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All the web’s a stage

The Internet is ruthless, and everyone is clueless. Where do artistes go from here?

What does the new normal mean for artistes? Already, through the second wave, I notice many of those who were reluctant to embrace the online medium have now taken to it and have been preparing to create and perform for the screen rather than the stage. Many of these efforts are clumsy, albeit sincere. The dramaturgist and the musician, the dancer and the critic — all seem to be grappling to make sense of this new reality. Rubrics have to be reimagined, aesthetics resculpted, and an entirely new vocabulary for criticism and discourse have to be invented. None of us thought any of this would happen, yet it has, and we are unprepared. In the process all of us, including myself, are stuck for ways forward.

Many who suffer from the ‘entitlement’ syndrome are now sulking. The idea of having to start from scratch and build a new audience isn’t easy. And the Internet, whatever else you may think of it, is ruthless. You now compete with gameshow contestants, homepreneurs touting exotic cuisine, and teenage influencers giving dress-up tips. Age, caste, creed, art form no bar. In this ‘brave new world’ there are those who have made sense of things for themselves and understood the new rules of engagement. And there are those who continue with the age-old ‘do what you do best’ credo, regardless of the demands of the new media.

I remember reading This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein on the climate crisis and the need for transformations in how we roll out systems of governance. If anything is changing the way we live, it is the pandemic. And it surely has changed the lens through which we create, curate and perceive art.

For instance, what would be its effect on the media we choose? Visualisers, performers and curators have taken to ‘virtual’ productions, but the impact of these — both aesthetically and in terms of reception — are yet to be determined. Formats, curatorial sensibilities and production requirements have all changed. Are we, therefore, looking at the idea of the ‘live’ venue and ‘live’ production differently?

The shift has occurred so suddenly that we have not had the time to even process what this has done to artistes psychologically. Performing to the gallery has now been replaced by performing and battling for space on crowded social media platforms. There are fewer original works or transformative art; instead we are besieged with non-stop feeds, from music to dance to performances. Those with superior production and marketing skills are leading the charge, but already a sense of ennui has set in.

And none of this addresses the rural artisan, folk art performers or street artists. We still don’t know how many of these artistes and their arts will be drowned in the online deluge. Or how they may be brought to the new platforms successfully.

As we rebuild, it is time to reimagine the art discourse. And for this, technology, design and group thinking will have to come together to fashion the new normal. Art will have to represent the new zeitgeist and not stay in a time warp. Hopefully, the self-aggrandisement that marked the artiste-celebrity status will now abate, giving way to more democratic models of co-creation. Some will make it. Many will be left behind.

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

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