Yesterday’s article that had used the India Art Fair 2017 as a premise to establish certain personal views on art seems to have evoked a lot of interest among my friends and readers and it is quite heartening to see that at least some of them took the pains to key in their views in my social networking page very late at night. In the morning I could see all of them and I thought of writing a small rejoinder in order to clarify certain points where the readers seem to have got into a mild conflict with my ideas. I always appreciate the oppositional views but here the contentious views are generated on/by the idea of art ‘market/baazar’. Nowhere in the article, I speak of the India Art Fair as mere market exercise, nor do I ever make a statement against the art market. What I say is this that as an individual I am no longer able to see works of art in a fair due to their excessiveness and a difference ambience and dynamics. What I insist perhaps ‘innocently’, as one friend puts it is my intention to look at a work of art in isolation and in silence. I know it for sure that India Art Fair or any other fair or biennale is not the place for such isolated contemplation. Hence, it is foolish to talk ‘against’ such venues. My article was not about India Art Fair nor was it against it. It was simply about how and what I want to see in the name of art.
Many people in the art scene, because of their two dimensional thinking, take those people who talk about isolated contemplation of/on art (for I am not the first one to talk about it) as anti-market crusaders with no grounding on economic realities. What I could tell them is only this much: please do come out of those ivory towers, where they sit and fan this individual ego of being art entrepreneurs and impresarios for the rest of the world too knows the importance of economics and none in their right ‘senses’ would ever talk against the fundamental economics but of course they would talk against the ways in which human sensibilities (not labour alone) used/misused for creating wealth and profit, and more importantly hoarding it in excessive quantities, preventing its redistribution among a larger constituency so that that unto the last could be benefitted. They could also talk about the making of alternative economies and avenues for redistribution of wealth; and mind you, they are not against market. So long as they live in this world and buy a matchbox from the corner shop, they are already in the economic structure. One need not buy a BMW car or a bottle of Absolut or a Subodh Gupta work for entering into the market economy.
Many years before Indian art market got the present shape, artists themselves have come together to support themselves and make sustainable art mainly finding their own patrons and establishing a slow market initially and later developing into a larger network. In any artists’ group in India, right from the Progressives to the latest Kalakar in Kerala or KIPF in Kolkata, one could see how the artists have first of all tried to make ideological compactness and later financial sustainability. It is generally said that artists are dreamers and they are not grounded on economic realities. It is not so. While they are drunken by their creativity, they are absolutely sober when it comes to the dealings with the works of art. When there was no art market in India, artists knew how to overcome that situation. Through the creation of supporting structures, they not only established their foundational philosophy but also created works of art based on that philosophy. Cholamandal Artists Village established under the leadership of K.C.S.Panicker was the best example. Such groups and co-operatives would eventually degenerate or disperse due to its own historical as well as economic contradictions and contesting dynamics from within. The simple point is this that artists could survive through their own devices and it is still happening despite their non-inclusion in the mainstream markets. But what they oppose is the hegemony of the dominant market which either cancels out the existing alternative markets or condemns such economic and philosophical activities.
In the essay ‘Ventriloquous Evil’ Jean Baudrillard defines ‘hegemony’ and ‘dominance’. He says that dominance stands in relationship with its opposition and hegemony is the absolute status of being on the top with no challenges at all. In that case the India Art Fair and the Biennales all over the world enjoy hegemony because they are unchallenged either by the constituents (artists and art works) or by the other art fairs or biennales. What we see in India is the constant creation of the enslaved so that the hegemonic market despite its unchallenged position could create some artificial challenges so that they dominate those challenges too. When the dominant art market speaks about the oppositions (imagined or real) by those artists or works of art those are included it enjoys tremendous amount of power and pleasure. Ironically, many artists who are excluded from the art markets and art fairs also define their existence vis –a vis the domination and hegemony of the market. For example the ‘Stuckists’ in Britain; their existence is defined by their oppositional stance against the then YBA movement. They too know that their art philosophy cannot be furthered in the same vein if their opposition to the hegemonic British art ceases to exist. But I am not talking about such reactionary stances. I am talking about different economic layers and transactions where the profit is distributed in certain ways. However, there too one finds the problem of isolated contemplation.
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In the market, there is a curious mixture of philosophy and economics, while the market forces constantly deny the fact that both philosophic and economics are autonomous philosophical disciplines and they function separately and in harmony with each other in the given time and space. This causes a lot of confusion about artistic stance that the excluded artists would like to take or maintain. While they could survive without entering into these economic zones, they confuse themselves by looking at the philosophical stance of these art markets; each work is a masterpiece of humanitarian love, it is for the suffering people all over the world, it is for the deprived ones, it is about the social anxieties, it is about pure philosophy of love, it is about environment, it is about goodness of life, it is about the good things in life, it is about everything that is positive. Hence, if someone speaks against such a fair would be ill treated for sure. This philosophical supremacy confuses the excluded ones and they are forced to say that this platform is wonderful one because it shows a lot of good art. If these are good art, and if you too are doing good art and you are excluded, then which goodness are you talking about? Your good art or their good art? In such a state of mind, most of the artists go back and remain crestfallen forever. They turn bitter and negative; and that’s one thing that prevents them from having a cosmopolitan outlook; not because they do not want it but because they are denied to have it. ‘My philosophy is better than your philosophy.’ ‘My English is better than your English’. ‘My education is better than your education.’ ‘My art is better than your art.’ THOUGH ALL OF US ARE TALKING ABOUT THE SAME PHILOSOPHY.
I cannot do anything with it. I do not want to act in tandem or against this situation. I just want to pull myself out and see works of art in isolation. I want to see a work of art without a footnote. I want to see a work of art without knowing much about the artist. The work of art should lead me to the artist. An artist who is trained in Goldsmiths College or BK College does not make any difference to me. I want to see the work. See the passion that has gone in to the lines. I want to see the emotions and love that has gone into the colours. Want to see the spontaneity of the work. The blooming of the inner core. I want to see the stitha pragnya (stability of consciousness) of the artist. I want to see an artist not wavered by money or the latest things. I want art to open a door not to the outer worlds that I know but to the inner worlds full of wonder that I have been not privy to. Such a work of art can be seen only in proximity, away from crowds, in isolation, in solitude, in silence, in deep contemplation either on a wall (or any platform) or in my mind. I should remain intoxicated with art. Fairs fail to do that.