By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Critic's Rational Vision Of Change In Dynamic Cultural Environment

I have been an earnest journalist for 50 years now, since December 1962 when I was living and working in Madras (now called Chennai).  I started writing regularly on South Indian classical music  --  which is known as Carnatic music  --  45 years ago. when I was living and working in Bombay (now called Mumbai).  And I started writing regularly on Western music 40 years ago, when I was living and working in New Delhi, the Capital of India, which is still miraculously known by the same imperial name given by our British rulers (who packed up and went home 65 years ago, leaving behind this universal language called English and some marvellous specimens of European architecture and culture!).
And now it gives me great satisfaction to see an essay I had written exactly 25 years ago, concerning the critic's obligation to recognize and come to terms with the inevitable changes which occur endlessly in a dynamic social and cultural environment.  What I find particularly significant today is that I don't wish to change a single word of this text I had written so long ago, although since then far more convulsive  changes have materialized in the world of music, and in the whole world's music.  Of course, I can add some specific comments about the present and predictable future scenrios, but that will not alter the tenor of these reflections.


THE HINDU, New Delhi
3 June 1988

The critic and the changing scene

There was a time, not very long ago, when an exponent of Indian classical music or dance had to be extremely conservative if he or she was to achieve distinction and fame.  Even the most brilliant and versatile artists would normally concentrate all their attention and energies on cultivating the inherited techniques pf performance, and nothing else.  Restraint and conformity used to be the indispensable virtues of the successful virtuoso.

Dynamic shifts

But the scene is changing fast these days, in keeping with the new dimensions of technology and travelling modes, and the subtle transformation in social and cultural values.  Parallel to the dynamic shifts in the career and lifestyles of the successful artists, who now have ever-increasing opportunities to perform all over the country and even abroad  --  and the quantum leap their image has taken as a result of the vast expansion of the television network  --  a progressively increasing degree of permissiveness is visible in the scene. 

It is only natural that in such convulsive circumstances some of our accomplished musicians and dancers would tend to diversify their interests and embark on unusual and innovative ventures, some of which even take them beyond the boundaries of the classical tradition.

Rational vision
It is not in the nature of the rational and constructive critic to frown on all innovations without reference to their true significance, for he is well aware that today's conventions too must have been innovations at some point of time in the past, and that some of the present trends will surely be part of the tradition on some future day.
But as one becomes increasingly liberal in one's outlook, one also feels more intensely concerned about the preservation of the traditional values;  and one's response in any given situation could be either encouraging or negative, depending on the merits of each case.  Therefore, different postures taken by the rational observer on various occasions might even appear to be mutually contradictory, unless the whole issue is viewed in an integrated perspective.

Critic's role

It must be noted that the rational instinct is not the exclusive possession of the enlightened critic;  it is also a potential quality of the collective consciousness of a culturally well-endowed public.

That's why all the excitement which modern innovative ventures in music, dance or drama create in the public mind does not necessarily undermine the public's appreciation of the classical tradition or the folk arts.  To identify, explain and encourage the right balance between these conflicting forces   --  thereby enhancing the rationality of the collective cultural mind and protect it from the illusions of mediocre adventurism --  is the true business of the responsible critic.

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