Making Art vs. Making A Living: Young Indian Artists Face A Constant Battle Against Stereotypes

Posted on August 6, 2014 in Culture-Vulture

By Devadutta Bhattacharjee:

It is a well known fact that India is a country where the younger generation is encouraged more towards scientific and academic activities than creative fields. We’ve all heard stories about talented people giving up dancing or music for the “board exams” or “extra tuitions”. But has anyone ever stepped back and questioned why we automatically assume and relate artistic abilities with degrading academics or questionable character?

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

Making art versus making a living
I talked to a few people in all areas of arts, be it painting or performing arts. Most of them are still working their way into making a name for themselves in their respective fields. What is common between all of them is their passion and drive, their diligence in getting up and dusting themselves off. But all of them had to pass through certain barriers of taboos and stereotypes in the society. They’ve been asked about their occupation and they answered; I’m a photographer/dancer/painter/drummer. The one question that almost always followed was -‘Oh and how do you make a living out of it?’

As a part of a typical, academic-oriented middle class family, I grew up to believe that art can only be a hobby or at the very most a supplement to my “real job”. Dancing and singing lessons? Certainly, as long as you don’t demand to participate in any of those ridiculous TV shows or ignore your studies. Artistic achievement like the ability to play a musical instrument is greatly appreciated here, but you have to become a lawyer or a doctor in the end.

Fighting stereotypes and taboos
The root of this hypocritical behaviour towards the arts stems from the image of this profession. It is a popular belief that artists are shabby, unorganized people, with no real life ambitions. They are perceived to be lazy and a product of disturbed or neglected childhood. Another very perturbing thing people assume about artists is that they come from an affluent background. How else would they have the luxury to dream on and do as they wished without studying or learning a real trade which leads to a real income?

Anirban Roy, a bass guitarist in an up and coming, Kolkata-based band called The High Crook, says “My mom understood that I was taking music really seriously in my life. So one day she made me sit and lectured me for an hour. That music does not have a future in India.” He adds, “In the end, she begged me to stop playing for two years. She still expects me to study and get a decent job. But I’m not dying without playing in Slane Castle.”

According to BBC, scientists have recently discovered that people with an artistic bend have better motor performance and visual and imagery abilities. They have greater amount of grey matter versus non-artistic people. Creative people are highly efficient, and many times they are lacking in professional training. In a society like ours, where education and spoon feeding is more important than inherent abilities and natural skills, artists with no professional training are often shrugged off as amateurs and incapable of making it big.

The image of all artists being self destructive, drug addicts and promiscuous, has widely been popularized by the media. There have been instances of artists like Elvis dying of a drug overdose and James Pollock battling with lifelong alcoholism. But there are several instances before us of artists breaking stereotypes every day; if we want to look at them, that is. Anita Dongre, one of the foremost fashion designers in India, came from a conservative Sindhi family where it was unthinkable for women to work. Brian May, a member of the band, Queen, has a Bachelor’s degree from Imperial College in London.

Looking back, we realize that we have come a long way. Any Mary Ann Evans of this world has to no longer become a George Eliot in order to be considered seriously. We have more resources and better platforms, for men and women alike. The idea that women are capable of writing only feeble romance novels seems absurd to us now. I sincerely hope that the idea of considering all artists to be grungy and disturbed would seem absurd to us in the future as well. Like Roman Payne says, “All forms of madness, bizarre habits, awkwardness in society, general clumsiness, are justified in the person who creates good art.”