Art News & Views

Guest Editorís Column


Art Writing in Print Media

A truly multi-art enthusiast and expert dance critic Sadanand Menon was the arts editor of The Times of India, in the eighties of the last century. He was the last in line of illustrious editors of The Times of India group of publications, like A.S.Raman, Shamlal and Pritish Nandy ital, who had made their mission to propagate the importance of the on going practice of painting, sculpture, dance, music and theatre in the cultural life of the nation. The Times of India played the role of the trend-setter for the English language newspapers and periodicals of the country, from around the fifties of the last century. Following The Times group of publications' lead, most other English dailies and periodicals of the centres of art activity, began to publish regularly reviews of art exhibitions, musical soiries, dance programmes and theatre performances. Such regular reviews helped the growth of expert groups of art scribes in every city with a modicum of regular art activity. Quite a few of them, on their own sustained efforts, later become art critics, theorists and historians in their chosen fields.

All on a sudden, at the beginning of the nineties of the last century, when the art market in India started booming in an exponential rate, the management of The Times of India jumped to the conclusion that they had done enough, in fact more than any other group of publications, for the promotion of the arts. Now that the arts like painting, sculpture, music, dance and theatre had become commercially viable propositions, these should no longer look for cultural charity from the print media. These arts must spend for being visible in the print media, as does the commercial cinema, the commercial food and fashion industries etc. This rotten logic was far from the actual market situation. Taking their cue from The Times of India, most other dailies (The Hindu of Madras/ Chennai had always been and is different) and periodicals, of the cities with regular art events, drastically reduced the importance they hitherto gave to covering the art events. Along with relegation of importance, the press started sending out more-than-discreet hints to the art event organizers to buy reviews by putting advertisements. A few print-media establishments, with cleverer managements, started sending out subtler signals, by publishing timely reviews, of some length with catchy visuals, of those shows that had put advertisements (although many of these ads would be paid just through transfers recorded in the books of account). Other events (even the important ones) would receive; if at all those did, only cursory mention, months after the actual happenings.

Courageous and committed to the arts and the artists, Sadanand Menon, unlike most of the journalist art critics in employ of the media houses, could not take the policy change lying down. And he resigned in protest. But not before speaking out in several fora of art activists.

Art criticism can be of some value only when it helps the artist to better understand his own intention vis-à-vis his success and / or failure in visualizing the same. Art criticism can be of some value to a beholder if it can analyse the visual to reveal the artist's intention. After meeting these primary task if a piece of criticism can, in some manner, indicate the spatio-temporal causation of the text, as also posit the text in art history, it should be considered as a really explanatory bit of art criticism. For being able to write such an enlightening piece of criticism, both for the artist and the beholder, an ability to gauge the artist’s intention, by deconstructing the visualinguistic of art object construction, is a basic pre-requist which comes with commitment and experience. No amount of out of context show off of ones reading list which the irregular art scribes often flaunt, is going to be helpful either to the artist or to the beholder. Not to speak of a concept or a theme, an artist even changes a borrowed technique to contextualize it spatio-temporarily. Mere information culling ability does not make one a reader. The much in- currency  opaque language of art writing of this age of postmodernist irrationality ( basically a cover up for the lack of analytical skill) that goes tangentially off from contextual textual analysis to trite cultural criticism, is furthest from the kind of enlightened and committed art writing of the generation of Sadanand Menon.

  Pranabranjan Ray 
Guest Editor 




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art etc. news & views is a monthly magazine published from India in order to promote art and culture. It intends to raise awareness about art all around India and the world. The magazine covers art exhibitions, auction highlights, market trends, art happenings besides Antique, Collectibles, Fashion, Jewellery, Vintage, Furniture, Film, Music and Culture.