“Kalakaars have a different kind of life. Look at them. All successful artists have had one thing common in their lives,” Mr. Khatana, tells a confused Ranbir Kapoor, tells him in ‘Rockstar’ after all his efforts at becoming a singer seem to be heading nowhere, ”Pain. They have all experienced a remarkable degree of pain in their lives. Only after experiencing pain or dard have they become true artists. The kalakaar’s music emerges from a broken heart. At present, you do not have the kind of life needed to become a kalakaar.”
This advice given by Mr. Khatana, Ranbir’s trustworthy confidante, guide and future manager, sets Ranbir (screenname Janardhan, later Jordan) on a journey that leads him to both greatness and ruin. His one great love ruins him emotionally but gives him the requisite dard and desperation that set him apart as a singer and performer. The advice becomes the turning point towards his becoming a rockstar.
Tragedy, a necessity?
It sets one thinking, doesn’t it? Is it true that only a life beset in tragedy is needed to achieve greatness as an artist? A cursory glance at profiles of artists certainly does seem to provide supporting evidence. We have classic cases like those of Beethoven, Mozart, Charlie Chaplin, Marlilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain etc. Closer home, we have the tragic lives of Premchand or Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. There are innumerable tragic life histories of artists in Bollywood such as Meena Kumari, Parveen Babi or Kishore Kumar. These are just some of the artists from who have experienced pain in their personal lives though the degree and type of pain are very different in all cases. While factors such as penury, persecution, humiliation, exploitation, death of loved ones or similar personal tragedies have been responsible in some cases, love has, perhaps, been responsible for far more pain than the others.
Emotions are to art as water is to fish
For the rational man, this is stupid. The other factors seem to be far more rational and direct reasons for pain and there is no reason why the lives of artists should have more causative factors of pain than normal lives; but artists are not rational. Actually, even the normal person is irrational but the true artist is one of the most irrational persons you can imagine. He could joy and beauty in the simplest things and could yet remain unmoved by large events. The utility curve that the economist makes does not exist for the artist (the curve plots money or material richness with happiness). Her utility curve, itself is volatile.
Unlike the average man, an artist (painters, writers, singers, sculptors or rockstar musicians) does not merely feel emotions; he lives or dies for them. This allows her to take a direction in life that has no clear cash flows and job security. These emotions are the genesis of art. Motivation for fame or money does not an artist maketh. Emotion maketh him. This creates magic on the one hand and a tumultuous tragic life on the other hand. The canvas of the artist multiples the average emotion by a thousand fold and this allows the artist to achieve a depth of emotion and acuity of feeling that is crucial for producing work that can actually move another to tears. Art is in fact a metamorphosis of emotions. That’s why the canvas of art can encompass an amazing variety of disciplines and talents. Like emotion, art rarely has straight lines or the colours black and white. It is represented by the curve and by all possible colours. Therefore words dear to capitalist modern society like efficiency (monetary, not resource efficiency), profit and progress mean nothing for the artist. It is notable that mathematics is almost the antithesis of art with a great proclivity towards clear definitions and unambiguous straight lines. Maths is defined by the equal to sign, art by the tilde sign.
But society needs balance
The tragedy for the artist especially so in modern times is that society likes and recommends balanced personalities. A hundred or two hundred years ago, art and scientific research as well were given great respect as primary vocations. Today that place in society has gone to industrialists and money spinners (finance professionals). Balance is widely considered to be critical to success, the criteria for success having been decided by the average as money and fame, and balance moderates strong emotions. It is always advised to tone down strong emotions, even positive ones like love. Emotions are like fire, extremely useful but potentially lethal. Ordinary people are expected to have ordinary emotions. On only a few select occasions like marriage, childbirth, death, and financial loss are they allowed to exhibit strong emotions.
A balanced personality with emotions strongly under control could produce excellent work but is unlikely to produce great work. Something that can move you to tears calls for audacity, recklessness, brazenness, all possible only with emotions that have crossed a certain threshold and the very meaning of balance or control is remaining within thresholds.
In ‘Rockstar’, the one great love in Jordan’s life decides his life from thereon. He responds only to instinct and does not plan beyond the next few minutes. He never cares for the consequences of his actions, and treats money and contracts with a recklessness that is insane. He highlights the reason why strong emotions are disliked. They exact a heavy toll not only on the person’s life but also on the people around. Paroxysms of rage, severe bouts of depression, periods of extreme happiness, and fits of passion: these are par for the course for the artist, the average man prefers to stay away. Even though people secretly like the unpredictability and wildness, as can be seen from Jordan’s popularity, it is a very high risk game that could lead to either ecstasy or depression or both. It is also notable that while strong emotions can create an artist, it can also create a murderer.
Societies are based on conformity and artists are non conformists. An existence of mere conformity to existing social and economic structures would find it hard to reconcile to these dissident creatures. These dissident creatures are so because of the dissident creatures which exist in their mind that keep pulling it towards different directions. The ‘professional’ goal seekers tame these wild horses of emotions, thus commanding a fast chariot that bends only to the limited emotions needed for attainment of materialistic goals. They are not emotionless; they are only more obtuse towards them; the purely emotionless man cannot survive as he will not have incentive to survive. The chariot of wild horses could be as fast as that of the goal seekers, in fact faster but because of conflicts among the horses, the top speed is rarely attained. The artist cares little about this as he does not have a clear objective. He is riding the horses for the journey’s sake and revels in its unpredictability. ‘Fun’ exists in unpredictability. Tame horses do not have fun.
Commoditization of emotions
American culture tends to wear emotions much more strongly on its sleeve as compared to Indian or British culture. There is, however, a difference. The emotions due to too much extroversion have lost their strength. Thus, even powerful emotions like love have become moderated. The greater public space given to emotions in American culture (which has a trend of being adopted by other cultures with a lag of 30 years) has led to their commoditization and thereby, devaluation. Finding it difficult to adjust to a purely psychological inefficiency such as emotion in a world which solely in the material, marketers have made emotions material. The process has been furthered by technology and instant communication. A lot of mental activity is associated with the strong emotions that are being treated so lightly today. ‘Professionalism’ dictates that this mental activity be reduced as it is inefficient and reduces sales while commercial sense dictates that these emotions be used for selling products. Voila, we arrive at commoditization of emotions.
Commoditization has meant that even as people’s lives get more stressful, their trust in others lessens and the figure of persons they really care about in their lives shrinks, funny videos on TV or Youtube shoot through the roof almost as if they were emotional capsules. We may rarely hear anyone laugh, except in colleges, bars, laughter clubs or TV but the online world abounds with LOLs and ROFLs. : P
As the world runs out of extreme adjectives such as mind-blowing, fantastic, gorgeous, out of this world, fabulous even in normal environments, it runs the great risk of forgetting what these adjectives actually mean. The purpose of the artist is to prevent that from happening.