Art still plays an integral role in the ritual life of Bali's culture, even though the artworks are produced primarily for the tourist market. Art surrounds the Balinese from earliest childhood and is ever present everywhere.
The Balinese seem to make an art out of even the simple necessities of everyday life: fruit salad is served with flowers strewn on top, and coils of pigs' intestines are used on temple decorations.
Since the start of the 20th century, the Balinese have never allowed artistic knowledge to become centralized in a special intellectual class. Everyone down to the simplest peasant can be both an artist and an aesthetically conscious art critic.
A field-laborer might chide a clumsy instrument maker for a job poorly done, and even young dagang (foodstall sellers) from humble families are skilled practitioners of Bali's classical dances. While painting, sculpture, carving, and music have traditionally been the province of men, women have channeled creative energy into making lavish offerings to the gods.
At almost any festival you can see spectacular pyramids of flowers, fruit, and cakes up to two meters high, fashioned with such love and adoration that they could only be meant for a higher being.
These religious obligations have also ensured that the arts be constantly practiced-the gods demand it! Feverish and backbreaking preparations go into the celebration of festivals as well as the transitional events in the life of a Balinese.
In service to religion, each artist strives to make objects well-proportioned and pleasing. New shrines have to be built, relieves renewed, new prayer offerings made, dances and dramas rehearsed, and music practiced continually in order to please gods, appease devils, and honor ancestors.
Although put at the service of religion, Balinese art does not solely serve religion. Sacred symbols decorate speeding bemo, jackets, menus, motorcycles, and hotel doorways. Their use in such ordinary earthly objects is not looked upon as sacrilege.
An important factor contributing to the creative productivity of the Balinese is Bali's well-organized cultivation system. The astounding fertility of the island-everyone is fed, sheltered, and clothed-has given the Balinese the leisure to develop their arts for centuries. Though the impetus to create art has always endured, art objects have not.
The Balinese have no eternally 'great' art like Egypt's pyramids, Cambodia's Angkor Wat complex, or France's Chartres Cathedral. Bali's most readily available stone is soft volcanic sandstone, which crumbles easily and is eaten away by rainfall after only a few years. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions ravage hundreds of shrines several times each decade, necessitating gigantic reconstruction projects engaging thousands of workers.
Balinese art is not made to last. Humidity wilts paper and rots cloth paintings; dogs or people eat the magnificent offerings; white ants perforate wooden sculptures, all of which must be refurbished constantly.
All this rebuilding, renovating, and replacing assumes that the island's unparalleled concentration of ephemeral folk art continually evolves and perpetuates itself.
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