Art forms flourish based on the creativity of the artistes. If the creative endeavors of artistes are too closely trammeled, it could end up stultifying the art itself - since any creative endeavor needs an atmosphere that welcomes change to flourish. The obverse of this is the fact that art flourishes only when it communicates to a large audience for all art is, inherently, a mode of communication. People, though, are normally averse to change and, thus, any change attempted by the artiste is bound to face opposition.
Thus, any art flourishes as an exquisite balancing act - one that allows creative freedom to the artiste while simultaneously meeting audience expectations. This, in effect, means that the creative freedom of the artiste shall, by and large, lie in pushing the boundaries rather than in a wholesale redrawing of the boundaries. When the boundaries are sought to be redrawn, the endeavor is always fraught with tension and the risk of failure is high.
One of the foremost Carnatic musicians of the age - T.M. Krishna - is currently in the process of trying to redraw the boundaries of the way Carnatic music is performed on stage. His points relating to the attitude towards women vocalists and to the treatment of instruments like the Nadaswaram. Points well taken and needing some change.
My brush with T.M. Krishna's unorthodoxy, though, comes as a ignorant rasika of the oeuvre. I cannot really say that the freedom for the artiste to cut short a concert to half the scheduled time appealed to me. One does understand, and recognize, that an artiste may not always be inclined to practice his art. A painter or writer, for example, can take a break and get back to it when he feels he can give his best. When it comes to performances on stage, though, there is a problem. The least of audience expectations that a performer needs to meet is the time for which the performance is held. People do choose where they spend their time and, if you make them rue their choice by not meeting even a basic expectation, you are doing no service to the art. This, in his defense, I need to say happened last year.
T.M. Krishna has gained an reputation for setting the entire concert procedure on its head. The regular expectations of how the concert would start, when the smaller length Kritis would be sung, when and how the Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi would be sung and what would be sung to tail off the concert - nothing is predictable in a Krishna concert these days. The one thing that seems almost certain these days is that he will NOT adhere to the regular modus operandi. But for that, the theme seems to be to expect the unexpected.
Creation changes and evolves by someone breaking the tradition. The current modus operandi was also an innovation in its time and, probably, much reviled then. The changes now being wrought by T.M. Krishna could well be the harbinger of another change. The only problem is that any audience needs SOMETHING to expect. It may not be the existing modus operandi but there needs to be a Krishna modus operandi, at least. There is no point in saying that the audience need have no expectation but to hear good music - what constitutes good music OR a good concert is always a matter of taste.
Creativity is not merely an exhibition of chaos. It is judicious use of chaos to upset and improve the existing order. If there is no order that the audience can pin itself to, then the change that Krishna brings shall work only for a genius like Krishna but will fail in the intent of bringing any lasting change to the Carnatic landscape. It is only when other and, dare I say, lesser musicians are also able to do what Krishna does, and still attract an audience, can the change become lasting.
Human beings still do not readily adapt to change. How much more hide-bound will both the organizers and rasikas of what calls itself a traditional system of music be? The only way to really change a traditional system is to bring in a new 'tradition'!
The irony is that a creator fighting for creative freedom can only succeed when he himself sets up a new pattern that sets a discipline - and not a sing-as-you-please system - for others to follow. Failing which, he shall remain merely an eccentric one-off experimenter.