Vikas Nair is a friend and consultant at “The Drifting Canvas”. After his studies at IIM (Bangalore), he worked in different sectors in India and abroad. Over the last few weeks, we spoke about the complex nature of the economics of art in India. These discussions happened over our tea breaks in the backyard of the travelling exhibition, “The Drifting Canvas”, in New Delhi. This is what he had to say.
India, with its myriad of cultural differences and diversity, is steeped in the appreciation of art. Every household – be it the rangoli in front of the house, or the art decorating the walls in one’s home – reflects the affinity of the owner to the deep-rooted tradition of art, transferred on from generations.
This affinity, however, does not traverse into investing in art or its masterpieces. Artwork collection has always been perceived as an activity limited to the elite. This skewed perception transcends into every stratum of the Indian population. This belief system tells us to invest in gold and real estate, which has tangible inflationary benefits, and therefore, helps in generating liquidity in times of need. Artwork, on the contrary, would not help in such cases.
This approach, unfortunately, has created a vacuum of opportunities in the traditional and contemporary art scene in India. The affected include the artists, the galleries and the general progress of Indian art.
With a plateaued development of art, the artists are mainly the ones who are affected. They start out with pure passion and vitality towards their pursuit of creativity. But this vigour slowly diminishes due to the lack of platforms, their perceived value of their masterpiece contrary to the buyers’ perceived value, and lastly, an inadequate system of government support.
In order for these differences to be bridged, a governmental support mechanism, which involves a mentor/mentee system, educating the young artist in the economies of scale, and making them understand the dynamics of marketing and their creativity, needs to be undertaken at the earnest.
Galleries contribute to the bulk of the sales of large volumes of artwork in India. This power allows them to choose the artists of their choice and market them effectively. More often than not, the more established and renowned artists are given more preference which helps in a greater outreach. Coupled with exorbitant commission charges, the ones who lose out are the vast majority of budding talents.
This may seem like a pure business strategy but the losers (artist and their art) far outweigh the winner.
Another by-product of this strategy is creating an elitist feel to all these spaces, which creates an aversion for the common populace to go there. The general belief that art galleries are boring stems from this approach.
The Indian government is a crucial slice of the art pie. To reach out to a greater audience, to generate an international appeal (for Indian art), and help develop an Indian talent base is where the governmental machinery can play a vital role.
‘Make Art in India’, in conjunction with the greater ‘Make in India’ campaign, can be established by the current government, which could entail creating an entire ecosystem encompassing the artists, the galleries, the curators, the media and a governing body, which would oversee the entire network.
Giving tax breaks on purchases of Indian art above a certain limit would be extremely beneficial for those in the middle-income range to gradually get involved with the procurement of artworks.
A relook at the pedagogy of the creative institutions and their syllabus needs to be undertaken at the earliest to make practical sense of the theoretical discourse.
China is a market leader in terms of art auctions. The main reason, until a couple of years back, was the massive influx of capital in their market. India is now riding that economic wave, and therefore, it is in an ideal situation for High Networth Individuals (HNIs) to move their capital from sectors such as real estate, energy, stocks and finances into the collectables market. Over a period, the massive infusion of both foreign and domestic money will boost up the prices for not only classical artwork but also contemporary masters.
The Chinese and European story has also taught us that a collector will have a greater affinity towards artefacts from his own land, and culturally, they tend to support their own artwork more. This could very well be a pointer for the new millionaires and billionaires to start looking within our country and investing in art here, rather than going abroad and investing there. It is high time that the Indian industry and the general population rediscovered and supported homespun talent.
Another important area which needs to be focused on is the formation of alternative art galleries with formats like “The Drifting Canvas”, which could help in making art fun and therefore, generate a mass appeal at the same time. Its digital paintings strike a chord with a younger audience and eventually helps them purchase something for their homes.
Indian Art and its development is a cultural legacy, which needs to be driven passionately, If the recent cues are to go by, we are surely at the tipping point. This is the moment of reckoning, where future generations will look back at us and either applaud or loathe us. Let us leave a legacy which the coming generations can cherish.
Ideas are cheap. Inspiration is everywhere. Initiatives are rare and implementation is everything.
(Vikas Nair is an Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore alumnus and currently, a consultant to “The Drifting Canvas”. He can be contacted at email@example.com)