The bankruptsy of Art in the Middle East

A friend of mine, an artist, has written to me decrying the state of visual and auditory art in the Arab world in general and Bahrain in particular, complaining of essentially the bancruptsy of the traditional broadcast institutions as well as so-called “image makers”, the advertising agencies and post-production houses in the area, that he finds it hard to compete in the market and maintain his self-set rules and quality standards, thus even harder to purchase systems that I sell – although he is the first to ascertain that he is infatuated with the equipment that I sell – not just because of the name and resepect they engender in the market (Avid Technology specifically), but he believes that these equipment can give him a competitive edge by giving him time lost in the trivialties of technical failures.

Here is my response:

I’m as cynical as you; and your views are close to mine, otherwise I would have already been a multi-millionaire with a lot of “friends” in various walks of life. I too share the opinion that the broadcasters, specifically BRTC is riddled with corruption of mind, soul and talent. I have been asked before what I thought of it; I still maintain that it’s more akin to a bankrupt geriatrics unit than a body imbued with the dispersal of knowledge and a window through which the discerning viewer might glimpse the richness of our culture, people and history.

Alas I have not given up being a missionary for art. And that – put mildly – is my Achillis’ heal. Like my father, I am not rich, nor will I ever be in this particular environment. I get by, but that is as far as I will ever be allowed to go.

I did not give up hope however, nationalistic duty aside, I still refuse to give anyone baksheesh. I am generous with my knowledge and opinions. I maintain an open mind and hope that through that I can transfer some of my passion to the listener, a listener who accepts that knowledge is more valuable that mere cash. I am still searching. I have not so far been successful.

Throughout history, the most virulent artistic eras have been at times of strife, where artists were oppressed and opposed, yet they produced art that transcends their environments and time. They most certainly did not need Avids, Quantels, or even Photoshop to produce their immortal works, they used the most basic of instruments to express their most complex feelings.

But that is the past; art does not stand on ceremony and continues to evolve. There is never going to be another Da Vinci or Van Goch. The environment and its people have changed globally and we have to live the moment. However, as artists it is our duty – as it has always been – to push the envelope, open people’s minds and hearts to not just an arbitrary future, but rather to a different plane of thinking. To do this, the simplest thing we can do is stay faithful to our art and our message.

Art by its nature is different but not differentiating. We might disagree on various interpretations, but our views and concepts – even if they are diametrically apart – undoubtedly enrich a world and sets a solid foundation for generations to come. At a point in the future we might well be laughed at and ridiculed, but in our hearts we feel that we have done right:

We attempted to make a difference.

Our time is finite. Our ideas are vast. We need tools to enable us to tell our stories succinctly. We needn’t be bothered with technicalities. We don’t need to know how a pen works. We just need it to work reliably and dependably. This is the crux of the matter and the thing that pretenders and their ilk will never get. So should we care about what they charge? What equipment they use? Who their customers are? This is immaterial. If we are to stay true to our art, we must persevere, we must educate, and we must adhere to our own personal standards.

You will agree with me that the thing that makes us stronger is our appreciation of time, thus must by definition use tools that allow us to use every second of the day in creative pursuits, rather than technical mundane trivia. We want systems that allow us to transcend time and tell a story dependably without technical interruptions.

These are the tools that I have stood by and will continue to. Because I am consciously working at giving back my customers the extra time that they would have invariably lost by using substandard tools.

Let’s not worry about about the bedroom jockeys and their environment. We are much bigger than that. A saint after all has never been beatified without suffering in his lifetime!

Broadcasters cannot continue as they are at the moment if they are to compete for hearts and minds of insatiable viewers. Technology here is a godsend, viewers can watch just about any station in the world through normal broadcast channels or new media as the Internet. The day is not too far away where corporations such as our beloved BRTC will wake up and realize that the propaganda map has irreversibly changed, and in order for them to regain that lost momentum, they will have to re-tool… not in just purchasing Avid equipment or its like, but more importantly hire the right creative people who can tell a story and make an unselfish decision. By then they would have come to the glaring realization that no one is watching their channels any more… that people regard their “machine” as just another imitation of Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf!

And it is then – in the not too distant future – that we will be exonerated!