Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Youngsters and Art Writing
Noted artist Bose Krishnamachari one day called me up, and while talking various things, he mentioned the name of one particular budding art historian/critic. He asked me, ‘Why don’t you give chance to such youngsters?” Perhaps, being a ‘not so much an internet person’, Bose might not have noticed this particular youngster regularly contributing to www.artconcerns.com, the e-zine on Indian contemporary art that I edit. “He does write for me and I think, he needs to really work hard on his writing,” I told Bose and reminded him that it was me who gave this youngster the first break as an art writer. Bose agreed but he added, “See, he is young. May be, he needs time to develop his writing skills. Everyone cannot be a prolific writer like you, who writes ‘three thousand words’ every morning.”
This ‘Three thousand words’ reference comes from an earlier chat between Bose and myself. During one of our discussions, I had mentioned him, how I practice and hone up my writing skills everyday by writing around three thousand words on anything. May be, I don’t write three thousand words everyday, but I do write at least 1500 words. I don’t write my pieces with an intention to publish. Most often I write to enjoy the flow of writing, the surprises that it imparts to me. I don’t know whether the young art writers practice ‘writing’ as an ‘exercise.’ If they do not, let me tell you, they should. As the editor of an ezine, I know most of the art writers in India through their works. I have not found any youngster with a total control over his/her ideas and language. Some people have ideas and no language skills and some people have language skills but no ideas. This is where the importance of writing ‘exercise’ comes in.
I would like to give a few tips to the young art writers in India. Before that, I would like to go through some anecdotes from my life as a writer. I started writing at the age of eight. My first creative effort was a poem. My father sent it to a children’s magazine and in the next post it came back with the editor’s letter, saying that it was not worth publishing. But writing and reading became an obsession for me in that tender age itself. My parents presented me with old diaries and I filled them with my words. The disturbed teenage years spent in writing stories and poems. I used to send them to the magazines and they used to send it back to me. I adopted pen names like ‘Johny Merrick Laxman’, ‘Alex John’, ‘Johny Laxman’ and ‘Janakiraman’. By the age of twenty I could publish a few poems and articles in various magazines. But publishing itself did not give me any satisfaction. It was writing, only writing that gave me the ultimate high.
In Baroda, as an art history student, my first ‘professional’ assignment was to write a catalogue write up for a British artist, Kate Bowes, settled there in Baroda. I wrote something and it was neatly rejected by Kate and her friends citing that it was ‘not academic enough’. I had not quoted philosophers and theoreticians. Kate Bowes later got married to the well known artist Shibu Natesan. Though my write up was rejected, I filled in my note books and diaries with my observations on art. I kept on reading all theoreticians and philosophers until I realized that it was not necessary to quote anybody, unless it was required for a particular argument.
Later in Delhi, as a 24 year old struggler, I spent my nights in writing using an old portable typewriter lent to me by Abhimanue VG, an artist. I started off my full fledged writing career with the Hindu Business Line in 1996. Preeti Mehra, a pious lady was my page editor and she used to rip my writings apart. I used to feel really humiliated and humbled when she re-wrote all my pieces in front of me. Tears used to well up in my eyes and I chewed in a late of humiliation. But that was a really a great learning point. Preeti Mehra honed up my writing skills. I am thankful to her, whether she sees this piece or not. Even today, I spend most of the time in reading and writing. After seeing my physique many people have asked me, ‘Do you read? Or you spend most of the time in gym?’ But then I tell in my mind, it is all about discipline. To become a good writer you need to be disciplined. A good writer is like an excellent martial artist. Bruce Lee once said, “I like that martial artist who can use one punch in hundred different ways than the one who knows hundred different punches and use all of them in only one way.”
I believe in Bruce Lee and Gabriel Garcia Marquez- both use one punch in hundred different ways. So my young writer friends, to become good writers ‘practice, practice and practice.’ In my gym, there is a poster and it reads, ‘Shut the Fuck up and Work Out’.
I want to tell you the same thing. ‘Shut the Fuck up and Work out’.
A few tips:
1. Read, if possible from cover to cover.
2. Read for experience, not for quoting.
3. Never try to remember anything that you have read. They will come to you
if you have read it with a passion.
4. Read the works of art using your eyes and mind. Don’t use any theoretical
crutches to lean on.
5. Write what you really feel, don’t try to embellish with high sounding words
and ideas to make it look like a well researched piece.
6. Write without fear and inhibition. It is you, who is the final judge of your
7. Write with a feeling.
8. Learn language as if it were your beloved. Play with it, tease it, knead it,
take it to the heights of passion, climax it and relax it.
9. Read the catalogues well and don’t follow any.
10. Write every day, every hour.
11. Devise a plan of action and discipline.
12. Speak less and write more. Endless hours of discussing a work of art will
not produce good art criticism.
13. Look at things around as if you were going to write about them in the next
14. Never pretend that you are a writer.
15. Just be an ordinary human being with a lot of feeling.
Then you become a good writer, if not, please go on complaining.