Art in the Era of Insensitivity

I’m not sure if I can handle a topic as sensitive as insensitivity without humour. Anyway, isn’t humour often a psychological tactic to cloak emotion? And what is emotion? In today’s times it may well be the feeling that creeps up on you between the time you scroll through Instagram and just before you order a pizza. Or perhaps it is that sinking feeling you get when your friends leave for a trek but you have to stay behind to celebrate your grandma’s 75th (or, err, 78th?) birthday? I mean who wants to hang out with a bunch of people who love you because they’re family but hate the idea of you because you’re a millennial and have been born at a time when war, famine, plague and such catastrophes have become distant memories.

    So what if you don’t face the same difficulties those generations before you faced- you face much worse-over population, global warming, failed ideologies, sinking economies, tighter borders and terrorism. You can’t dare to eye that piece of real estate your grandfather bought on a meagre salary. Hey, you can’t even begin a holiday without being frisked rudely by stone faced airport security staff. My point here (although it is meandering a bit) is to say that yes, perhaps, too much changed at the turn of the century, but one aspect that did not change is sensitivity; the muse of creativity and art.       

  Discerning viewership is the reason why a socially relevant film such as Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite has been acclaimed. Booker winner Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo addresses age old issues like relationships, patriarchy and feminism and album Invasion of Privacy by rapper Cardi B expresses opinions on relevant subjects such as success, wealth and sex. Having said that, most gadget users experience a sensory overload via social media. The plethora of tragic posts one sifts through on a daily basis- impoverished refugees, a one legged dog that can perform tricks,  plastic polluting the oceans, species that face extinction etc, etc, are difficult to process. One can’t help but find only a few issues to fret and fume over. So, yes, if young people do once in a way obsess over a new hair product as opposed to fawning over a new born baby, it is because they just saw ten such babies on Facebook and not because they’ve become insensitive.

      Moreover, art has recreated itself in attention catching formats that suit technology and shrinking attention spans; colourful posts, flash fiction and so on. Also, artists are becoming bolder than ever-look at Takashi Murakami’s grotesque metallic totems and technicolour canvasses or Wolfgang Tillman’s photographs or living legend Ed Ruscha’s multifaceted experimental works.  A lot has been done by master craftsmen of the past and artists today have to dig deeper into their psyches to come up with work that can shock or shake the know- it- all generations of now.

Feelings have run deep through the ages-but just as artists chose between painting the enjoyable side of life such as Renoir’s Le Moulin de la Galette(1876) or exposing the darker facets of human existence such as Edvard Munch’s The Scream(1893), modern generations are living in a society that permits them to choose. They can either strip themselves off the layers of hypocrisy and social superficiality or adhere to them. It is possible that unfettered honesty can appear insensitive but it is the price one pays for being part of an evolving and ever changing society. In my opinion the human being has always been –in equal parts- sensitive and insensitive and it will continue to be an artist’s as well as individual’s prerogative to either hide or expose that fact.

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