Is This Art? An Experiment
Sometimes, our aim should be to not seek answers but to ask relevant questions because often when we seek answers, we do so within the structure that is familiar to us, and seldom look outside it. We perhaps become so habitual to what ‘we know’, we forget to experiment with what ‘we don’t know’.
Through this quick “Is This Art?” Instruction Manual, I wish to create an experience for the participants that helps them break the boundaries within which their understanding of art exists, further breaking my own presumptions of what the outcome would then be. The idea therefore, is to defy the idea itself, to be purposeful in the act of purposelessness and to realise our inability to exist without meaning making.
To be a part of this experiment, I would urge all the members to stay blindfolded throughout the process – so as to break free from the intention of building a composition and to be able to solely concentrate on the instructions that are being given. I would also like them to use their non-dominant hand to draw onto the paper, to further take away from the notion of familiarity. I would then abstain them from lifting their hand during the exercise, until asked to do otherwise; this I believe, will help in blurring the accustomed sense of space on paper.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE EXPERIMENT
Medium – Charcoal/Colour Pencil on Paper Facilitator - Palak
Time Duration – 5 minutes
Number of Participants - No more than 7 at a time
Before we begin, I’d like you to a moment and write down what art means to you on the paper provided. (Once they finish, ask them to flip the paper and start the experiment)
Let’s find out what a line can do by itself when you only listen and not see, you only create and not be. Here are some instructions to get you somewhere I don’t know of yet.
1. Mind outside, ears only.
2. Now it’s time to keep your eyes shut
3. Feel the edges of your paper and sense where it is
4. Hold the charcoal in your non-dominant hand
5. Do not lift your hand from your drawing pad until I ask you to
6. Now listen and only listen
7. Draw a line on the right edge of the paper, then make another and then one more
8. Take the last line far away
9. Now make it sing a little
10. And make it dance like it is in love
11. Make it go back to her other two friends
12. And make them go round and round and round
13. Now make them drown
14. Then turn them into circles, BIGGER circles
15. Let the circles float above
16. Dissect them into four
17. Now make them fly towards your left
18. And then make them scream very very loud
19. And louder so they explode like a heartbreak
20. Now open your eyes and lift your hand
21. Tell me, “Is this Art?”
Image of the participants from the art experiment facilitated by me at SHIFT - Art Pop Up, Awaz Studio
The idea behind creating an instruction based artwork was to facilitate an experience that makes the participant realise the importance of the process of creating art more than the outcome itself; to get rid of certain preconceived notions of what art is “supposed to be” and appreciate all that it can rather be.
After carrying out the instructions with a few people, I added and modified a few instructions based on my observations as well as their feedback. I realised that when participants were restricted from opening their eyes, lifting their hands from the paper and were asked to use only their weak hand to draw, they weren’t quite sure of the space that they were working on which compelled them to draw more towards the centre of the page. To break away from this, I added instruction no. 3 - which asks them to feel the edges of the paper with eyes closed so as to make them aware of the size and edges of their art boards. Further, I modified instructions 7, 15 & 17 by adding directions like right, above and left, respectively, to make the participants go beyond the centre of their paper. This I feel, made me grasp how too many unfamiliar things in the given instructions, meant to make people step out of their comfort zone, may end up doing the opposite, where people may then get too cautious and further limit themselves to a smaller area that makes for a comfortable/known/safer choice. Therefore, the unaccustomed aspects of the instructions need to be balanced out to keep in check the cryptic nature of the experiment.
Furthermore, participants’ responses to the last question - “Is this Art?” varied from being perceived as abstract; as a representation of their mind; as meditative, as an emotion to not feeling the need for it to be art as long as the process was enjoyed. Another participant contemplated how the process was a way of releasing the constant pressure of creating something beautiful, as well as a good way of unlearning the need to always create “good” art as an artist.
I would like to pilot this experiment in a few more setups, for instance, among older age groups, young adults and people who do not see themselves as “artists” - to fully understand the viability and relevance of this project. Overall, I believe I can keep creating more such guides to help myself from being too figurative, to explore the unlimitedness of the limited medium and make the most of the known constraints that would help me from breaking away from a style of drawing that I am comfortable with. Now, if you ask me, “Is this Art?” I am always always going to answer, “Does it have to be?”