Culture Through Art (A Preface)

A preface for this thing I’m doing.

“Are you sure you don’t want to paint it, Ashna?”

It was 2006, I was 5 years old, and my supply teacher (spare a thought for her, dear reader) had just accomplished the incredible feat of getting me to do something I didn’t want to do: make a car out of cardboard and attach wheels to it. The next step was getting me to paint it, and by now the poor woman didn’t have the energy left in her to deal with another round of coaxing.

“I don’t like painting,” I maintained. What I should have said was that I didn’t like being forced to do things, I didn’t like doing pointless things (and no, a number in a markbook does not count as a “point” when it comes to art), I didn’t like my inability to adequately express myself through painting, and therefore I did not want to paint. But alas, my 5-year-old self was unaware of the intricacies of her dislike. She only knew that she was “bad” at painting and that she didn’t like it. This feeling extended to all aspects of art, design technology and physical education.

And so began my loveless relationship with the arts at school, that very moment when my supply teacher, relieved to be rid of me, gave me the “ok, dear” smile and left to heckle some other children. From then on I spent my art and design technology lessons distracting my friends, surfing the internet and doing last-minute chemistry revision, and it came to a point where my beleaguered art teachers would just let me do what I wanted, because I ostensibly hated art so much that it didn’t even matter.

The thing is, I don’t hate art, and I never have hated it. I love it. From a very young age, I have been singing and acting, visiting art museums and theatre productions, reading and writing voraciously, and above all, just being creative and expressing myself. And it’s sad, and symptomatic of the murder and burial of art and all autonomous action caused by our Prussianesque education system, that this has been misunderstood.

But I’m far too good at making unwarranted political criticisms and dragging my politics into my writing and analyses, so this project is going to be entirely apolitical. For once, I have been allowed a good bit of creative freedom within an institutional framework, by the Silver Arts Award programme. And I’m using said freedom to do something a bit different – different both from the kind of political and philosophical enquiry projects to which I’m accustomed, and from what you will generally see when you read Arts Award documents.

This portfolio, document, whatever you want to call it is not so much a documentation as an ode. I tend to write critiques; this, in contrast, is one big compliment. It is a song of praise to the world and its many contrasts and cultures and contradictions. And the challenge I’m setting myself isn’t to learn one single discipline, as such: it’s to learn and try out as many things as I can which give me a new cultural experience, which I can then analyse and connect to things I already know. Hopefully, this challenge won’t just open my eyes to the world’s complexity, but will also make for an interesting read.

 

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