(Artist in his Studio by Vermeer)
Have you ever thought of a scenario that existed before the advent of private galleries in the field of art business? How the artists might have sold their works then? Private art galleries are a result of the proliferation of capital/wealth and the decentralisation of the wealthy. Till the early part of the 19th century wealth was concentrated in a few families or royal houses and they were automatically the patrons of art. Artists were identified, supported and promoted by regular collections and by giving them special social status. By the fruition of industrial revolution and modern technologies like telecommunication, rail, radio, post and the establishments of parallel business houses to supported the retailing of the centralized production plans/plants, it became inevitable for the wealth to flow into more hands that were not concentrated in one part of the city or the country. The global transmission of wealth and the global distribution of the wealthy necessitated a system where fine arts needed retailing outlets so that they could buy art without soiling their boots by getting down to the slush ridden alleys where the artists had set up their studios. The private gallery system or the art retailing system is comparatively a new phenomenon which over a period of time has taken a centre stage in the idea of art making by false claims.
These days, artists unquestioningly accept the dominance of the art galleries. They are not prepared to take certain radical steps to think that the galleries are just like retailing shops that by virtue of their exclusivity and posturing have made a special space for themselves in the art scene. The fundamental analysis would take us to the fact that without artists and the works of art, no gallery could survive. If we think backwards further, we would come to know that there was a time when the patrons used to meet the artists directly and pick up the works from their studios. That means, the artists and their works had some sort of exclusivity; the number of artists was less as the number of patrons were proportionately less. It had created an ideal situation for the artists who not only worked as artists but as designers, commission artists, carpenters, architects and even esoteric practitioners. As I mentioned before, when the technologies changed and the wealthy ones got distributed all over, they needed some retail shops; that’s why we see the framers and art material sellers becoming the pioneering gallerists in India and the tradition continues to be so in certain areas.
(for illustration only source net)
Now let’s think a bit more realistically (I mean materialistically). One could buy a handcrafted bangle or a necklace from a high end showroom in an airport or a mall, or one could buy the same piece from an emporium in a city centre, or one could go to a crafts mela and get it. If none of the above is available one could visit the crafts people’s or the artisans’ village and get it. Which one would you deem as the best buying? While you would like to flaunt the fact that you got your bangles from the showroom in Delhi’s swanky T-3 terminal, you would also boast the fact that you got it from so and so village in Uttarkhand. Very few people talk about they got their bangles from a mela or from a mall. While the former and the latter carry some prestige of buying the middle ones do not carry that much pride. It is applicable in the case of art buying. People proudly display a latest acquisition, a painting or a sculpture and tell the guests that they got it either from a high end gallery in the city or from the artist’s studio directly. If they have bought it from the artist directly, they would come up with a few words of praising about the artist’s nature (so cool/so grand/so nice/so hep/so casual/so philosophical), his works (what a work/he is a colourist/watch out for him/he is going to go to places) or his studio (I love the ambience of the studio/you could see the whole city from there/he could make a huge one but he is so humble that he made a modest one/it is lake face/ it is hill face/you get wonderful air from the hills/it’s a bliss sitting there).
When the gallerist enters between the artist and buyer/collector (not the investor) all these social niceties die down. Here is a gallerist and here is a buyer. Everything is clinically discussed between them; all monetary issues including the tax, tax exemption, how much in cash, how much in cheque etc etc, and the deal is done. By the time the work of art reaches the house of the buyer, not only the buyer is tired of all the deals but also the work of art which has by then reduced to mere commodity of exchange. Now, it is time for me to clarify my stance on this. I am not against the galleries that sell works of art. Their job is to do that. What I am talking about is the experience of having a work of art in your collection not via gallery but via going out and collecting it all by yourself either from the artist’s studio or from whichever place the artists display it without the mediation of a gallery. Why don’t you bargain with the artists directly? Now, there are several artists who are extremely averse to such kind of bargain. You need to reach that level so that you could just quote the price and relax. None is going to bargain with you. To reach that level you should have your own strategies and independence from the galleries.
(Will have more relevance in future)
To do that all the young professional artists and all those young artists who want to live a professional artist’s life should think in the following lines or answer a few questions that I am going to pose. What makes you create a work of art? What do you expect out of it? What are your life expectations? Where do you want to go from here? How do you envision your future? Very simple questions with simple answers but people complicate the answers and mess up with their lives and works. Let me start answering them myself if I were a professional artist (and young too!). I make a work of art because I do not know anything else; all my being is tuned to make a work of art, that’s all. I want people to see it, appreciate it, talk about it and of course it should give me some money in return as I do not do anything else in my life to earn a living. My expectations are very simple; I want to live a dignified life. I do not go anywhere from here; I want my art to take me wherever it is capable of taking me otherwise I am happy wherever I am. My future is to make more art and I want more people to appreciate me and I want to be in perfect happiness.
Ohhhh....you say. I can see the curiosity, disbelief and sarcasm on your face. Such an angel, you say. No dear friend, you could answer in the same lines provided if you could limit your desires and expectations. Now let me answer like a young contemporary artist: I make art because I want to experiment with the visual language that I have been taught in the prestigious institution where I studied art (lie. I want to make money). Whether people see it or not, I want to engage with a critical mass (lie. I want to exhibit, people to see it and people to buy it). I want to have a great state of the art studio, good living conditions and a decent life (I want more money). I want to go to Europe or America for a couple of years to get exposed to various ways of making art (I am fed up with this country and I want to go elsewhere, wash dish and make some money). I would like to establish as an international artist and want to do socially engaging political art (I want to be famous, fashionable and art or no art I should be known internationally by hook or crook).
(an artist's studio, source net)
Now let’s see the common denomination factor in all these answers; while the former one demands moderation in everything the latter one is talking all about material success and fame in different terms. While the former would remain happy with limited expectations the latter would remain troubled and would make everyone around him/her troubled for they make their art from troubles of the world. I want to ask my young artist friends to think about it deeply. For example, if you are having an exhibition in a public gallery, say in Jehangir, Mumbai or LKA, Dehli. Your works are exceptional. But you do not want to beg and plead before a gallerist. So you have put up your own show. Now as they are exceptional works, people come to see your works (by word of mouth publicity) and they would appreciate you and ask for the price (some of them would do that). It is the greatest opportunity before you! You have two options; one, say a four by three costs Rs.3 lakhs or two, quote Rs.60,000/- (sixty thousand). Someone is ready to pay you fifty thousand for it. You say, no or yes. It is up to you. If you say no, he goes away. If you say yes, he buys it. And he would follow you, a relationship is built. He would become your regular collector. He would like to see whatever you do before anybody does. When it is known to the world that he is an exclusive collector, the whole world wants to collect you. Now, it is time for you to say yes or no to that.
I have seen many artists crying that they are not getting galleries to support them. No gallery is going to support them. Our galleries have become upper class, upper caste and upper whatever establishments. They are catering to the English speaking, English breathing and English thinking crowd. They are the Macaulay’s children. They do not want artists who speak in regional languages. They do not want provincial aesthetics. But here is a way to counter them. Follow my words carefully now: Artists could support each other. When five young artists come together, they could make group shows in public galleries and use the social media to gain attention. Then, four of them could support the fifth one to have a solo show. It could continue. Remember, pricing is the key. When your works are not available with retailers, people will come to you directly. There are machine cut ornaments and hand crafted ones. People who love handcrafted ones would go to the one who makes ornaments with hands, wouldn’t they? Believe that you are exclusive and your works cannot be retailed by anybody. When you do that, the galleries are going to come to you because they are simply business people and they would smell money and come to you. But to do this you need tremendous amount of talent, self discipline and simplicity.
(Raghunath Das, artist from Raghurajpur, Orissa)
Let me close this essay by citing a wonderful example from Raghurajpur, the artists’ village in Orissa. Here I came to know about so many young artists who continue the tradition of their families of making pat chitras, scroll paintings, palm leaf painting etc. They make intricate paintings in various materials of which the palm leaf paintings done with iron stylus and ink (a sort of direct etching) are fantastic ones. Patrons and dealers as well come here often and buy it from the artists. Most of the young artists are married and their brides also do some crafts. The boys are happy and move around the village on foot and at times on their bikes. They are worldly wise and they speak in English to deal with the foreigners. I met this artist, Raghunath Das who does palm leaf paintings mainly episodes from Bhagavat Purana, Ramayana and the legends of Jagannatha of Puri. He showed me some of his works and I was fascinated. I asked the price of those works of art and he told me that it depends on the number of days he spent on making each one of them. Das said, “If I spend a month on making this work, I may charge Rs.30,000/-. Depending on the number of days I spend, I charge. Some works are sold for Rs.5000/- even.” Das knows that there are dealers who collect works from him and make double or triple amount from the cities. “So what? That’s their job. I charge for my work. I am satisfied with that. I am not feeling cheated or betrayed. I make good money and I am happy here.” At Raghurajpur, Raghunath Das lives in a traditional house as anybody else here. They do not live a cut off life. All of them have got high end smart phones. All of them have ultra modern motor bikes. They wear jeans and T-shirts. But they do not have one thing that the contemporary artists have in abundance: GREED. If you could cut down on that, you could get the buyers to your studios and have dignified life as artists.