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Insightful views


Art historian R. Siva Kumar on art, artists and works of art.

Photo: S. Mahinsha

Erudite: R. Siva Kumar says that values and sensitivity to art comes with continued exposure to works of art.

In these times of globalisation when market forces determine the value of a product where would one place works of art? In the mart? Or, in galleries?

Putting it in perspective was art historian R. Siva Kumar of Kala Bhawan, Santiniketan, who was in Thiruvananthapuram for a lecture series at the College of Fine Arts.

There is no denying the fact that art too has become ‘commodified’ and thus got entangled with a host of issues related to quality, values and ethics. It would not be fair to say that global trends have totally erased the parameters set for evaluating good art. While there is constant talk of skyrocketing price tags for works, the contradictions at work cannot be brushed aside, says Siva Kumar.

“Yes, galleries and art collectors are many these days, giving the artist the visibility he so badly deserves. But, on the other hand this exposure he receives is of a different kind. He may receive a monetary return but as far as accessibility to his work is concerned, the gallery has become a formidable space where the layman would not dare walk in. Thus the artist and his art begin to occupy rarefied and remote spaces with a shrinking clientele,” he explains.

The positives

Bringing in the positives in the current scenario this teacher-historian says: “It is good that the young are being recognised and that there is a certain market for art. The young can think big now, earlier that was not the case because of the costs involved.” But he also points out that the hurry to attain visibility is not without its pitfalls for the individual artist and art per se. Equating quality with age of the artist is an “obsession” something that is always done, but there are many young artists equipped with the skills and talent too.

As one who went to Santiniketan to groom as a painter and then moved into academics and art history, Siva Kumar says, “I had to take a very conscious decision. A historian or an art critic could do better if he dabbles in art also because he becomes aware of the possibilities and connects better with what others have achieved. But, to showcase my works while critiquing works of artists can only be compared to a bathroom singer judging a seasoned singer!”

One cannot help asking him the relevance of an Art Historian in these times of haste when everyone (artist) wants the spotlight early in his career. “Yes, the Art Historian has become an anachronism of sorts. Earlier he played the role of bridging the gap between the artist, his work, and the viewer. Now that role has been taken over by the Media and Art itself as a commodity. Like real estate, art works are investments for buyers, quite unlike the times when we bought art because the particular work was good and you wanted it in your home. That scene has changed, these days the business of buying art is delegated, so it is a mere acquisition where money talks.”

Author of well researched and authentic books on art, such as ‘The Santiniketan Murals,’ ‘Santiniketan, the Making of a Contextual Medium,’ Retrospectives on K.G. Subramaniam, A. Ramachandran and K.S. Radhakrishnan and ‘My Pictures: A Collection of Paintings by Rabindranath Tagore,’ responds to the query on the steep prices of art books being another reason for art remaining in rarefied realms. “Yes, only the reader with a certain competence will reach for the book and the price certainly is a deterrent. There is always the possibility of bringing cheaper paperback editions that are affordable.”

However, he brought home a point very succinctly when he said that it is the interactive spaces for the viewer and artist that provide the synergies for both the artist and the viewer. He also draws our attention to the growing apathy in the manner in which works are housed. “Public spending in art has come down and the rising costs for works means fewer numbers are acquired because budgets cannot keep pace with soaring prices.”

Values and sensitivity to art comes with continued exposure and the opportunities become possible with increased spending on art by public agencies, he adds.

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