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Changes in the art world – information itself is not enough


Changes in the art world – effects of the ‘commodity-making process’
KG Subramanyan Artist
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I have seen you placed as the godfather of the Baroda school, and I have seen you placed perhaps as almost the last person in the Santiniketan tradition. Would you resist all that?

No, I let it be. Really speaking, the placing is for others to do, it doesn’t really matter. But then really I have myself said that if there is, I mean if you can think in terms of the community interests I have with other people I would say that I have a lot to share with Nandalal, Benode Bihari and Ramkinkar. And then as far as this place is concerned, it is true that I grew up with this institution, so to a certain extent it has been a two-way exercise; teaching here and being part of the building or the institution I learned a lot, and to that extent I should have contributed to it too. So that is how it is. I know that you can’t do everything that you wanted to do because the circumstances do not always permit it, but then I enjoyed doing what I did, and I hope that these, both institutions, will really find themselves in the time to come. I know the institution as it is, in fact I have written somewhere about this too. It has not become the kind of institution that we wanted it to become. I wanted it to be a kind of a resource institution, something which will put new life into the whole system and will make people rethink. Now it is an efficient professional school, but that is the same case with Santiniketan. They are not trying to do anything further than that, and of course they always say we do not have the resources to do it and it may be true, but then you will have to raise the resources. The other thing that I find with all these schools is, and this I have recently talked about in a lecture in the memory of Hebbar in Bangalore, in which I have said at one time, and the whole question is do you need these schools at all, because many of the people who are going to these schools, at one time they wanted to learn skills and they wanted to find, come to terms with themselves. They had something to say, but a lot of the training now is in terms of the skills, so how to negotiate with the market. In fact, the market forces have a very big say in what the artists are wanting to do, and they learn more from the market oriented magazines or what is in vogue and what is not in vogue, and they do cultivate the kind of resources to meet the market. To that extent I am very happy about it. I mean they are much better craftsmen than they were aware, but then the whole focus seems to be sort of losing a lot of importance. So if it is that, I mean it’s like a sort of a design school. I mean you want to know your market without sort of putting the dissent through. I mean you are not doing anything exploratory at all, and this is happening even in Santiniketan where the initial attitude was a little utopian. It was, to a certain extent, unveiling of yourself and knowing your personality, coming to terms with it, kind of a thing, which is no more there. I mean it’s at least the young people who are coming there to train. Well, it is probably inevitable, this is the first time that artists are making some money, and who will sort of grant them that? And then if they do not make their market, how will they make their money? Of course they will. But I should think there should be a certain section of this activity should be thinking a little further than that and think of not only making art goods that sell or art goods that please or inform, but also probably think in terms of making a better world than the world is, kind of a thing, a total view of things. Many of them do not have that. The other thing is the thing that I see, is that of course the method of working has changed. Most of these schools now, I mean the way the artists work in these schools also has been affected by the commodity-making process. Formerly when we thought that there was something to learn by handling the material yourself, handling, making everything yourself and making a thing is not only making, it is also thinking with the mind and muscle together kind of a thing. That is no more there. You go to these schools, you find somebody makes a drawing and then makes a sort of a small maquette and gives it to somebody to carve and all, they sign their things on it, and it goes into the art gallery. I heard with some sense of horror that in the bronze casting department that there are very few people who work with their hands. I mean they only make the maquette and give it to others, the specialists to do, which is quite understandable in the craft scene. That was what was done at one time. You make a prototype and it used to be remade and remade. Now, the question is that as far as art object making is going, that’s okay, but art as a sort of a voyage of discovery through your own sensibilities, that kind of a thing, that suffers a little in this, and that voyage of discovery is there, is something that they will have to say is it there or not, and I should think that it is there. You see the world a little better by being intimate with it, intimate with the various aspects of it, feeling it with, seeing it with your eye, feeling it with your hands, things of that kind, which is becoming less and less. They are now almost in a sort of a factory situation.

KG Subramanyan (1924-2016) was an Indian artist. A graduate of the renowned art college of Kala Bhavana in Santiniketan, Subramanyan was both a theoretician and an art historian whose writings formed the basis for the study of contemporary Indian art. His own work, which broke down the barrier between artist and artisan, was executed in a wide range of media and drew upon myth and tradition for its inspiration.

Listeners: Timothy Hyman

Timothy Hyman is a graduate of Slade School of Fine Art, London, in which he has also taught. In 1980 and 1982, he was Visiting Professor in Baroda, India. Timothy Hyman has curated many significant art exhibitions and has published articles and monographs on both European and Indian artists.

Duration: 7 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: 2008

Date story went live: 10 September 2010