Performance and Pageantry

We live in a world of transactions. Multiple, hedged and cross-leveraged. Complex in it’s structure yet simple in its logic — there is a right price for everything. Commerce has a life of its own and dictates everything we do down to prenup agreements and posthumous inheritance. But even in this dense jungle of fine print and hidden motives there exist a few corners of relief. A break from all the ad-breaks. A detox if you will. And live performances are one of these few safe places left.

Sure tickets are sold and rents are paid. But once the curtain goes up and the lights go dim there exist a couple of precious hours of honesty — between the performer and the audience. Yes it is make-believe but in a world full of arbitrary transactions it is still the most real dialogue possible. And that is what continues to attract artists to the stage. That promise of being truly alive for a couple of hours in exchange for twenty hours of withdrawal symptoms for the rest of the day.

And they persist, in the face of mounting rent, ridicule and irreverence. Because as an artist the desire to perform always exceeds the desire to get paid. Somehow, businessmen never seem to be afflicted by this dilemma. But they do seem attracted to it. The asymmetry of it is alluring to the veteran trader. Some try to introduce the stage to commerce, assuming rather naively that they have never met before. Some take artists for a ride. And some ambitious punters take the entire art form for a ride. Dressing it in the glittering negligees of pageantry. For a wider audience, for mass consumption, for…Sponsors.

Pageantry is definitely a part of performance. It enables dialogue but it cannot be dialogue itself. However, in the fast food era, empty calories always have bigger marketing budgets. And pageantry shouts, jumps and cries itself hoarse if required until it becomes all you can see. Until it owns the art form and every monetizable aspect of it. Until it becomes to art what reality shows are to reality.

And so one more safe space gets auctioned. And one more artist is left wondering if he is too artistic for his own good. If he is being foolish by not selling out. It is only a cell phone after all. It’s not like he is selling cigarettes. ‘Only a few movies of ham acting then I shall only do award-wining roles.

One for the kitchen, one for the soul.

Publicity is also important.

One has to be practical.

These struggling artists give artists bad name.’

But it is never a few movies. It is all in or nothing. Most ‘popular artists’ we know are only businessmen with some degree of eloquence and a large PR apparatus. Selling a mass-produced replica of their art. Like the cloth print on jam bottles. And the coffee-flavoured drivel that is dispensed from coffee machines.

People who know the difference are the most successful. If one is to sell-out one must do so completely, unabashedly, in an orgy of contracts and product placements. Half-hearted attempts at being relevant are the saddest. Never burden your art with your EMIs. And never grudge people their success. Like in all walks of life; in art too, you may perceive others’ success as disproportionate to their ability or owed to hook, crook or friends in high places. But remember that there is always a price to pay. Some people have licked so much ass to get ahead in life that there must be blisters…On their soul!

Which is why ‘a career in art’ is a misnomer. It is not an obstacle course to the top of the food chain like most jobs. It is rather a daily practice of the state of mind you want to be in for most of your life. It is performative meditation. Your peers should be the least of your concerns. And your ‘market value’ a mere footnote at best. You are only really addressing the ghosts of your own oblivion.

Pageantry floods the senses but performance feeds the soul. And once the curtain goes down, the soul is all you have for company.

- Punit Pania

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