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Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Freedom of expression and genuine artists

So you think that a great poet or artist never compromises and pays very little attention to commercial considerations? Factual evidence suggests otherwise. Consider three of the greatest poets of all times.

With one possible exception, William Shakespeare wrote all his plays for the box office. In his own lifetime and for more than a century after his death, he was not as much recognized for being a masterful playwright as he was for being a successful one. His colleagues who compiled the authoritative collection of his plays after his death complied with the latest censorship policies: several expressions from Shakespeare's work were struck out and many of those have never reached us. Still, that has not prevented us from appreciating the genius of Shakespeare..  

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, on the suggestion of his publisher, self-censored several words and phrases in his greatest masterpiece Faust ("very characteristically", accordng to the scholar Walter Kaufmann).

Almost all the greater Urdu poems of Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal were written with the aim of collecting money for orphanages and other philanthropic causes - yes, these include 'Tasveer-i-Dard',  'Shikwah', 'Jawab-i-Shikwah', 'Khizr-i-Rah' and 'Tulu-i-Islam'. Moreover, when certain portions of Iqbal's first Persian book were severely criticized by his audience, he happily deleted them from the next edition. His famous prayer was, "May my pen never hurt any heart...":

مری زبان قلم سے کسی کا دل نہ دُکھے
گلہ کسی سے نہ ہو زیرِ آسماں مجکو 

These artists used the feedback of their societies as reality check. We know what they - Shakespeare, Goethe and Iqbal - have offered to humanity. As compared to them, the other kind of artists who whine about freedom of expression and regard petty egoism to be more important than love, what have they offered? Please ask this question to yourself.

Also, if you have the time, do a simple exercise. Pick up the work of a typical "high culture" artist who claims to be oh so far above his or her society. Then scan the work for a single theme: hypocrite. I promise that you shall be amazed at what comes up (some examples can be offered on this blog if readers are interested).

1 comment:

Connie L. Nash said...

What a high goal, prayer and leadership for all writers who wish to do any good at all...I am quite moved seeing this from Allama Iqbal!

"May my pen never hurt any heart...":

مری زبان قلم سے کسی کا دل نہ دُکھے
گلہ کسی سے نہ ہو زیرِ آسماں مجکو