Prasanta Kalita is a renowned Indian artist. His works were on display at the “Desi Canvas“, part of “The Drifting Canvas”. On a telephonic conversation, he talked about the complex nature of the economics of art in India:
Prasanta Kalita: First of all, I would like to make it clear that art is not an industry, it is a creative space. It cannot act like other industries. Creating art cannot be commodified. We don’t work for the purpose of selling or buying. It is for our own satisfaction and to reach out to people. Generation of livelihood is not the primary motive. It does not mean that we don’t want to sell our work. The intention is to focus on creating what we feel like should be brought to the public. We should never have the intention to earn money from creating these works. Historically, people have created art for themselves, and for the people. The culture of galleries in India has turned works of art into commercial things. It has never happened in the west.
Appreciation of works of art is lacking in India. Art is limited to certain classes. Our schooling has moulded us into thinking in terms of the monetary value of everything we do. When I was in class 9, I told my parents that I wanted to become an artist. The first question my parents asked was if I would be able to earn a livelihood from it.
Becoming an artist is a gradual process. The question is very relevant. I have faced many difficulties due to my decision of becoming an artist. We can survive without focusing so much on the commodification of everything, but then I want to ask everyone, is it possible, at any point of history, to have a society which does not have art and culture as its integral parts? Some of my teachers spent their lives roaming around, creating works of art. I do not think they ever thought of making money from their works. We admire these artists.
If there is no value attached to our work, how will we survive? Everything has become expensive today. But again, that does not mean we start putting our values to making money. In India, we do not get support from government or private organisations, unlike western countries.
A few years back, buying work directly from the artist was stopped. Rajiv Lochan, former director of National Gallery of Modern Art, was the one behind this decision. It was more like helping some of the art-lobbies. Even today, they do not have any collection of Indian contemporary art. What options are we left with? Going to private galleries? Their strategies are very different.
In each country, appreciating art is considered important. In India, there is so much politics involved in everything that art promotion has become a thing of the past. How will artists survive? For the last 12-15 years, NGMA has not been able to sell much. It is a pity.
Some people like Aakshat and you have taken an initiative to help us reach out to the masses. I keep receiving messages from different groups and individuals that will help us sell if I pay some money. It is like a circle, a manipulation. Personal interests are taking over real appreciation.
So, I would say that the economics of art in India needs to be redefined and also needs major reforms.