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Art for art’s sake.
What’s that anyway?
Well, thanks for asking.
I define it as “doing art just because”.
Still not sure what that means? Don’t worry. Come with me. I’ll take you on a trip down (my) memory lane to explain all of that jargon-speak a little further.
Let’s take our seats, shall we?
We are going way back.
We are going way back to the early 90s. At the height of Michael Jackson’s metamorphosis, the fanaticism of the hit movie, The Bodyguard and the mega-hit Whitney Houston version of I Will Always Love You, the genesis of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and the slow but sure arrival of my very own Age of Reason.
I believe I was about seven years old when I started doing art of my own free will.
I’m not sure how it all began but during school holidays, I would stick my behind down at the dining table and draw for hours on end - every single day.
I particularly remember being obsessed with drawing matatus and storeyed buildings.
Something about the detailing of these two things excited the hell out of me. Drawing the bumper tail of each and every matatu drove me wild! Drawing the stairs of each and every building unleashed my cuckoo. Zero exaggeration.
At some point, probably when I was nine or ten (or whatever other number I can guess before fourteen, because I can’t remember), I created a comic strip. A high-school romance comic strip.
The main characters were a handsome young man and his attractive sidekicks and a beautiful young lady and her lovely sidekicks.
The high school was based in the US because - well, that’s all I watched when I was growing up. American television and American movies. But not just that. There were also the lovey dovey Mexican soap operas that aired every evening.
My script borrowed a lot from all that. It borrowed a lot from the American culture but the romantic gimmicks were definitely inspired by the Mexicans.
I was quite devoted to this comic strip. But whenever my commitment wavered even slightly, I had my sisters there, ready to kick me in the rear end.
They would wait till I finished a page or two, binge read, then promptly ask for more! Without shame.
It was a lot of pressure!
Four to five hours of work on a page and a half would translate to just five minutes of them reading it and an additional ten minutes of brouhaha over why I need to do everything much much faster!
Where are those strips now?
I’m not sure. I lost them somewhere between growing up and moving house a couple of times.
I can’t remember the title. Or even the names of the main characters.
My younger sister says she remember the characters' faces. They are clear in her mind. Maybe because I used to use her as my model when I couldn’t quite imagine my character’s side profiles. Those were the hardest for me to do.
Truthfully, much of this memory lane world exists solely because she reminded me about it.
I can’t remember much. Actually, I hardly ever remember much of anything I should remember. Apparently too much jetlag is kryptonite to the memory. Thank you so much Travel. I really appreciate it. But I guess that’s a story for another day.
One thing I seem to remember quite clearly is how I felt as I drew these imaginary stories.
I felt powerful.
I felt magical.
I was creating an entire world! And someone was eager to read it!
Not the sisterly-love kind of eagerness to read. Theirs was the irate-fanatic kind of eagerness to read.
No one had told me to create this stuff. No one had sat me down and offered me a five-year contract to produce seven seasons of my high school romcom (romantic comic).
I just did it.
I just sat down and did it because I loved it.
Of course, it helps that one of my sisters is an artist in the truest sense of the word. This human being with whom I share some DNA with, has been engaging with art all her life! She hobbied it, she studied it, she has taught it and now post-PhD, she is doing a lot of other interesting stuff - some of which I still don’t understand. Just google "Amollo Ambole" and see what you'll find.
She showed me (and still shows me every day) what art should be.
Art should be a calling. Art is a calling.
She heeded the call a long time ago.
She probably inspired the younger me to heed the call too.
As I was doing those comic strips, I was paying heed to that call. I was doing my art. To me at the time, art was about doing it for its own sake.
Fast forward to today
“Art for art’s sake” is actually a motto. A mantra. A mental bumper sticker. A cognitive sticky note.
It’s something I have to cue in whenever I’m mumbling all those positive affirmations to myself each morning.
“You are enough.”
“You are loved.”
“You can do this.”
And oh yeah, “Art for art’s sake.”
I have to say it to myself. It's something I want stuck in my head.
It’s something I want to do. It’s something I have to do.
Because two important things happened to me.
Two life-altering things.
Dabaki and Steven Pressfield.
That’s very cryptic. I know. And I love it! Mystery is so exciting. I wish I could just end this post here and let you wonder. But - sigh! - I can’t.
The main point of this entire post hinges on these two things (actually, this thing and this person).
Understanding them will allow you to internalise why I'm harping on about doing art for art's sake.
Alrighty then, allow me to explain one by one.
Relax. All will be crystal clear in a couple of paragraphs. Trust me.
For now, I ask that you humour me.
Imagine placing that comic drawing kid (trapped in a thirty-something year old chica) in Cambodia, on a road trip, with fourteen other creatives. All creatives being Indian.
Now, imagine that kid meeting another artist who draws beautiful illustrations and that artist tells the kid that she needs to get back to her craft.
Then imagine that kid also meeting another graphics artist, two singer/songwriters, a dancer, three filmmakers, a scientist, a poet/actress/writer/motorcyclist, a writer, a photographic storyteller, an online content creator and a photographer/filmmaker who curated the entire thing.
Now imagine that kid relishing this other-worldly experience for not just one or two days - but a generous nine days!
The kid literally goes nuts. She goes bonkers!
These people she had just met were courageously doing their art. Most of them had made it their living. Most of them were doing it every single day. All of them had surrendered to the call to do their goddamn art!
How in the world had she managed to survive all those years without the art she had once loved so much?
How had she managed to convince herself that the art she once did didn’t count for much?
How had she managed to erase, hide, reconfigure and repress that art that had flowed so freely from her that much?
How could she, a hiding and (pretty much) godforsaken artist, be worthy of being in their presence?
How could she face herself after this new awakening?
The thing she had knowingly turned her back on for years because it was too crazy, too awkward and too unworthy (career-wise) suddenly became acceptable. She almost felt silly. A bit unworthy. A little embarrassed even. But a lot inspired.
During those nine days she had found a new tribe. These people were an exceptional breed of humans. They still are.
They were not going to judge her for randomly whipping out a sketch book and sketching away at the drinking table - or during a chill-out session - or by the pool - or during a cruise. These people were certainly not the kind to judge her for having that crazy idea of starting a Youtube series. They couldn't judge. They were doing some of these exact things themselves!
She was feeding on their energy and their passion. She had to feed on their energy and passion.
They were so far out in the wilderness of art. They had won the survival battle. They had maimed and killed predators in their wake. They had located the perfect oases. They were thriving!
But for her, it was all still some dangerous and foreign place. This wilderness they knew so well was new to her. She felt like she was there with them on borrowed time. Like some timebound ghost. Like some unprecedented tourist.
She somehow felt that something would eventually zap her back into oblivion - right at the start of this gigantic wilderness, looking in from a glass window.
But did she want that? Did she want to be on the outside looking in?
She wanted in on that wilderness.
She'd have to find her way in. And she'd have to catch up! Quickly!
She'd have to catch up for all those wasted years of erasing, hiding, reconfiguring and repressing what had been inside her all along.
She was going to get back to her calling. She was going to get back to doing art.
And most importantly, doing art for art’s sake.
Enter Mr. Pressfield.
Who the heck is Steven Pressfield, anyway?
Well, he’s just some guy who gave meaning to that kid that got lost a long time ago.
Look at it this way. Dabaki awakened the poor imprisoned kid. And Pressfield? Hmm. Pressfield gave her a reason to get out and do her thing.
Pardon me. Please allow me to start again.
Steven Pressfield is not just some guy.
He is a writer. And not just a writer. An author. A wordsmith. An masterful alien who has managed to write a great number of fantastic literary works that span fiction, non-fiction and screenplays.
I came across him when I read his book, The War of Art.
I had added it to my right-away reading list right after realising it was way more urgent and way more relevant than any other book I thought I needed to read at the time (i.e. right before Dabaki happened.).
The War of Art was the exact push I needed in my attempt to veer off into the wilderness of art.
The book is all about that notorious Resistance. That notorious enemy that’s always lurking around just waiting to stop us from doing our work and realising our dreams.
I had given in to the Resistance a long time ago. I had given in to it for years on end. The result was that I ended up confining that artistic kid in some deep dark place and in turn, relegated myself to a stultifying existence.
I had allowed the Resistance to guide me on what I should and shouldn’t do.
I had allowed the Resistance to tell me how to (not) be creative.
I had allowed it to tell me that anything I did just for its own sake was useless and worthless - that I needed to stop doing that. I had allowed it to tell me that I needed to get other people to validate any creative efforts I undertook.
I had given the reins to the Resistance. I had given it permission to run my life. And I allowed that to happen for a long time.
Reading Pressfield's words allowed me to see everything from a new perspective.
His words allowed me to accept my calling freely and to run with it. To run with it by putting in the work. Not by sitting and wishing. But by sitting and working. Not by working and waiting for applause - but by working and challenging myself. By working and improving. By improving and dining with the Muse every single day.
So here’s to the new kid on the block...
Thanks to Dabaki and Pressfield, that artistic young kid is back.
This thirty-something year old chica has reconnected with that kid.
This thirty-something year old has rewound the clock.
This thirty-something year old is back to feeling powerful and magical again.
This thirty-something year old has found her way deep into the wilderness of art.
This thirty-something year old has reconnected with her soul.
She’ll now feel worthy of being in the presence of any other artists.
She’ll now imbibe all the art she can think of in what she gets to do every day.
She’ll now take responsibility for the art the Muse will whisper into her ear.
She’ll now remember not to forget that she must show up and do the work.
And she’ll now never ever forget that she must always do art for art’s sake.
More about Dabaki
Dabaki is a movement. A journey. A life force.
It’s the brainchild of Akhil Kommidi.
Akhil is a culture and travel photographer as well as a documentary filmmaker with a passion for storytelling. He decided to merge his love for art and travel in a unique experience that would bring together artists and creatives in a journey of discovery to awe-inspiring foreign lands.
Dabaki Season 1 happened in Cambodia in February 2018. The mind-blowing road-trip saw fifteen creatives discover Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kampot, Kep and their inner creative selves.
I met Akhil back in 2010 during an International AIESEC Conference in Hyderabad, India. Yes, we are both AIESECers. We reconnected again in Phnom Penh while I was on my digital nomad escapades in South-East Asia.
A mutual friend had told me about this trip and so I reached out to Akhil to discuss the possibility of joining in. Akhil said “sure” and I literally dropped everything to be part of the fifteen - well, more like sixteen (Bona, I'm not forgetting you!). Over the course of the journey, we were lucky enough to meet a good number of other artists based in Cambodia. One of these other artists actually took me to buy a sketchbook and handed me some pencils! (Sam, you are an angel!)
After the road trip ended, I stayed in Phnom Penh a little longer as I hatched up a plan to make an unintended stopover.
Once everything was set, I packed my bags and found myself in India. This was a trip of discovery that had me meeting my new tribe once more. The trip also had me wearing a sari for the first time and I finally got to cross "Attend an Indian wedding" off my Impossible List.
I also needed that time in India in order to keep feeding off this tribe's energy and passion. I needed it to meditate on a couple of life changes. I needed it so that I could drown in Indian culture. And more importantly, I needed that time in India so that Akhil and I could conceptualise a possible Dabaki Season 2, for later this year, in (drumrolls, please!) - Kenya!
More information on this will be out soon.
Until then, I prescribe that you emancipate any repressed selves within you and for goodness sake, get a handle on the Resistance and get out there to do art for art’s sake!
Here's to hoping that we'll meet deep in the wilderness.
So, to summarise: