As I near complete 91 years of age, it is perhaps difficult, if not presumptous for me to guess or predict what would be happening in the coming year. Predictions about art do not, all too often, come to be true. Imagination, artistic imagination in all ages and times remains unpredictable; that unpredictability adds to its charm and excitement. But having lived for six decades in France, I can say with a degree of confidence that Indian painting today is, globally speaking, one of the most vital forms of artistic expression.
S H Raza: One of India’s best known contemporary artists, the author co-founded of the Progressive Artists’ Group in 1947. Vistaar, his latest show, is on at Mumbai’s Art Musings Gallery till January 10
International recognition of this reality has been coming belatedly but finally it has come. Secondly, the Indian scene is full of plurality – of visions and idioms, of styles and innovations, of plastic values and formal research. Happily, one cannot reduce or simplify this rich and enriching plurality into any neat trend or movement. There are contradictions and tensions, disruptions and dissonances but, again happily, there are creative anxieties, imaginative darings and new discoveries. All in visual languages that are sometimes rooted in tradition, including the modern tradition itself, and, at other times, seriously questioning such roots! There are, like in a living and growing family, quarrels and disputes, arguments and contestations. But in the end all these together make the art scene lively, dynamic and pulsate with creative energy. The young, nowadays, do not have to struggle as hard as the young talents had to in our youth. Today they have better and more opportunities. One can, with reasonable talent, launch upon an artist’s career more confidently than before. Our times were bedevilled with many uncertainties, not least of them economic. We aspired and dared and with some luck and much struggle seem to have succeeded. Now young artists have more luck and less struggle, which may not be such a bad thing.
A marvellous initiative: A visitor looks at an installation by Tallur LN at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The first ever biennale in India features works of 80 artists from 24 countries
Having said that, I cannot but note with much anguish and regret, the decline of the public institutions dealing with the arts in one country. They are moribund – failing to keep with the international trends, mired in incompetent bureaucracies and dominated by an ever-aggressive mediocrity. I wonder if 2013 would see them being renovated, made effective, professionalised, infused with relevant vision, new energy and dynamism. They should cater to the needs of the younger generations more enthusiastically. Why can none of our public art institutions measure up to international standards when we have at least a hundred artists of international stature and standing?
The media in India is currently, most unfortunately, obsessed with price rather than value. Auction prices are widely reported but value of artworks hardly ever commented upon or critically looked at. Art is a serious and significant human activity, a form of social action and it must be covered and talked about seriously. My wishlist for 2013 includes the earnest wish that media moves decisively in that direction. Though the void created by the languishing public institutions has been, to a large extent, filled by a network of private galleries throughout the country, more philanthropic sources must come to the realm of arts. I also hope that the young would realise that while success and money are important considerations in life and art both, significance is of paramount importance. Sometimes there is significance in failure rather than in success!
Eye on India: Indian paintings like Raza’s Saurashtra are finally getting global recognition
The art schools are also sadly in varying degrees of decline. For a vital art scene, such institutions are of critical importance. There should be a sense of urgency in this regard and some concrete measures should be adopted in 2013 to halt the decline and to repair it. Similarly, more and more art critics today seem to be in hurry to judge without the patience to see and understand. Art criticism is a responsible activity and should be written with a sharp critical sense but mostly to describe what happens in works of art rather rushing to praise or decry. There are increasing signs, the latest being in the Kochi Biennale, a marvellous initiative no doubt, that the distance between or lack of dialogue between literature and other arts is being seriously addressed. We thrive together and could only enrich by listening to other voices. I wish more of such interaction happens in 2013.
I am confident that Indian art will move forward gloriously in the next year creating new heights of significance and exploration, artworks of abiding value and making accessible to many more the visual-aesthetic pleasure.
From HT Brunch, December 30
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