Art News & Views

The Newspaper, the Text & the Critique


A changing world involves a curious kind of doublethink. The editor has asked me to think aloud on the state of art writing in Indian newspapers. As a critic, I have realized that professional arts decline when the patron-practitioner balance is radically interfered with or when gross commercialism eliminates the pleasure of practice. It drives the practitioners into other professional spaces. What is awry in our newspapers at present is a structural affair, it runs deeper than individually folly or knavery, which is the bad news; but for the same reason it can in principle be changed is good news. In India we have a large cultural panorama; which includes a great variety of art practice and writing (we should keep researchers like Late Tarapada Santra in mind), both professional and non-professional. There is broad or inter-related presence of these; though, through the years, this presence is dwindling especially that of household and non-professional that are closely tied to a way of life or value system. For the critics to see things for what they are is in the end possible only for the virtuous. In fact no one loves criticism- the gallery owner does not like it, the artist does not like it either. The editor feels jittery too. The ideal notion of art criticism that it must combine the indicative mood with the subjunctive one, yoking a coldly demystified sense of the present to a warmly imaginative leap beyond the turgid prose of yesteryears.

We are historically/culturally located when 'Other' is no longer geographically distanced, but within, and over time significantly shaping landscape and culture- Samosas at the National Theatre café in Britain or Race riots. Not all places in the transnational circuit are however, similarly 'post-colonial'. The active, subjective, inescapable, everyday engagement with the legacies of colonization/decolonization that is part of the British matrix for reggae, bhangra rap, Hanif Kureshi's screenplays, or Homi Bhabha's hybridity are not the terms of theoretical, artistic or political endeavours in India. For each of us there are multiple time- pathways, variously paced, so that cultural change is simultaneously slow and fast, not just across communities, but within socially and historically positioned selves.

During the last two decades scores of young artists, art historians and curators have emerged from the nation's institutions of higher learning, places where bohemian myth and middle-class yearnings curiously blended, all intent upon making their presence felt. The newspapers hardly hire them. These bunch of talent drifts to some other spaces. Out of this postgraduate brew of talent and sophistication, commercial pressure forged the contemporary notion of the artist as pro, a hybrid of cultural savant and corporate strategist, of sensitive artists pursuing their careers with intellectual prowess and ruthless dexterity. Under the stress of an accelerated demand on its tenets, classical/modern began to distort and deform. It oozed more and more well schooled rhetoric to cover its claims and presentations. It has been apparent for some time that 'theory' is in something of a cul-de-sac. For another thing art is too delicate, and too impalpable, to be bent to such ambitious ideological ends. Only mainstream newspapers can bridge the gap growing enormously.

Today art's importance is that it creates money. It is not clear that money creates art, however much it may "patronize" it. Art's value is guaranteed by money, which doesn't mean that without money it has no value, but that money value overrides art value while appearing to confer it. Both art and criticism have been defeated by money, even though money gives art critical cachet, thus validating it as art. Even more insidiously, money has become more existentially meaningful than art. Someone just said the other day ruefully, we don't have art movements anymore. We have market movements. There is sense of gloom in the present meltdown allover. We should understand the irrational exuberance of the contemporary art market during the economic boom was about the breeding of money, not the fertility of art and good writing. So we shouldn't really be saddened by this recent phenomenon for whom the choice to make art or art writing a vocation years back. Fortunately, we still have an art culture here which has many strands that reinforce each other. In fact the commercially precious works of art have become the organ grinder's monkeys of money. And this could help to educate the new generation of artistes and critics. What should concern us the most is human refinement not export earnings.

Art has never been independent of money, but now it has become a dependency of money. The market only increases the generative value and staying power of money- the power of money to breed money, to fertilize itself-not the value and staying power of art. In these circumstances the least the critics, curators, historians can do is to visually record the whole heritage, collect object specimens of the best kind, document methods of fabrication and use and house these objects and data in museums and archives region to region, specialty to specialty. Meaningful art criticism/writing in newspapers can recreate for the interested a picture of various art forms, and educate them to value them. Do we really have museums and archives of this kind in the various regions where the specialist or non-specialist can get a dependable picture of our heritage? Only the media has to do a rethink.

Nanak Ganguly 




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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.