Editorial: A Case for Modern Masters / JohnyML
Modern masters are now finally out of class rooms and dusty little catalogues. Their works now sit pretty on the walls of international museums and the stories of their lonely lives have become the toast of post-auction parties. Large volumes on their lives and art are written, published, sold and collected so that they could serve as the authentication materials for future auctions. In a way, it is a demystification of modern Indian art. The systematic strategizing of the galleries, collectors, investors, museums and auction houses unravel the great mysteries that envelop the lives and works of modern masters. If a magazine publishes a few features and essays on a hitherto neglected modern artist or a jet setting collector sheds copious ecstatic tears on the greatness of the works of a modern artist, immediately we come to know that either this master’s work has already featured in an auction and has fetched unexpected sums or this master is going to be the next ‘in thing’ in the market. The patterns are clear for the market players, and thanks to the information and communication technologies, most of the people who even take a cursory interest in art and art market understand what is brewing up in the vaults.
Fortunately or unfortunately, it is not just about demystification of modern art and artists. It is a sort of re-mystification. Contemporary artists, who used to be giving more attention to their evening party dresses than the work that they did a few hours before, are now very curious about the life and times of the modern masters. From class rooms to the chai addas, the youngsters wonder how the magic of these erstwhile poverty stricken artists is still sustained! Or is it a magic in the making, they wonder. Stories after stories about modern masters are dug up and dumped into the volumes and magazine articles, pushing the youngsters down under the weight of such greatness and genius. Today, young artists wonder whether their lives are good enough to be hailed as ‘creative’ in future. What has caused the dismay of these young artists? They know for sure that they have got more avenues to exhibit their works, show off their talents and they even have the freedom to experiment with a host of materials and mediums facilitated by technology. Still, seen against the lives of the masters, they feel incompetent and desperate.
The reason for this young disappointment is quite understandable. Masters lived in a different time and space. They did not have too many options to display their works. Either they had to depend completely on a benevolent supporter/collector/gallerist/ patron or they had to completely depend on their own means. Except for a few masters, most of them lived in not so comfortable conditions by today’s standards, yet they pursued their passion to create art. Getting a work noticed by a famous critic or a well meaning buyer or a serious collector was the ultimate goal that they could strive for. They exhibited in groups and solos rarely. They did not travel all over the world and yet brought the world to their dingy little studios by all means necessary. They lived moderate and silent lives. Their meditation was not going for holidays or joining Vipassana discourses. They meditated through their works. They were human beings and they had all the vices of human beings. However they sublimated their vices in their art and art for them was their self found purgatory. Such lives, when seen in retrospective have a charm; a spell that binds you, a goodness that goads you and a beauty that enthralls you. They did not make authentication certificates when they sold their works. They did not keep a digital archive to document their works. But their works, when sold or collected, or even stored in their studios were written about by art and literary critics that automatically became their authentication certificate on later dates. They did not have five thousand friends and ten thousand followers. They did not have Twitter accounts and Whatsapp. Still, they had a few friends who understood them completely and followed their art like trustworthy and caring companions.
If young artists today find their lives lacking in verve and romanticism of the modern masters, nothing can be done about it. Contemporaries have all what the modern masters did not have. Then why do they complain at all? If you look at the real reasons for why masters are masters and why contemporaries are contemporaries, you will find them in the materialistic environments. Today’s artists live in a world of instant gratification. They can make a few drawings and post in the social networking sites and draw a few hundred likes. The demand for recognition is immediately satisfied then and there. Artists who will not become future ‘contemporary master artists’ indulge in this sort of instant gratification. Their works are sold and many of them live in comparative luxury. But their excessive production of works or sparse creation of works is not written about or appreciated. That does not mean that those whose works are written about would stay forever as contemporary masters. But when an absolutely changed world with different parameters looks back at the works of art produced at this time, it may find all of them utterly uninspiring for the simple reason that there are no interesting lives to back up those works. It shows that art cannot be separated from the life of an artist. If a human being could be a reflection of what he eats, wears and thinks, then his art cannot be different from all those. If different, it could be the critique or mockery of the same.
In a pre-global world and within a protected economy, it was true that only a handful of artists could thrive and they eventually would be known as masters. But in the post-global world, each person is endowed with abilities and talents to create art. And it is a tough thing to be a master of many. If you want to be one, be led by creative thinking, exceptional life and radical attitude. Radical does not mean Maoism and revolution through guns and weed. Being radical here means being different from hoards. Only creative people could change the world and only they have shown new paths to new life. Masters are made for some reasons and the reasons, I believe remain the same even in this post global world.