Monday, March 28, 2011

Legend of the Starving Artist

Beard grown, kurta-clad, financially doomed and yet persevering. This is the typical image that flashes across anybody's eyes, when one thinks of the term 'artist'. All over the world, the 'starving artist' has become legendary by now. And yet there's an other extreme polarity of the same species that lives in ultimate luxury, mingles in swish sets, buys the media out and the works of such artists command instant limelight in the market... not by their sheer face-value, but by the presence of that artist's signature. 

And then there's yet another new variety of the artist species that is a product of modern developed India.... this economic variety doesn't fit into the earlier two categories. To make it simpler.... these artists are to the art world, what middle-class is to the society. Neither filthy rich, nor miserable... but definitely here to stay. The age of  sensible life-management has come in.... and the 'struggling artist' will soon near extinction.

I'm such a financially middle-class artist. Coming from a small town into the big Mumbai city, and having survived it all alone through my two Art degrees, I represent a whole class of persevering artists who have loved, lived and breathed art all their life... and are not afraid to bear patience till they are fully satisfied with their own performance. We are not poor.. and we refuse to live in misery. We work all through the year on commercial projects, so that we may save enough for that one show in Fine Art, at the end of the year. Our families are well-fed, we dress handsomely, shave everyday, look fresh and are genuinely happy in life. Now, is that a sin for an artist? Yet the stereotypical Art-critic is cynical of this category. He is prejudiced. His outdated instincts nag him that anybody who looks presentably good cannot be serious about his art. And this doubting Thomas can stoop to any level to prove his dubious instincts right.

An English sculptor who spends an annual vacation in India every year, once asked me what I create Art for. He wanted to know my motivation... whether it is wealth, fame, recognition, positive reviews by the media... what was it? "You must be working towards something, isn't it?", he asked. Maybe I disappointed the inquisitive soul by admitting that I create Art purely for spiritual enjoyment. I feel happy creating Art, and that's why I'm here... And to feed my family, the commercial works are sufficient. I don't depend on Fine Art for a living, because it's only when the sales are not a focal-point that I can produce something I enjoy creating, something I want to see created... and something that isn't designed to please someone else. Only when one is financially secure, can he afford to create pure art without the "saleability" factor hovering and pressurizing his creativity.

But my English friend persisted..."If you aren't really greedy for appreciation, then why do you hold your annual exhibitions at good galleries? You could just create and dump those pieces in your backyard!". Well, my dear friend, when you have a good news within, you bubble to share it with someone. It is that very sentiment that makes an artist display his work publicly... just so that other people who share his taste for Art, may see the works, enjoy and return as happier persons. And if the event succeeds in generating a spell of optimism, sales, publicity and fame... these are purely by-products but they don't hurt at all, do they?

It is a universal truth... If our happiness is hinged on other people's approval of us, we'll be miserable all our lives.


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