For this title I am indebted to Pablo Helguera, the Mexico city born American artist based in New York who wrote ‘the Pablo Helguera Manual of Contemporary Art Style’ (2007). Helguera uses a lot of sarcasm and irony in order to explain how the art scene functions in big cities while he draws a parallel between the game of chess and the positioning of each player in the art world, right from the artist to the museum director. My idea however, is not to write something similar to it lampooning the existing art scene in India, on the contrary I would like to delineate how the life patterns of the artists could be changed or re-arranged in order to ‘survive’ in this dwindling market for the contemporary art products. Lucky are those who get enough scholarships and travel grants to spend a better part of their lives abroad and most of them by the time the bursaries are exhausted must have found spouses or applied for emigration in the host countries. But everyone is not lucky in that way.
So one has to survive here, in this country and one has to negotiate the curves along the roads of survival. Some people might take objection to this word ‘survival’ because they think that an artist speaking of his or her survival is something below their dignity. One can do art, sell it and find a decent life. If one is not able to sell the works, he or she could do some other job and survive; with a high sense of discipline one could do his or her work even when working in a field that does not allow one to be a full time artist. There is nothing wrong in performing two different roles in a single life provided both the roles do not clash each other making the peace of mind fly out through the window. I am not talking anything new here. One has to live a dignified life and art need not be a reason for anyone to struggle materialistically. But the question then is do people need to do art at all even if they have studied art and claim a place in the field of art or in its market? Can’t one maintain an artistic mind and live a contended life without any conflict?
I believe that one can life a very satisfactory life without doing art; but with an artistic mind which would allow a person to see the world not only in ‘cubes and triangles’ but also in all the possible colors and shapes, in harmony with nature. For that one has to kill the desire to be an artist in him or her. It may sound a bit blasphemous for many people, especially when it is coming from an art critic. The killing of that desire has to be absolute and with the death of that desire one should give birth to a person who has an artistic outlook so that he or she could see anything and everything in the world through the eyes of an ‘artist’. I have seen people in slums keeping their one room living set up so clean, ordered and aesthetically appealing not because they want to be artists but because they have the sense of harmony that the artists generally have. In fact most of the people have this harmony in them but the problem is that all want to express it in some medium and to be hailed as an artist. During the boom years, so many people who have almost discarded art from their lives have come back with a desire to be ‘artists’ and make some money in the market. I had taken a lot of pain to explain to those people in their advanced ages that an artist is not suddenly sprouted from a dormant seed but a seed which has always seen the world through the eyes of a tree than a seed.
This decimation of desire virtually helps most of the aspiring artists to come to terms with their artistic self. An artist remains an artist only when he or she no longer feels the desire to show or brag. When there is art, it is like a stream taking birth at the cracks in the rocks of a mountainside. It cannot stay there; at places it will be a spring, at other places it will be a river, and at some places it disappears into the innards of the earth only to resurface elsewhere with huge force and become a Ganga or Jamuna till it finds its resting place in the sea (I am reminded of Ruskin Bond’s thoughts of a river here). An artist is like that. If he or she is a true artist, whether he or she does art every day or once in a while, it cannot stop until it is seen or found by many people. One has to have the optimism but conceptual artists perhaps do not believe in it. I should leave them aside and walk along my path. Those people who want to be perpetually troubled, as they enjoy the state of being troubled, cannot be forced out of trouble; they are afraid of being natural. That means, even if you have killed your desire to be an artist, if you are an artist truly, then you will leave everything behind and become one.
(Google CEO, Sundar Pichai)
Jiddu Krishnamurty was asked what would have happened to him if he was not found out by Leadbeater and Annie Beasant from the costal Andhra Pradesh; he said, I would have continued what I am doing today in that costal village but in a different way. Sundar Pichai, the Google CEO, in his recent visit to Delhi, while answering to a similar question told the college students that if he was not selected as the Google CEO, he would have done the same work, may be in Chennai or in some other part of the world. So it does not matter where you are and what you are; if you are an artist, you will remain an artist. But an artist need not necessarily make works and force it on people through exhibitions. One could be a good art lover and by that one could be a good human being and that is the need of the time. Coming back to the river analogy, I would like to say that most of the artists who find everything conflicting in their lives, is because they seek acknowledgement, recognition and material success through art. In that case art is a vehicle for them to satisfy their needs which are extraneous to art. I do not intend to say that art should not bring money for the artist. Art should definitely help the artist out if it is worthy enough to be sold as a covetable object in the market and there are takers for it.
(Yoko Ono, celebrity artist)
We need more artistic people who live (with) artistic ideas than artists who make works of art for the sake of exhibiting and making money. Once you have resolved this conflict and decide to live an artistic life then definitely things are going to get better not only for yourself but also for the world. Once you start living an artistic life, you immediately realize that what you have been desiring till date is no longer necessary even for your life. The moment you realize that you need not prove anything to anybody or your artistic worth to anybody, then all the efforts to please the galleries, curators, critics and so on become absolutely useless. You can go to your work and if you have a studio you can go there, sit there and work. As I already said, you need to find money to eke out a living. You cannot just starve yourself or your family. You need to work for your money. But then there are so many things that you can remove from your life slowly. The desire to have houses, many air conditioners, many cars, many clothes and everything in excess will slowly subside. One can live with minimum facilities. One need not drop their children to the bus stop by car or scooter only. Children can walk. One need not eat out. One need not shop for no reason.
(The Guitarist- Picasso)
You may say the world will become very boring if you start living like that. First of all, I am asking one to leave art and then every luxuries of life. But remember we are all not here to pay our debts. We are here to live too. From my personal experience I have learnt that one could live happily with everything minimum. The idea of enjoyment that we get through consumption, recognition, fame, money, many flats and apartments etc is a huge falsehood. There is no problem if you have many houses and many cars. But you will have to realize that you cannot live in all the houses at once. You cannot travel in two different cars at the same time. You can live in different houses at different times and travel in different cars at different times but life is not always tuned to enjoy things in that way. Life has been made easy by technology only thing is that we as human beings have misunderstood technology. We use technology to complicate our lives. Apps are made to make things convenient but it does not make someone to order breakfast, lunch, dinner all from outside. Smart phones are supposed to liberate human beings from the amount of ‘toiling’ time but people have become slaves to the very tool which has come as a tool of liberation.
Artists are not different from common human beings. They too have to understand this basic factor that nothing matters. Nobody has ever asked the brand of the suits that Picasso wore or the kind of vehicles that Vangogh travelled in. Nobody asked whether Da Vinci ate Pizza or he made his bread and soup all by himself. Nobody even care whether they people used to take bath every day. In that case what worldly glory are we looking for through our art? Nobody is going to miss us or our art. The best way is to let the art happen in us and that will help us to be artistic that artist like. As we approach the fag end of 2015, my humble suggestion is here that please do not force yourself to be an artist. Just let the art happen. It will flow like a river even if you are doing conceptual art. Till then live an artistic life and once you live that you don’t even feel like going out of your studio.