Thursday, June 2, 2011
Illusion, truth and reality (Part 5)
The talkback segment was about to start. Previously, I had recorded a twenty-minute lecture on the topic, which happened to be about the relationship between Indian art and religion. Wal Samut was my producer at this end, and Joe Gelonesi was handling the Sydney side of things, ready to channel the questions and comments to me. Both of them were very experienced, very good broadcasters and sound technicians. Wal’ s now retired; Joe has gone on to greater things with the ABC.
I sat there, listening to the taped broadcast go out. It was going well. Aleisha Bonfield had taught me the ropes in the olden days in Brisbane. I had recorded scores of lectures in the UNE studios since then (we posted them out to the students on cassette tapes). Then came the moment of truth, though I didn’t realise just how literally truthful that moment was going to be. The adrenalin started pumping through my system. I hoped I’d sound as confident as I did on the recorded segment, but I didn’t feel it.
My lecture segment ended. There was a Station ID, a bit of promo by Joe to stir up some questions (or give people confidence to phone in) and then the first call came through. This was it. Live talkback radio. You can’t run, you can’t hide. And I was no shock jock!
‘Denis – your first caller.’
He identified himself. He wasn't one of my students for that year, as far as I knew. I had met them all at the First Residential School in Armidale earlier in the year, and it was usually easy to recall them by voice or know if they already knew me.
‘I have a question I'd like to ask you. Would you please tell me your definition of art.’
My definition of ART!! I could hardly believe it. I was pretty well prepared in my mind for what I thought might come up, but I never dreamt that I was going to be hit with the most challenging question anyone could possibly ask as my first ever talkback question.
If this were a question with notice about what art was, or what I thought it was, that would have been fine. I would take a week to think about it properly and come back with a considered response. But this was live radio, and the question had been asked, and I had to come up with something I believed in and could explain within two seconds.
It must have been the adrenalin, that’s all I can put it down to, but what came to mind for me has always been my definition, insofar as art can be defined. This amazed me, as I had never before given the matter the attention it deserved.
‘Art,’ I said, ‘is an attempt to approach truth, or reality.’
There was a silence.
‘Can you please explain what you mean?’
Wal, manning the big tape deck, was watching me through the glass panel with a look that was either amusement or anxiety. I couldn’t tell which. Maybe it was both.
‘I’ll try’, I said. ‘But I have to keep it short.’