Why We Need to Go Back to Our Studios? Coz the Institutions are Fooling Artists with Nonsense- Johny ML
Can a laptop and project writing replace studio practice? If yes, we need not look elsewhere for embodied foolishness says Johny ML in this Editorial.
A lap top, a plug point, a few search windows, a Microsoft word page and a tremendous amount of confidence to translate confusion into a legible thousand word aspiration, with a couple of referees to give patronising recommendation letters- that’s how these days a young contemporary artist works. His/her studio is a foldable and packable one. Each one among this new breed of artists believes that art could happen in writing projects and getting funds; if lucky enough, by spending three to six months in a foreign country, hopelessly lost and troubled. When the art market boom was almost over and the galleries and funding agencies once again got onto the confused paths to nowhere, they all started telling the artists to route their art via some foreign institutions; the more residency abroad, the better the chance to find some place in the Indian galleries.
Be it global ecological depletion or be it the impact of migration in the global economy our artists are ready to create art based on all these topics. ‘They fund therefore I am’ that is the new Descartes take of so many young artists in our country. Shielded by thick skin, protected by ignorance and supported by xeno-maniacs who imagine that anything that comes via abroad and endorsed by white skinned curators, gallerists, dealers and promoters, these artists keep writing projects and applying for funds. Some are lucky to befool the funders (they are not really fooled, but they willingly suspend their disbelief for some poetic justice) and go abroad. Some are very clever who write projects according to the nature of funding. I have seen artists trying to write projects for something related to Jewish history- they are damn rich, they say. I have seen artists making their silly videos and installations so complex that the funder is finally forced to meet the expenses of these artists’ travel and accommodation. Some institutes that teach art tell their students only ideate; that means, they basically teach them how to write applications for funds.
Pablo Picasso in his studio
That means we are basically a bunch of beggars asking for help so that we could impress them with their hands down aesthetics. This scenario also means that as a self deceptive society of artists, we have lost our studio practices. Most of our young artists have forgotten the fact that better art could happen when an artist is in his/her studio. Studio is a place where artists often go to or come back to ideate and practice. Studio practice does not mean that the artist should only sit there and work with whichever medium he/she prefers. Studio is a place where one fine tunes one’s creative process. Movement of the artists from guilds and workshops to studios was a great change in the history of modern art. An artist became modern therefore individualistic with the advent of the idea of studio practice. In his/her studio, an artist assumes the power of God and is never a servant of the master. Studio is also a crucible where the artists’ friends could come in for a cup of tea and have some good conversations. Studio is a window or a frame to understand the external world clearly. That does not mean that an artist needs to be studio bound always. He/she could work from nature; they could travel anywhere in the world. But studio is a place where they bring the world into a graspable reality, on their own terms.
Making a studio was a prime concern of most of the artists during the modern period. For their photographer friends, registering the moments of the artists’ creative frenzy was a major aesthetical achievement. Studios were dingy as a single room as in the case of Vincent Van Gogh or palatial like those of Picasso and Salvador Dali. Narrating the life and works of the artists from within the studios was a part of the modern art historiography. It was difficult for most of the Indian artists to run their own studios during the 20th century. However, we see how they maintained a studio practice; right from Raja Ravi Varma to M.F.Husain. One good thing that happened during the ten years of market boom in Indian contemporary art was that the riches that came along enabled most of the young artists of that time to establish their own studios with moderate as well as state of the art facilities. Today, whether there is market or no market for the artist, most of them work from their studios and they hold these spaces closer to heart.
The confusion that followed the collapse of the art market, as I mentioned before, sent the new entrants into tipsy. The global art market suddenly turned its attention to alternative practices in order to contain any kind of radicalism that would thwart the fundamental principles of the market; demand-supply-profit. Conceptual art became a darling of the western galleries and museums. While the established one ideated from their ‘studios’, the new entrants who did not feel the need for establishing their studio practices started moving around with their lap tops and half baked ideas. Their confusion was worsened by several prime institutions including the JNU Arts and Aesthetics Department that functioned as a distant back office for private museums, art fairs and alternative art establishments. Such establishments have done a great wrong to the young artists in our country by making them believe in ad hoc studio practice by presenting the very making of art as ‘process (of) art’ in makeshift studios or even presenting such studios in the galleries as ‘exhibition projects’.
Salvador Dali in his studio
Was it for transparency or was it just for the heck of being different? I have talked to a lot of artists about their studios and all of them have agreed to the fact that the lack of studio has infused a tremendous amount of ad hoc-ism in their practices. They have been reduced into project writers and fund seekers. Those establishments that support this practice actually once again bring back the ideology of Lord Macaulay who implemented an educational system meant for producing ‘Indian looking and British thinking’ Babus. With no studio practice to hone their skills and further their ideas our young artists have already become the wandering diplomats of the west’s left over aesthetics. We need to resist it by re-establishing our studio practices. Return to studio means return to skill and craft along with creative conceptual thinking. West is tired of its own art and it has already started looking for ethnic art forms (that’s why this sudden interest for tribal and folk art in India shores). Only our studio practice could bring about a new aesthetic. The futuristic and sustainable art practices are to be birthed from Indian art studios and we should be able to define the ‘new global’ art for the world. It does not have anything to do with ‘make in India’ or ‘Make India First’ or anything of that sort. There is no political arm twisting in my exhortation but rather a straight demand for waking up. Though we could say that ‘studio is where artist is’, a lap top, a plug point and ignorance as strength can never be a replacement for the studio practice.
Johny ML Art Historian, Critic, Curator and Writer
May 17, 2016 in Editorial Originally published as an editorial in Art Tehelka