Recently a young artist friend asked me why artists who start off as radicals slowly become a part of the establishment. It was not for the first time that I was confronting such a question nor was the phenomenon entirely new for me. I have seen so many artist friends becoming the part of the socio-political and economic system through their cultural agency. They fail to understand that system/society is something that always goes with the power centres. When it operates hands in glove with the power centres it cannot be radical. But the only question that remains is what is radical or how to be radical. I would say anything that operates from outside the norms of the society is radical and to be one, one has to simply operate from outside the system. That does not mean the ones who are radical are basically anarchists nor do they propagate anti-social stance in the society. They are like the gypsies who make war against the system from the fringes not with the hope that one day they would overthrow it but with the simply aim to keep it destabilize so that it would not become authoritarian.
To be a radical is a difficult proposition these days because we live in a society where Socialism, Communism, Marxism, Maoism and such erstwhile radical ‘isms’ are either contained via using coercive tactics including military force and societal perks. We also live in such societies that misinterpret such ‘isms’ as alien ideologies that works against the basic idea of capitalist property/prosperity therefore it becomes pertinent for them to oppose all these ideologies. Taking off from a fair amount of ignorance about social systems, ideologies that drive them and also the counter ideologies that aspire for common good even of the last man in the remotest area of the earth, the members of the mainstream society think that those people who sport a beard or even coming from certain geographical areas naturally are Socialists or Communists. They just do not understand the history of Socialism in India and also they fail to understand the fact that socialism was the ideological basis of the Congress that ruled the country for almost half a century. With globalization, the mainstream societies have almost decided that anything that appears to be slightly deviating from the main tracks used by the social engine, are radical therefore they should be shot down.
(Problem Area: Artists too aspire for this life)
Calling names is the easiest way to shoot down the radicals and rebels, a tribe of people which moving fast towards extinction. However, I feel that their tribe will not die out so fast without giving some sleepless nights for the power centres because even if in a very limited and almost negligible proportion youngsters are coming to join this tribe of radicals. But again the question comes back why after a certain stage they become a part of the mainstream society and almost become happy to be the cogwheels of the engine of power that leads the society towards the so called development. It happens mainly because as Ramachandra Guha points out, our writers are part of the power centres or they aspire to be so. How does it happen, we need to ask again and again. The answer to this question comes from a simple understanding of the idea of success. Those people in any profession or working in field of life attach the idea of success with materialistic gains, financial opulence, social presence and the resultant power. Unfortunate it is that even the artists themselves attach the idea of success to these markers making themselves no different from property dealers, land developers, corrupt officers, engineers, doctors and other well paid professionals who work for both the public and private establishments.
When success quotient and success parameters are one and the same for both the artists and other people where exactly one would place the difference? An artist who aspires for a high end apartment through the selling of his/her works then becomes fundamentally no different from an IT Professional who aspires for the same using his salary and perks. If everyone is seeing success as the same thing then whatever one does would not make any qualitative difference. How some of the musicians and writers or even visual artists who could keep themselves off from this trap and still remain radicals is an interesting aspect to probe. They could be detached from this idea of success while enjoying all the fruits of it only because they do not attach their success to the ideas, ideals and ideology of the people who consume their creative products. They are not swayed by their patrons, in short. They are neither influenced by the patron’s ideas in their creativity nor do they succumb to the pressures of the state to create something to its wish, that means against the wishes of the creative people. To gain this position one needs to be extremely firm in their creative life and should slightly shift the focus off the idea of success and redefine it considerably.
(Fidel and Ali- Eternal Radicals)
I would never say that an artist should live in penury and struggle forever in abject conditions only because he/she happened to be an artist and a radical at the same time. I would never say that. I am emphatic on this because personally, being a creative artist, I do not want to live in penury or struggle. I do not thing that my creativity comes from my personal struggles. On the contrary I believe that my creative faculties would find new firmaments to fly if I keep the parameters of my success away from the financial gains or the social acceptance I get through my creative works. The onus is now both on the artist and the patron. As far as consumption of creative works is concerned a patron is all the more important. A patron by virtue of his financial freedom is always a person who stands closer to the power centres, which could be coarse or refined, but yet keeping his sensibilities much refined and sophisticated. For various reasons, the patron should have his closeness to the power centres and he would always create situations to perpetuate this idea of power in currency. But at the same time, thanks to his refined sensibilities, he would be interested to see and possess creative works that goes fundamentally against his own ideologies. A patron always is an affective radical. He buys the radical best and become a part of the different thinking, while keeping his fundamental believe in the system intact.
Here the artists could lose their track. The patron will be very good to an artist because what he buys is not the art alone from the artist, but his sense of radicalism also. His sense difference is what makes his art more alluring for the patron. It is a weapon so powerful to sharpen the aggressive sensibilities of the patron in the larger arenas of his own exposure in terms of business and profit making. Having the possession of the radical culture in his own vaults and walls is more important than running an art college or college for ‘producing’ culture. But the moment the artists who are patronised by this patron start believe in his ideologies, his attachments, his life style, his parameters of success and so on, the artists would slowly lose their sense of radicalism therefore freedom. Artists need patrons, but artists should believe in their patron’s life style or ideology for the simple reason that the patron himself does not believe in the ideologies and radicalism practiced by the artists. What he looks for is the emblematic radicalism as expressed in the works of art created by the artists. What happened to our artists is that by replicating the life styles of the patrons they lost the edge of their radicalism and lost the track of their art. They ceased to be humanitarians and environmentalists. They became gatherers of wealth the way their patrons are and became identity mongers by taking memberships in the high societies.
(Poet Kumaran Asan by Shibu Natesan- Stand Alone)
One thing has to be remembered at this stage. A patron’s job and an artist’s job are two different things. Their lives are two different things; they cannot meet. Any meeting forcefully forged would be temporary because the patrons are the part of the power(ful) systems and the artists basically the people who operate from outside such systems. The moment artists become a part of that system, the patrons slowly lose the interest in them and they would look for other fresher artists and if at all they would wine and dine with the successful artists in parties and other avenues it would be just as to hold them as trophy creative people whom they have won over to their side simply using power of money. Most of the artists today are the people who have gone astray in the case of their relationship with the patrons. In their efforts to replicate their patrons’ lives they have lost their own lives and identities. They have become artists who make art not any more art of the universe that could make people go weak on their knees and shed tears of joy.
Once again I need to emphasise that the artists who want to be remain radicals should not replicate the life styles of their patrons provided they want to be a part of the system by lobbying for Padma awards, Rajya Sabha memberships and so on. If patrons are ready to buy the works of the artists, they should take the money, give the work and live a life of their own. Most of the artists in their efforts to replicate the lives of the upper class and that of the patrons have lost their souls and sense of being artists completely. Today they have also become status quoists with easily hurting egos. An artist would be noticed, noted and made eternal in the history only when it is proved beyond doubt that he or she stayed away from the system and lived a life of difference and created a life of their own. Artists are those people who make art for themselves and also for the universe, for animals and plants too. They are not the people who make art for patrons. Patrons are the people who seek art and difference. Let patrons live their lives and let the artists live their lives without mixing up the idea of success in pure materialistic terms. On that day our art scene once again would become more interesting and flourishing than it is today.