I remember the days when I used to look forward impatiently to get the latest Junior Statesman (JS) then India’s only magazine for teens in the post. Or when I used to treasure every book, vinyl record (later tapes and CDs) that populated my library. Reading, re-reading. Listening, re-listening.
These days I drink at the gusher of stuff coming at me. There are 29 unread books on my Kindle along with the 3 that I currently read in some sort of mysterious sequence. There are at least 20 books in my library that I bought but am yet to crack open along with the two at my bedstead that I currently dip into when the incredible lightness of my Kindle cloys. Not to mention the seven audio books on my Audible app that await me. And between my Apple New+, Magzter and Audm subscriptions I have instant access to almost every magazine and newspaper that I would conceivably want to read or listen to.
And music? II have subscriptions to four streaming services with the access to almost the entire universe of music neatly stacked up into playlists curated just for me.
Then there is streaming television. While just a decade or so ago it was “256 channels and nothing to watch”, now it is subscription to multiple streaming services (six at the last count in my case) gushing out quality new content in every conceivable genre along with a library that seems to archive every show, series and movie that ever was. In 60 inches of Ultra HD and Dolby sound.
So much to see, hear and read. So little time.
To my generation this is new and bewildering. But what about the generation — the Yers, the Zers and the yet to comers — for whom this gusher is all that they will know. Will it not lead to a cultural landscape in books, music, TV and movies that is a paradigmatically different and new?
Well, it seems to be already happening. The other day I was reading (actually listening to on the Audm app) to a New Yorker article on the musician Beck and a phrase that the writer used in the context of Beck’s eclectic use of musical genres stuck in mind. The phrase was “an aesthetic of abundance”.
Just a generation ago for a budding artist to get the flavour of the global cornucopia of art — books, music, photography, painting, movies, television — would require some combination of insatiable hunger for the new and the avant-garde along with privileged access. Can we assume that this lead to an aesthetic different from the “aesthetic of abundance” that Beck works with? An aesthetic of constraint perhaps? Even an aesthetic of hunger? Not hunger in the sense of deprivation of creature comforts (though that is part of the mythology of the Van Gogh like struggling artist) but an intellectual hunger, an unfulfilled passion for exploration of the world of ideas and art that finds expression in creativity?
In the current world when most with even a modicum of talent and curiosity can explore endlessly the universe of ideas and art what will drive creativity? Combine this with a world where most have easy access to creature comforts what hunger will fuel creativity ? Is the aesthetic of abundance an aesthetic that only leads to derivative art? Art that that feeds on itself, echoing some combination of notes syncopated, consciously or subconsciously, from the extant and the past?
I would think not.
I think the aesthetic of abundance when combined with real talent sparks creativity that explores beyond the acceptable dimensions of an art form. Being familiar with all the notes when combined with the impetus of talent sparks a hunger to break free. A hunger the explore the new. Go where no woman (or man) has gone before!
It is with this expectation that I make it a point to read, listen, see and feel beyond my comfort zone. To go beyond the familiar writers, musicians and themes from when I was young to sample the work of writers, musicians, filmmakers and other artists who are young and whose works stretches my imagination and the boundaries of my aesthetics. Because the age of aesthetic abundance opens up horizons not just for the creative artists but for all of us.