The Spectator- the ‘rasika’noun
An observer of an event: beholder, bystander, looker-on, observer, onlooker, watcher.
[Latin spectātor, from spectāre, to watch]
Antonyms: participant, player, performer
John Berger opened his well-known BBC television series ‘Ways of Seeing’ by saying “It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world.” His comment points out the powerful position of the spectator, whose act of spectating creates and reinforces our social, political, and even bodily place in the world.
The word Rasika-the spectator, means one who can enjoy the rasas i.e. aesthetics. And aesthesis means a heightening of senses. So it implies that only a ‘good’ rasika will be able to enjoy the rasas well. What is being a rasika? Just as to create an art form involves lot of involvement from the artist. Similarly to be able to ‘enjoy’ an art requires involvement. All art forms always have a spectator in mind which is why enjoying art cannot be a casual act. Viewing an art is setting a conversation in motion-the conversation between the artist and the art, and the art and viewer. Art is the narration of the artists experience to the spectator. But why do we need to encounter art?
Rational man has always wanted to tame. We have tamed our physical environments. Conditioning and rulebooks are considered integral part of the civilized society. Similarly man tries to control his emotional and aesthetic environment. However one cannot control art. But the responses to art can be controlled. The conditioning systems, the Canon, etc play their role in forming these responses. But most of the times they cripple one of the experience one could have got otherwise. From the act of designing a city to some home apparel, human is always the scale. And the human is not just functional and pragmatic but also sensual. Cities designed imagining human as machine, dictating order and control, are not complete though it celebrates man power and dominance. A human scale also measures desires, agonies, anxieties, intimacies, etc. Art is able to responds to man’s this plane of existence. Hence encountering art is an emotional experience. How does one interact with art?
In one of the essay in her book ‘Art Objects’ Jeanette Winterson’s gives a personal narrative about her first encounter with art - how it was a deeply emotional experience. With this experience she draws parallel to the questions raised in her mind about her life, self and art.
When we look at art we are looking at an intense imaginative experience. Our responses are varied. Also the way we look at a work of art is affected by a series of assumptions of art and self. Sometimes these assumptions are obscure- since they mystify and raise art to an unrelateable pedestal. Our unfamiliarity with art is perhaps because many a time the work falls so much out of the comfort zone of our own experiences (of which we have complete knowledge and control of) that in order to keep this comfort intact we deny the other world of the art.
This denial of imaginative experience happens at a much deeper level than our affirmation of the daily world. Everyday, in countless ways we convince ourselves about ‘ourselves’. True art when it happens to us challenges the ‘I’ that we are.’
As Winterson says, engaging with art is like falling in love. Similar to love, letting art affect you demands time and devotion. It is driven by a desire to know and explore, and a risk of complete surrender of your own being- prejudices and feelings, so that this new unfathomable emotion can overtake you and can be experienced to its fullest. Such an engagement reveals to us facets about our own selves which could never be revealed or be repeated by any other experience. Thus we are involved in just a love affair with art alone, but also with ourselves -discovering oneself in the process and what is it that constitutes this ‘I’. It involves the risk of constant learning and re-learning of one’s own self- just like how in love one is discovering a new ‘oneself’ through the eyes of the lover.
'Art is not merely a decoration or entertainment, but a living spirit. An act of art is a celebration of the profound human capacity.' Thus art is an intense act. Hence appreciating art cannot be a casual act, it itself has to be an intense act. However that doesn’t imply that this intensity is a privilege of a minority. It implies that all human have the capacity to ‘receive’ art, one just needs the resolve. Being a spectator is as important as being an artist.
‘Art does not belong to a biological evolutionary pattern. Art is not a little bit of evolution that the twentieth century city dweller can safely do without.’