12 Mar 2009

Critical acclaim or popular choice

(By Nalini S Malaviya)

Recently, a young artist, while showing me images of his recent works said that everyone liked his paintings but nobody ever buys them! This may sound strange, but it does happen. When it comes to appreciating art and buying it to put it up on our walls we behave as if we have a split personality. What may appeal to us from a critical perspective may not suit our walls at all. Why? How many of us are willing to display art that graphically portrays themes such as war or poverty, or one that has a social message? And, in case it is a realistic portrayal of violence or the downtrodden, or, for that matter nudes, how comfortable would we feel in hanging it up on our living room walls! Is it hypocrisy? Not really. Our homes are our sanctuary, a haven that shields us from the harsh realities around us. It is not surprising then that in this personal space we yearn for all things beautiful, including art.

Photograph by Raghu Rai
To give an illustration, you may have seen Raghu Rai’s photographs taken in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy. The disturbing sight of mutilated foetuses and other equally graphic images, once seen can never be forgotten. These photographs have received widespread critical acclaim and have served a valuable purpose in drawing the world’s attention to a calamity that should have never happened in the first place. But as art in the drawing room, it is an unlikely choice.

Art that borders on the non-aesthetic and brings with it associations that are painful or unpleasant may become a part of a connoisseur’s prized collection but will have trouble finding acceptance from the average viewer. Conventional themes such as nature or pleasantly coloured abstracts are popular with buyers. A viewer, when looking at them, feels happy and contented. There is no sense of alarm, discomfort, revulsion or sadness when one looks at them. Most people believe in having a positive atmosphere around them, and this is often reiterated through art as well. Therefore all said and done, our sensibilities our still old fashioned when it comes to buying art for our homes. Fortunately, there are artists who believe in creating art that stems from their beliefs and is thought provoking, and there are connoisseurs who appreciate them. If it weren’t for them art would mean just a pretty painting and Indian art would be nowhere on the international map.

(Published in Bangalore Mirror)

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