There is an old saying in India… “an artist can change society..” and like many old sayings it’s not applicable in this twisted world of today!! For an artist, poet, et al to do so, they must come up from cream of the society.. V.S. Naipaul said somewhere, since most of the bright and talented are driven these days to opt for other lucrative career, less and less talented are into writing, paintings…etc. and thus we see a drastic fall in the standard of thinkers, poets, artists, musicians, intellectuals… most are of poor intellectual level and without talent. This trend is more defined in the last 20 odd years. Back in school I remember when we had to choose in Senior Secondary School (Class/Standard 11 & 12) after completion of Secondary School (Class 10) I was the only one among boys to take up Arts (Humanities) rest in my group were all forced, as their grades/marks were too low!! All the “bright ones” en mass joined the other two branches: Science and Commerce… the top graders went to Science the next best took up Commerce.. and the rest, the rejects, the dumps, the stupids.. had no choice but to take up Humanities or leave studies!! In art college, which one could joined only after the completion of 2 year of Senior Secondary(+2) many boys came via a stint or struggle of few years in Science/Engineering/Commerce colleges etc. Only exception were the girls.. they all came straight from school as Indian parents consider painting as the ideal hobby-course for their daughters!! It raises the bar for them, later in ‘arrange marriage market’!! In the case of boys it was a disaster to be in an art college!! A common joke in our art college days:

One mother to another:

“What does your son do?”

“He is painting …artist.”

“OK, but what does he do?”

Painting, sculpture, pottery etc was only for girls as it enhances their charm in the arrange marriage!! I am sure things haven’t changed much since.

An artist can change society etc. only when he has come up the right way.. through his talent and hard work.. an artist who is weak, corrupt, one who is here only for the lure of money can hardly do anything worthwhile.. as a child my father would constantly say: “Only the best should be in fine arts, there is no place for the second best in art… you are either an artist or not at all.. you can not be a ‘bad artist’.. it’s a misnomer!!”

Now, like the other old saying it’s not so, the art world is a crowded place… all and sundry can be artist!! The right connection, the right look, ability to speak English and you can be one!! Your ability to draw or paint is of no consequence!!

 Artist community driven only by the lure of money has created a strange kind of breed. Let me illustrated the point with some real life anecdotes.

One of my aritsts’ friend’s father also an artist, in his younger days had gone to Kathmandu, Nepal for a show with his fellow artists… the show was a dismal failure in terms of turn out and sale, as was the case with most art shows during 60s, 70s. At the end of the show they sat looking at the ‘streatched canvases’ and wondering how would they take it all back etc. Having exhausted all money in putting up the show in a far away land.. Some hanger-ons and passerby suggested “Why don’t you leave it here?”

The group of young artists decided to burn their works in a huge mass fire and came home empty hand…

Now let me give you today’s scenario: one of my buyers from Bombay, who I feel is a bit of a connoisseur tells me this:

“Roy, tell me what’s wrong with you guys?”

“You know I love to browse paintings etc after my office and many a time after office love go to Jehangir art gallery but if it happens to be the last day of a show and closing time… then I had it!! Artists exhibiting would follow me out and beg on bended knees:

“Please sir, please pick up any work.. price no issue.. its our last day etc.!!”

“Please sir, we don’t have money to take them back!!”

As I heard this my face burned with shame and I wanted to disappear..

There is an old-old distant aunt living in Italy… once a contemporary of M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, Biren De etc. fairly successful artist of 50s, 60s.. then she like many migrated to Europe, and she is very honest about it… “Animesh all these artists who are now big in India, all drove away to the West for money. India in the 50s, 60s, 70s was a tough place for artists with a very bleak future.. One could only at best get a school teacher’s job… so don’t believe all these romantic bullshit about being driven by desire to see Cezanne and to study European art, it is a cover up.. all were looking for a way to be able to sell, survive on their work.. and what better place than the West in those times..” Many got married there and settled down..and many more managed various scholarships to prolong their stay…once there, their artistic stature too raised back home..’Indian artist in Paris’ had charming effects on Indian collectors…

Now this aunt few years back was planning an exhibition in Delhi and asked me to take her around some galleries to catch up the trends and to see gallery space etc. We go into a public gallery with a show going on, she looks at the works hanging on the wall, the artists is present, rushes with his price list. My aunt asks the young man some questions about his works, prices and gives her good wishes and we leave. As we do so, the artists has followed us out and confronts us with:

“Madam how much you want to pay?”

Once my old aunt, in the 60s was exhibiting in Bombay and a very well know starlet had dropped in.. I don’t remember the details, but she threw out the film star on a minor issue:

“Miss, please get out!! This is no film-set of yours..its an art gallery!!” etc.

That was then and this is now.. as I see innumerable snapshots of todays’ artists getting their show “inaugurated” by nondescript actors, TV anchors, models.. I just cringe in shame!! Do we really need them to enhance our work?!

According to an aspiring artist, I meet some time back, we do. I was planning a show in the capital after a 10 year hiatus!! Someone suggested I speak to this young artist, well versed and up-to-date with present day scenario!

Called him up and he replies like a pro:

“Look dude, this is long-term.”

“Yes I agree, ” my reply.

“See I am doing it very methodically…”

“Sure that’s the way to do it.. long रिअज़, लगन,  practise, साधना.. as our Gurus, our उस्तादs would say…” I added my bit.

There was long silence at the other end and then the young upstart says:

“Look I have been going through ‘Page 3’ of all English Dailies and making cuttings.. and now, I know fairly well ‘who’s who of art’ and what to do.. I advise you start your research too.”

He sounded dead serious !!

As I reached my venue to put up my works on the D-day..the artist whose show had just finished, was winding up.. he was in high spirits. He had managed to sell most of his works, wares.. No, he wasn’t from any recognisable art schools.. he had put his show with his equally enterprising wife, a broad spectrum of works, paintings – acrylic on canvas depicting Ganesha (Diwali was right down the corner), and portraits of a grotesque looking man he proudly said, “Buddha is very popular now.. more than Ganeshas!!”, sculptures, pottery and a huge eagle in plaster of Paris!! His show looked like an Indian Government school art room!!

“So who is inaugurating your show?” he asked, as he started to pack the huge plaster eagle…

“No one in particular.. actually no opening ceremony… just some of my friends are coming etc..” I mumbled at him.

“No-no-no-no.. you have to call some celebrity, then you see you get mentioned on Page 3 etc.,”  was his shocked response.

He looked at me as if I was suicidal!!

My show was a quite affair and most disappointed were the gatekeepers of the gallery:

“किया साहब, आप भी… ”

“किसी Mandira Bedi को बुलाते, दीखते कितने काम आपके बिक जाते!!”

(What Sahib, why didn’t you call some starlet? All your paintings would have sold!!”)

He obviously did not mention his chance at ogling at some skimpily clad starlet.

He was right, I didn’t attract much crowd during the show and sold even less!! During the show one of my old gallery owner from a well know gallery came to cheer me up… while with me at the gallery he was busy talking most of the time on his mobile: “Yes, yes, lots of Page 3 people are coming (and he parroted off a list of ‘VIP of Page 3’ from Delhi)….”

He was in the processing of organising an art exhibition, à la India style!!

You can view my works here..