Dear Aspiring Artist
You finish Art college and you dream of being picked up by a gallery, and then you think you will become an Artist. If only it were so simple, the gallerists would also be artists along with hundred other people. If there is any other profession you can do, do it. Being an Artist is tough and never gets easier. Dont be fooled by market surveys and page 3 photos.
Somehow in India, we equate being a ‘succesfull’ artist with having a gallery, simply because there is no other space in which to show ones work. How many Artists can galleries take, how many galleries can there be? and are galleries the only space to show ones work? How then will we think of forms outside the gallery space….
My advice to you, get a job and pursue your Art in your spare time.Making Art is a long and solitary journey, that space of exploration needs to be nurtured, tended to, before it finds its own direction. I would say wait ten years or some significant amount of time, before you join a gallery, be the author of your work before you even look for the right gallery, dont go to a gallery while you are still unsure.You could get terribly stuck in your enquiry if you join too early. There needs to be a considerable amount of time between Art college and joining the gallery, the time of exploration.
A gallery is there to present your work to a larger world, it works very hard in creating a conversation for that work, and finally in selling/positioning the work. The flip side of this is that you could have to keep making that work, with maybe some deviations, but nothing too major . The risk is too much for the gallery after it has invested all that time and energy in your work and therefore if you depend on gallery sales, on you too. Get a job, bake the best bread, design weddings, drive, teach, anything to have a minimum amount of survival money. I once thought I would calculate how much money I needed for my bare survival for the month and sell my work for that amount.
A gallery is a commercial space, it needs to survive to keep showing your work and to do that it needs to sell work. And in India galleries, to their great credit, have served many roles, because we have barely any museums or not for profit Art spaces. How much can we expect of the gallery.
Where in India is the space to experiment, to show works in progress.We have to make them.
Which is why the Kochi bienale becomes the most important Art space in the country. Where one hopes there is the possibility of showing ‘experimental’ work, work that is not determined by its market, work that is exploratory. It helps that an Artist is the curator. I wonder if the bienale might become an educational space as well, of ongoing conversations with the showing Artists.Might that be a way to offer some parallel education in the Arts.
Yes we have a Khoj but we need a 100 khojs in a country this size. Perhaps we have to find our own alternate spaces for showing our work. I now make mobile museums, so that I can send them to other libraries, museums, institutions. I would even take them to a hospital o a university. If I keep waiting for them to invite me, it may never happen.I send them proposals, most times there is no reply, but once it happens and you find a new space, it is magic.
In 2008 I made my first book exhibition SENT A LETTER and put it in the Satram Das Jewellers vitrines on Park street in Calcutta. 7 years later, it is still showing there on Park street. Using the medium of Photography, one is aware that one of the most significant aspects of the medium, is the dissemination of Photography. Which is where the book becomes more the form than the print of the wall, for me. I now even have the Book on the walls with Museum of Chance. But there are hundreds of ways of disseminating photography, the gallery wall is only one of them.
We had a boom in the Indian economy around 2008, and at the same time, a boom in the Art scene and prices went through the roof. Suddenly everyone wanted to see ‘Indian art’. then came the recession and with it the dip in the art world.That time was a serious exception.It was an economic situation, not necessarily an “art movement”.
It was never easy living as an Artist, and it may not always be. Its a high risk profession. Great artist had jobs and made work- Bhupen Khakhar, Gieve Patel, Sudhir Patwardhan, there must be so many others. Its only recently that we think of being an Artist as the sole way of earning a living. I think there is something quite major to reconsider here. Why do you want to be an Artist?
I write this to you because I get a sense of the hope and aspiration you come to the Art world, but there is a lot else you need to do other than find the right gallery.
The right gallery is also a challenge, I think some of us are very lucky to have found the right fit. If the gallery is too commerical, thats a problem, if they are not commercial, thats also a problem, I suppose its to do with what you are coming to Art making for. If its to explore and experiment and be in a state of constant enquiry, then you have to work very hard to find a suitable gallery.This too is not easy but if you do find the gallery that is willing to engage in an ongoing conversation, its a dream. Meanwhile I really hope we will build some not for profit Art spaces, till then we need to keep finding alternate venues.
The India Art fair is one such occasion. You could do something at that time, in some other part of the city, word of mouth will get people there. The off site fairs always get everyones attention. If the Kochi bienale seems to much a dream, nothing stops you from doing something in the city at that time, on your own. Clark House initiative did this at the first bienale.
Wish you all the luck, you need it, as well as all the books and travels you can get yourselves. It never gets easy, and as I have been saying, the day one gets comfortable/complacent is the day to stop making Art.