The Cloak of Culture

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The Cloak of Culture

In this age information is accessible with just a few clicks, experiencing virtual 3-dimensional walks through corridors of art spaces while enjoying

Is It Art?

In this age information is accessible with just a few clicks, experiencing virtual 3-dimensional walks through corridors of art spaces while enjoying the indolent luxuries of a home situated anywhere between dark dingy streets to posh neighborhoods. Choice of zooming in to the very last pixel along with studying each aspect under critical scrutiny and to interact and evolve into a complex and varied group of people, that may speak to millions through the Internet or by Podcasts giving a deeper insight of thoughts and experience shared with their cyber audience. Still, there is a dire need of getting together, assembling at one place and having discussions with the makers, story tellers, artists, writers, educationists understanding the complexity of the object, an exercise that is seen today being implemented in the form of literary festivals cropping up in almost every main city in Pakistan focusing in depth on Art and Culture – a suggested term ‘Lit-Art’ could be a better option for these sprouting festivals – however globally an uncommon practice of literary festivals having an intended focus on arts. Artists are being invited for talks; art books are launched with curated art shows running along the festival. Arts’ presence is being redefined.
These informal art festivals have proved a point of focus, providing forum for debate with ‘producers’ of different art forms touching directly to the discipline and a medium through which analysis can consider its own role, identify its purpose aims and boundaries: the ‘object’ is analyzed. Going back a couple of decades ago, an informal practice actively took place in the forms of ‘bhaitaks’ (informal sittings) gatherings where artists and poets sat together discussing current affairs to present projects, forming a mood to create, to recite, to write. They gave explanations, reasoning’s of how and what of their practices, with approval and at times disapproval from their colleagues. A few of these fertile places gave birth to ideological thoughts and creative activities. Sadly very few of these events have been documented, this void of lost historical events is like scattered beads of a broken string.
Specific art related conference and seminars are taking their shape; artists are invited to discuss their works, art critics examine, art historians analyze the discourses of art practices, art connoisseurs ponder, scholars from different fields assemble and discuss the future of art and culture. A thought that evokes is what is the purpose of such conferences, a podium that attracts the audiences to listen and later to discuss? For the audiences it is equally important to meet together before or after an event, in the hope to expect what to hear, and later to critique or discuss what was heard. Come to look, watch, eat, make deals, flirt, learn, debate, emote, and engage with their fellow citizens is part of the learning process thus interaction with others is important when it comes to adjusting in a socially enriched environment that gratifies the human soul.
Audiences have very much and always have been looking for similar kinds of satisfaction from their cultural resources. Such events facilitate in enriching the citizens of a society by developing interest and understanding of the local art and culture. Though just a couple of years ago a shift has been seen in consumer patterns, as audience moved to coffee houses and cafes. The once active audience turned passive. The shift occurred because the audience no longer had interest in, or the intellectual capacity for or the cultural connections. To re-activate the audiences, a civic wave of realization has awakened, to understand the importance for larger opportunities for engagement with arts events, particularly those that encourage an interpretive relationship. In the case of classical Athens in 425 BCE, plays were commissioned and produced through civic mandate, at the end of the three-day competition, the community fulfilled its collective duty by choosing judges from the audiences who were very vocal in their opinions during the performance and afterward in the ongoing civic debate that followed.[i]
Function of interpretation is a cultural duty and a cultural right. These platforms create an opportunity for the audiences to build their analytical understanding; with the collective entity of them [audiences] it may invariably shape the ascribed meaning than received individually, therefore these art events should be perceived as through and thorough interpretive process.
Audiences play an important role in refining and defining a society, intrigued to learn, they weave the cloak of culture of a society placing each thread with every discussion, dyed with the vibrant knowledge of the ‘object’ makers draped over the society and generations to come. Audience want to coauthor meaning of art events, they want a real forum or several forums- for the interplay of ideas, experience, data and feelings that make up the arts experience. The idea is not to see/own the artwork but to experience it. They are always finding opportunities for engagement by questioning and giving opinions sometime as it is their cultural right to formulate and exchange opinions that are valued by the community.
To fall a little deeper in understanding the role of audiences, it is a 14c word that comes from a Latin word called audentia “a hearing, listening,’ au-dh ‘to perceive physically, grasp from root’, cognates from the Greek word aisthanesthai “to feel”, Sanskrit avih “openly, evidently, Old Church Slavonic javiti “to reveal”.[ii]All the roots describe to the meaning of the functions of the audiences today, they hear, feel and understand and thus reveal their thoughts through writings, meetings and discussion. When historically traced back it is a word that was referred to formal meeting between a person in a court where the accused or witness would testify in front of a magistrate or sovereign with a gathering of people.[iii]Its historical use brings an interesting meaning to this multi-faceted word: the art seminars today are putting the artists on the podium to question, speaking to an audience who come to hear what they have to say. It has created an altered definition of the artists’ function and social position, they have been elevated to a position of authority and the explanations ornament the community’s social fabric.
Artists, playwrights, authors do not expect the audiences to understand their intentions solely through the presentation of their work. Instead they accept that the ‘object’ is a larger learning operation in which the audiences’ collective and individual reception would invariably shape the ascribed meaning. Viewing an artwork is not just the end of the conversation but is the point of departure for the exchange of ideas, opinions and passions that are the fundamental criteria for useful civic conversation. Art Conferences and Seminars help to understand the artist’s perspective to see the underlying meanings of works. Art does not come with a fixed meaning but received as an inherently interpretable commodity and there could be some unpleasant times where there is a difference of opinion in interpretation.
The ‘object’ can be perceived differently: Theodor Adorno asserts the ‘priority of the object in art’ or what is called as the materialistic aesthetic in contrast to the idealistic aesthetic of Kant that privilege the subject over the object. An Aesthetic experience as Adorno explains that it is not to see the beauty in the art object but the beauty that it contains; it is an experience that mediates between the subject and the object.
As Adorno writes in Aesthetic Theory: “All beauty reveals itself to persistent analysis” (69). But works of art “are not merely inert objects, valued or known by the subject; rather, they have themselves a subjective moment because they are themselves cognitive” (Jarvis 96). It is in the shared experience of object and subject, the joint analysis, that beauty is revealed.” [iv]
Art is a social commodity. It is easy to define it objectively the subject is captured by means of a fixed concept that has been passed on and resonating within us. It is an illusionary process to separate the object from the subject and then it (subject) reduces to its own measure. This will only take place with communication that will distinguish the subjectivity of the object. Discussions and explanations are “ ‘the necessity of the distinguishing between the object analysis and how that object analyzed and how that object has arisen; the need to define the relationship between formal categories and what is happening underneath formal schemata; the wisdom allowing a composition to assert something of its own identity on the analytical process; and his claim that analysis ‘will only be able to the status of an art when it takes the demands of its own autonomy on itself.’ Analysis is after all a function of our collective and ‘developing’ imagination.’ ”[v]
These platforms are efforts for community building and to recuperate the active participation of the audiences, where the interest to understand and appreciate the community has developed. It is a way to solidify and document community identity. A culture of a society is based on its documented past, a desire to maintain a sense of control over cultural experience. In the last decade, documented cultural history blurred and faded, it’s like misplaced beads of knowledge that are, at times seen as enthralling spurts of historical events. Culture is now taking a new shape, these forums are cohesively documented, opinions and discussion are catalogued, foreign experts are invited, analyzing from an outsider’s perspective. Art and cultural is taking a new turn in refinement.
Not only is this re-development of community building, art documentation but also an economic growth seen in this sector. Art organizations will grow to meet demand, adding more support staff, creating departments focused on arts education and community development, and absorbing corporate business strategies, particularly in marketing and development.
Interaction with the audiences creates opportunities for them to engage which makes the arts experience effective and more likely to lead to progressive, adventurous, audience-driven cultural transformation. Audiences want to retrieve sovereignty over their arts going by reclaiming the cultural right to formulate and exchange opinions that are valued by the community. Private sector has already taken an initiative and is already under way, with or without our permission or approval in the process of separating the ‘subject’ from the ‘object’. ♦
Ambereen Karamat is a curator and an art consultant. A Fulbright scholar specializing in Art Criticism and Art Administration, she runs an art consultancy called White Turban that helps promoting artists from Pakistan.
[i]In and Out of the Dark – A theory about Audience Behaviour from Sophocles to Spoken Word by Lynne Conner. Engaging Art – The Next Great Transformation of America’s Cultural Life. Edited by Steven J. Tepper and Bill Ivey
[ii]Online Etymonline Dictionary: ‘’
[iii]What is the origin of the word audience? ‘’
[iv]Post Colonial Studies- Theodor Adolf:
[v]The Musical Times, vol.129, No. 1747 (Sep., 1988), pp. 457 – 458 by Esther Cavett-Dunsby


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