It has been a while since I wrote anything on this blog. However, today is special as I got to know that my rendition of Sri Venkatesa Suprabatham was featured in the beginning of the Hindi movie, Evening Shadows. You can see my name in the end credits of the movie. Thanks to the director, Sridhar Rangayan who considered my voice for his movie. The movie is streaming on Netflix so, do watch it.
As artists/musicians, we often think about why the audience is not taking our work seriously. This can include people not spreading the word about our work or willing to pay for our work. We tend to get frustrated and eventually, we would feel self-doubt and become ashamed of our own talents and skills.
In moments of shame, we often look for instances to assign blame. We would start finding faults with the world and why the world is not recognizing our work. However, more often than not, the problem is us and not the world. It's highly likely that we haven't been working right.
In his interview with Chase Jarvis, Seth Godin offers two possible reasons your art isn't recognized by the world yet: 1. People don’t know what your art is for. 2. Maybe you aren’t that good at your art.
I will be addressing the second point in this blog post.
So, how can we offer something valuable to the society?
Seth Godin in his book, The Dip talks about the lie of diversification, which validates the tip #2.
One reason I love the Indian Carnatic Music concerts is the lack of assistance using technology to make the concert experience better. Most of the Carnatic Concerts do not have any sound engineers, or big mixing consoles or any major technology that replaces the human effort by covering up the flaws. Technology can push things down to mediocrity by making people fall into the trap of perfectionism to escape shame. Therefore, if you want to make it big as a Carnatic Music artist, you need to be really really good.
Another strategy some of us would choose to get recognized for our work is doing something 'different' than what the others in the same field have been doing. I have heard many of my friends, who had taken an unconventional career path, convincing their parents and peers of their decision saying, 'Sachin Tendulkar didn’t complete his schooling and went the unconventional way of becoming a cricketer and he is famous and rich. Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg was a Harvard dropout and yet he made it.'
While these are true they are also, superficial reasons. What my friends couldn’t see is how Sachin and Mark became what they became. The how is more important than the what. They were so good at what they did and that’s the reason they made it big, not simply because they chose to go against the status quo.
Clearly, what this requires is embracing a growth mindset.
The other day I searched for my full name on YouTube and saw my songs in other people’s public playlist. It was heartening to see that your work is out there in the world and people are curating and listening to it albeit not going viral or trendy.
The universe is fascinating at times. Just when I was thinking of how to make myself more useful to the world, I stumble upon Derek Siver’s blog post. Derek writes about timeless articles by making them more timely than ever.
The other day I was contemplating on how to make my music more useful to the world, and Derek provided me an answer.
Art is useless by definition. If it were useful, it would be a tool.
For the past 19 years, I was obsessed with being useful. That one measure drove all of my daily decisions: “How can I be the most useful to the most people today?”
It served me well, but it has its downsides. It kept me from playing and doing things just for me. It’s no coincidence that I stopped making music 19 years ago. It didn’t qualify as the most useful thing I could be doing.
It’s such a luxury to not think about you, out there, and how you might value me.
At the top of every page of my website, I used to have an elevator pitch: a sentence saying how I might be useful to the stranger browsing my site. But no more. I erased it last week.
For the time being, I’m nobody’s tool.
Let the idea sink in a bit, and notice that it doesn’t say “worthless.” Art can be valuable, and someone might find a particular use for it, but usefulness was not its purpose.
Derek attributes the idea of 'art is useless' to Oscar Wilde. Here's one of the letters of Oscar Wilde in the introduction to The Picture of Dorian Gray.
A reader named Bernulf Clegg wrote to Wilde asking him to explain, and Wilde replied with a handwritten letter. The transcript is as follows:
16, TITE STREET,
My dear Sir
Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realize the complete artistic impression.
A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. Flower blossoms for its joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course, a man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.
Such a profound thought on making art.
I had the fortune to collaborate with IndianRaga's intercity labs held in Chicago in September 2016. The final audio recording and video shoot was preceded by almost three to four months of rehearsal sessions over the web and was followed by several iterations of editing and post production work. Finally, it is here.
Here are a couple of pictures taken during the final shoot and during the rehearsals.