Sunday, November 5, 2017

What’s Sophisticated International Art for Indian Artists? Conflict of Methods and Materials

Several young artist friends ask me one interesting question. They come in different articulations but all of them express the same thing: Why Indian artists are not able to create finest of installations and extremely innovative works of art using unconventional works exactly the way the European and American artists do? There is always a second part to this question even if they don’t ask it, hence let me articulate it on behalf of them: Like them we too live in a globalized world, but we still lag a lot behind in the finesse of aesthetics, why is it so? One of the artists mentioned that perhaps India is still a ‘developing’ country hence we may need to wait till India turns fully ‘developed’. Here is a third question then: Consider India sooner than later becomes a developed country exactly and externally the way the European and American states look. Would we be able to make the kind of art that they are doing today? These questions are to be answered for dispelling the pall of inferiority complex that shadows the abilities of the Indian artists.

First of all we have to accept the fact that those people who suffer from this kind of self doubt and a sense of inferiority or wonder do so mainly because they consider the global/globalized experience as the ultimate equalling measurement and the kind of art that they practice is the ultimate form of sophisticated art. The primary need is the removal of this ceiling and this benchmark. Indian artists should re-think their approach towards the global art as if they were approaching a sort of aesthetical benchmark. Art of a country need not necessarily be standing in comparison with the art of any other country for the simple reason that the art, culture, language, food, social attitude, politics and so on are fundamentally different in each country despite the fact that they all are connected to the world economy in many ways similar. Even if the pattern of cultural consumption has become apparently similar (but not the same), the cultural production is not mutual reflective. The very global/globalized experience itself could differ drastically depending on the intellectual, physical, spiritual and materialistic conditions prevailing in one place. Now, finally, consider, any country becomes ‘developed’ according the Euro-American standards, still it wouldn’t be able to produce a so called global art except emulating the existing mainstream cultural or aesthetical trends.

Globalization or globalized experience of anything is a primarily a market ploy; a political-industrial-commercial nexus that works towards amassing profit by slightly enhancing the spending power of the people all over the world while making sure that this enhanced spending power mainly flows towards one direction, from individual pockets to the profiteers’ coffers. Globalization divides the society into three watertight compartments as it used to be in the feudal times; the upper class, the middle class and the lower class. The hierarchical relationship between these three classes is defined only by the market forces. While the global forces try to create a unified sensibility of the culture of consumption, most of the people in the world believe that they are invited to take part in the benefits of the global capitalism. Without realizing that the global capitalism’s main effort is to prepare the upper class to set the mood, the middle class to consume this mood and dispossess the lower class. The illusion created by the global capitalism always shows a refracting and distorting prism/mirror at the lower class making them believe that it is possible them to transcend the class and enter into the middle class by putting in a lot of human energy and labour in order to uphold the structures of globalization. This downward inculcation of aspiration is illusionary because the globalizing forces only care for the skilled middle class whose labour could be sucked up against a salary and the same salary could be re-directed to support the global capital and profit making. As the lower class is lower class by virtue of their lack of skill, all the unskilled and socially useless people, means people who do unproductive labour would be pushed further down almost into the vicinities of being ‘outclasses’ (another word for being absolutely dispossessed).

 The global cultural diversity is an antithesis to global capitalist uniformity. A unified global economic engine would never like to have culturally diversified societies. It would always like to have the kind of aesthetic desired by the artists from all over the world. Today, we see the Euro-American aesthetical establishments compete with each other to produce the ‘best’ possible global art and establish it as ‘the’ global art through various global art fairs, biennales and blockbuster shows. All these platforms are funded by the global capital leaders (in India you could see Skoda, Absolut, BMW and many such global brands investing in or promoting art and the kind of art comes to these platforms is always the art with a ‘global’ tag). It is logical and commonsensical to ask whether all the works of art produced by the artists from all over the world would get the same patronage from the global capital leaders or corporate establishments. Never, is the answer. These companies and patrons produce a global feel good factor about the art that are universally addressed and in turn address the universally identified issues and subjects. Whether it is Syrian Refugee Crisis, the debate over global terrorism, environmental issues and so on, all the globally discussed issues are addressed in the global art. This is an interesting change in the present time; even artists from the South East Asian regions who are not directly affected by any of these issues, share these ‘global’ issues in their works. That is not a wrong thing to happen. Here, in this process artists get universalised in their approach and addressing, but it kills the provincial and regional nature of art, almost erasing the provincial and regional issues unworthy of being addressed by (global) art.

The irony is that any kind of crisis addressed by the so called ‘global’ artists gets reduced into a sort of abstraction in discourse, which takes the aesthetical object not as an end of the artistic effort but as a reason to deal with another set of issues including global capital, global cultural and museum discourse, all meant to enhance the global economic moves. An artist who works from Kochi and addressing the Syrian Refugee crisis is soon sucked into this discourse and is slowly forced to do what is global in art but never what is art in the artist. Many a artist is forced to make a self positioning as a global artist while their efforts themselves ease them out of the provincial/regional responsibilities as artists who could also have addressed the very local issues. In this situation, two kinds of artists come into the aesthetical discourse of any country; artists who do art and artists who do global art. And we do not need heightened imagination to understand that prominence and recognition would always go to the artists who do the global art. These artists immediately find patronage within and without the country, sharing the same parlance, interest and targets. Today’s gallery circuits shamelessly accept these global networking efforts. The rest of the artists do not find immediate patronage mainly because their art are regional and the issues that they deal with are concrete and needs footnotes to understand. That means, the contemporary art that does not address the global issues remain regional contemporary art not the global contemporary art. To make matters worse, the regional contemporary artists are often seen as artists ridden still by existential angst. A global artist celebrates his existence without any prick of conscience (though his or her art is all about guilt and prick of conscience on behalf of the human race!) while the regional contemporary artist is in his/her perennial existential angst and is in the pursuit of finding individual solutions to the problems without the help of global economics.

The idea of sophistication of materials comes out at this juncture. Most of the global contemporary artists use very sophisticated materials including computer technology; many of the materials are even unheard of in the regions, even if they are heard of they are phenomenally expensive and no regional contemporary artists could afford to make work in art. Anybody who uses sophisticated materials could create very sophisticated looking art. Anybody uses conventional materials could create art look like absolutely old! That is the irony that rules the art world today. But I have another point to make here. Any artist who chooses his/her material with a reason; this reason could be lack of availability of financial means to get another medium. Or even if there is no lack or dearth of means, the choice is deliberate and therefore political. To put it in other words, choice of a medium underlines the stance of the artist. An artist chooses the medium with a particular purpose. When the creation of a work of art is no longer an innocent act to flaunt the individual creative dexterity of a person with an artistic bend of mind, the very making of art is the declaration of a particular stance on art, life and society, including politics. When an artist decides to make a work of art with clay or a piece of gold, he/she makes a stance on a series of socio-cultural and political values. This choice is decided by the circuit in which he is a part besides him being a part of the middle or upper class.

To sum up the arguments in this essay, I would say that an artist who for the sake of producing sophisticated art, pursuing sophisticated materials which are used liberally by the so called ‘global artists’ need not necessarily be making a global art because it all depends on what kind of an issue that is being addressed in the art. While at times the mode of art making would set up hither to unheard of fashions, one cannot pursue newer modes more than a body of works for the fear of being repetitive or the mode itself becoming stale by over use (examples are many before us). At times, the subject itself could elevate the artist and the newness of execution to the global scenario even if the materials used are crude and unsophisticated. Most of the artists become global by making extremely bold stance (like Ai Weiwei or Anish Kapoor) on issues. Some artists become global only because they are addressing global issues from the regions and they are sucked in by the global economic circuits maintained by the galleries. The desperate ones go after unconventional materials to create art; but sooner than later, in art the unconventional materials are going to become conventional. Global art is a capitalist ploy and it cannot stand without the support of the global capital. Even if the art produced within this stream are politically powerful, eventually by co-optation they are going to lose their cutting edge in the long run. Doing art with local materials can become a powerful tool to create global art because the regions are what holding the global discourse possible. African artists produce powerful contemporary works using locally available materials, addressing local issues and forms, but they become global artists. Global art, as we understand today is the fashion trends created in Paris and other parts of the world. They are just seasonal and become obsolete in three hundred and sixty five days; among them the lucky ones would make a re-appearance at regular intervals with minor changes here and there. But art is not supposed to be like that. Art has to hold up the eco-human values; art’s global nature should be measured by the amount of humanity and nature gone into its philosophy. While I stand for innovative and sophisticated art from the regions, I do not discount the fact that the conventional art is capable of creating a more powerful aesthetic discourse in the global platforms primarily addressing the regional and provincial issues. Perhaps, only such art would stand the test of the time as the rest would change according to seasons and the introduction of new materials and technology.   

(All images from net and sourced after Venice Biennale. For representational purpose only) 


John De Klerk said...

You have art-iculated the quandary exactly. Follow the money trail or be yourself and produce art that authentically expresses where you find yourself geographically, spiritually and culturally.

Shantinath Patra said...

Sir.....I am avaid reader of your this article, you wrote that when an artist choose his/ her materials deliberately, it becomes political......could you please explain it elaborately.....why it is political?