“Everybody is looking for instant approval and that’s why some artists compromise their artistic integrity and present what has already been showcased several times before, because they believe it would be commercial,” says Punkaj Manav, who believes people should not compromise their craft to become commercial.
On a beautiful evening, I walked into an array of uniquely crafted pieces of art called ‘Intangible’ at Triveni Kalasangam gallery in Delhi. There were sculptors, paintings and sketches that were not defined to any structure or objective. They were simple, undulating formation of the artist’s mind expressed through moulds of ceramic and canvases. At the gallery, 40-year-old Manav was talking to visitors about his art pieces. Before one could move in to see the different pieces of his work, there was a board with text, “It bears no trace of reference to anything recognizable.”
Manav believes art is like spirituality. “You have to learn to transcend while you experiment with your work,”
In a world caught up with showcasing skills through Instagram, art that deals with a hackneyed motif, either political, social or simply popular, where there are definite structures and ideas that are emblazoned to the artworks, and art that is formless might attract several visitors at the gallery, but may not necessarily lead to commercial success it deserves. Meanwhile, artwork that has an idea vehemently yearning to be understood with vibrant fauvist colors and patterns will trend well and attract audience and buyers, and social media platforms are piled up with that kind of work. But abstract art is, somehow, reserved to the backend today. Consumers want to instantly understand everything, and therefore the artists sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, want to focus on delivering what is already popular and commercial.
Manav says, “Most artists that I know don’t work with any intention or pre-conceived notions about the market but after they are done with their work, they, of course, have expectations. They want to sell it. That is natural. But crafting art pieces with the idea of creating something popular and commercial is a sad tragedy which leads to one compromising their artistic integrity. It happens to a lot of the younger artists today, with the age of internet. They see a piece of work becoming popular and feel that if they make something similar that would give attention to their work, they would be able to sell well.”
It is widely acknowledged that social media has increased the scope of tapping people’s potential, but when it comes to art, it has ironically increased as well as limited the scope. It has increased the scope in a way that a lot of artists who don’t have the privilege or opportunity to present their work at a gallery are able to showcase their work through social media platforms. On the other hand, it has also limited the scope because artists are so caught up with what is popular and so they forget to develop their own language and style. Manav says, “Internet has limited the younger artists from developing their own elements and creating art from within. They are trying to recreate what is around which will seize the energy and time you could give to finding your own voice and creating something that will completely attribute to the artist you are.”
After graduating from the Delhi College of Art in 2000, Manav took inspiration from what is around him. He had displayed his work at several galleries but he realised the need to tell himself who he is as an artist and find his own grammar to work on that. From then on, he has been experimenting with different materials and understands the mystic behind the materials he works with and creating his own pieces of sculptors and paintings that are formless. Abstraction, according to him, is “The word of the wordless and the form of the formless.”
It is not just Manav who is pleasantly adamant about not compromising his artistic integrity to become commercial. During an art show at India Habitat Centre, an artist who had drawn different patterns of leaves across various sizes of canvases with a uniformity of green, auburn and an ombre of earthy tones, said he would never compromise his artistic integrity. “No, never,” he said.
During a group art show at AIFACS, I was intrigued by a set of canvases with beautiful geometric patterns and sketches of women blending with the patterns. I told the artist that it was a very vibrant image, and asked her if it had a story. The artist from Manipur told me that it was a depiction of tribal women in her state. When I asked why she didn’t choose something that would define the aesthetics of Manipur and its tribal culture, the demure artist said that bold and colorful patterns are what people like to see.
Another young artist, Jayesh Joshi, who has around 10,000 Instagram followers, echoes same views as Manav. Jayesh believes that it’s important to evolve as an artist.
“Sometimes we become popular for a certain kind of artwork, but when we want to move on or experiment with something new, we should. Artist should never stop evolving because they are associated and popular with a certain kind of artwork,” he says.
He continues, “I would never stop myself from doing something that is entirely different from what I am known for. Yes, I have enjoyed working on pieces that have become popular, but I do want try different things too.”
The owner of Meraki Art House that launches and curate art shows, Chandni Gulati, has also cmet artists that are forced to compromise with their artistic integrity to sell their work. ‘Artist is someone who creates work from within their heart, but a lot of them today are forced to create work that they believe would immediately become commercial, instead of taking the time to develop their own style and ideas. The problem is that artists want their name to be recognized, not their art.’