudes and cant. Say a prayer for its soul and move on.
Seek, rather, some quiet corner of the museum full of things no one else seems to care about. Art that is generally regarded as insipid (19th-century American genre paintings) or hermetic (religious icons from the Byzantine world) is likely to feel very lonely, and its loneliness will make it generous. It may be poor, but it will offer you everything it has.

3. Study up
One of the most deceptive promises made by our stewards of culture over the past half century is: You don’t need to know anything to enjoy art. This is true only in the most limited sense. Yes, art can speak to us even in our ignorance. But there’s a far more powerful truth: Our response to art is directly proportional to our knowledge of it. In this sense, art is the opposite of popular entertainment, which becomes more insipid with greater familiarity.
So study up. Even 10 minutes on Wikipedia can help orient you and fundamentally transform the experience. Better yet, read the old cranks of art history, especially the ones who knew how to write and have now become unfashionable (Kenneth Clark, Ernst Gombrich). When visiting special exhibitions, always read the catalogue, or at least the main catalogue essay. If you can’t afford the catalogue, read it in the gift shop.
Rules for the gift shop: Never buy anything that isn’t a book; never “save time” for the gift shop because this will make you think about time; never take children, because they will associate art with commerce.

Many museums have public education programs, including tours through the galleries with trained docents. Always shadow a docent tour before joining one. If the guide spends all his or her time asking questions rather than explaining art and imparting knowledge, do not waste your time. These faux-Socratic dialogues are premised on the fallacy that all opinions about art are equally valid and that learning from authority is somehow oppressive. You wouldn’t learn to ski from someone who professed indifference to form and technique, so don’t waste your time with educators who indulge the time-wasting sham of endless questions about what you are feeling and thinking.

4. Engage memory
The experience of art is ephemeral, and on one level we have to accept that. But beyond the subjective experience, art is also something to be studied and debated. Unfortunately, unlike most things we study and debate, art is difficult to summarize and describe. Without a verbal description of what you have seen, you may feel as if nothing happened during your visit. You may even feel you can’t remember anything about it, as if it was just a wash of images with nothing to hold on to.
But even if the actual experience of art is difficult to retain and remember, the names of the artists, the countries in which they worked, the years they lived and were active, and a host of other things are easily committed to memory. Some museum educators, who know these things, will tell you this kind of detail doesn’t matter; they are lying. Always try to remember the name of and at least one work by an artist whom you didn’t know before walking into the museum.
When trying to remember individual art works, make an effort to give yourself a verbal description of them. Perhaps write it in a notebook. The process of giving a verbal description will make details of the work more tangible, and will force you to look more deeply and confront your own entrenched blindness toward art. If your description feels cliched, then go back again and again until you have said something that seems more substantial. If all else fails, simply commit the visual details of the work to memory, its subject matter, or general color scheme, or surface texture. Turn away from the work and try to remember it; turn back and check your mental image against the work itself. This isn’t fun. In fact, it can be exhausting. That means you’re making progress in the fight against oblivion.

5. Accept contradiction
Art must have some utopian ambition, must seek to make the world better, must engage with injustice and misery; art has no other mission than to express visual ideas in its own self-sufficient language. As one art lover supposedly said to another: Monet, Manet, both are correct.
Susan Sontag once argued “against interpretation” and in favor of a more immediate, more sensual, more purely subjective response to art; but others argue, just as validly, that art is part of culture and embodies a wide range of cultural meanings and that our job is to ferret them out. Again, both are correct.
The experience of art always enmires us in contradictions. I loathe figurative contemporary art except when I don’t; ditto on abstraction. When looking at a painting, it’s often useful to try believing two wildly contradictory things: That it is just an object, and an everyday sort of object; and that it is a phenomenally radical expression of human subjectivity. Both are correct.
Art is inspiring and depressing, it excites and enervates us, it makes us more generous and more selfish. A love-hate relationship with an artist, or a great work of art, is often the most intense and lasting of all relationships. After years of spending time in art museums, I’ve come to accept that I believe wildly contradictory and incompatible things about art. The usual cliche about this realization would be that by forcing us to confront contradiction, art makes us more human. But never trust anyone who says that last part: “art makes us more human.” That’s meaningless.
Rather, by forcing us to confront contradiction, art makes us ridiculous, exposes our pathetic attempts to make sense of experience, reveals the fault lines of our incredibly faulty knowledge of ourselves and the world. It is nasty, dangerous stuff, and not to be trifled with.
Some practical advice: If you feel better about yourself when you leave a museum, you’re probably doing it all wrong.
Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic.                                                                

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

ARTICLE 1368 - Ranikot - in the Middle of Nowhere, Defending Nothing

Ranikot Fort also known as ‘The Great wall of Sindh’ is thought to be the world’s largest fort. But who built it and for what purpose? These unanswered questions baffle us all.

“The size of Ranikot defies all reasons. It stands in the middle of nowhere, defending nothing,” writes Isobel Shaw. Ranikot, with a circumference of about 26 km, is the largest fort in the world. However, this has not been enough to convince the authorities to develop it as a major tourist attraction.

This fort is easily accessible from Karachi through the National Highway. After departing from Karachi and passing, head to Dadu through on the Indus Highway. The road is in excellent condition. It's an hour-long journey to San, the home of Sindhi nationalist, GM Syed. A little further from the town there comes a diversion. A rusty board announces that Ranikot is some thirty km away. Even though the road is in pathetic condition, the distance can be covered in 30 to 40 minutes.

You will reach the eastern side of the fort through this road and the passage is known as “Sann Gate”. The walls here are in better condition. Climb up on both sides as it offers a panoramic view of the landscape. The metal road twists and turns and takes you to “Meeri”, a small fortress within the fort housing the royal quarters. From there, one can see “Shergarh”, another fortress, up in the mountain. Visiting Mohan Gate is a must. You have to drive first from the diversion leading to Meeri and after couple of kilometers, abandon the car and take a walk on a treacherous path.

The passage takes one through canyons and you can take a dip here and there in the rain-stream which also is a life line to the gabol villagers residing inside the fort. After a three or four km walk, you will reach ‘paryun jo talao’, ‘the pond of fairies’. The pond is quite deep in few places and the stones surrounding it are quite slippery so watch your step. Take a dip in the pond and head to Mohan Gate. Stick to the route used by resident pedestrian. After couple of kilometers, you will reach the gate. The rain stream disappears here. It is connected with other reservoirs through tunnels. Villagers say that the flow of waters has increased after some seismic activity in the region. Scattered animal skeletons and prehistoric fossils are rumored be found here and there. The local guide Sadiq Gabol can show you one or two in his office.
And now the million dollar question. Is it safe for a Karachi Walla to visit the fort? Are there bandits in the area? The answer is quite complex. We saw families, Karachites and goras. Locals insist that its safe. But there are no guarantees. Police is nowhere to be seen. But on the positive side, you can visit it and come back in a single day (you can’t cover Shergarh though). Go there early morning, spend the noon there and get back to Hyderabad before sunset. Hope it will be safe and promising.
-Farooq Soomro for Dawn