Why I say Conceptual and Spectacular Art will go out of the window in the coming years?

EDITORIAL :Why I say Conceptual and Spectacular Art will go out of the Window in the coming Years? / Johny ML


JohnyML, the Editor in Chief of Art Tehelka feels the necessity to write a supplementary article to the previous two editorials because many readers/artists have asked whether skill based art would come back or not. Studying historical dynamics of the contemporary world JohnyML observes that only the marriage of skill and conceptual thinking happening in the same artist could save art; the separation of the two causes alienation followed by frustration. Read on. 

Editor-in-Chief Johny ML

Editor-in-Chief Johny ML







Creation as well as production of anything involves both intelligence and skill. We differentiate creativity from production mainly because creativity has the involvement of human intelligence and skills from the moment of ideation to the final moment of its realisation through various mediatic executions, whereas production is something that starts with the idea of someone and is realised by the introduction of various skilful hands and equipment. In the case of production, the producers at various levels are disengaged causing a sense of alienation among them, in the meanwhile in the case of creating something, the creator is involved through and through without leaving any chance for his/her alienation from the idea of product. That’s why a work of art is often said as a creative expression and mass produced objects are called ‘products’ for consumption.


Interestingly, our art has moved to a different direction where artists have become ‘producers’ and craftspeople have become ‘artists’. Unfortunately, we push the craftspeople down in the hierarchy of art making. It is ideological. Holding any one of these, either skill or ideating intelligence (which is also known as conceptual thinking) more important than the other one, is ideological therefore oppressive, anti-democratic and non-creative. If we say that conceptual thinking is better than skill/craft, then it is done with an ideological purpose in order to make the conceptual thinkers who are often coming from the hegemonic classes to move further up in the socio-cultural and economic hierarchy. It creates such a situation where all those artists having skills are come to be seen as mere craftspeople. During the Victorian Era, Britain had supported an Arts and Crafts movement both in London and in its colonies elsewhere as an academic pursuit which gave more emphasis to design and traditional skills in executing designs. It had made many artists think in various ways about the implementation of skill and traditional crafts into their scheme of modern thinking and creating arts, resulting into movements like Bauhaus, Constructivism and so on in the West. In colonies, it took a different turn when it came as part of pedagogy and it was reinterpreted or misinterpreted as a new educational policy which took the responsibility upon itself for helping the erstwhile crafts-persons in the colonies to polish their traditional skills while getting introduced to the western academic art practice.

Both English education and training western academic art styles caused the birth of two kinds of artists; one, skill oriented traditional artists and two ‘professional’ artists who have gained the western academic skills. In the late 19th and early 20th century situations, it was natural for an academic artist to get mainstream acclamation than an artist who honed his traditional skills in the institute. This continued for a long time as we could see that most of the early art education institutes were either arts and crafts institutes or polytechnics. It took many years for us to make them exclusive art institutes. In due course of time, that means almost for around seventy years we had created ‘skilled’ artisans and professional artists (read with west oriented training). A search for new India and other then freed colonial countries launched in getting the traditional skills back and it was a second wave of revivalism (for good) after the early 20th century nationalistic revivalism of/in art. This newly found enthusiasm for indigenous practices in art was helpful in bridging the gap that had developed between artists and crafts people to certain extent. Contributions of J.Swaminathan, K.G.Subramanyan and so on should be acknowledged at this juncture. The admixture of German Expressionism and the indigenous narrative styles that came in the Baroda School in 1980s has to be seen in this historical context.


When the protected economy of India changed into the global economy allowing free trade and cultural openness facilitated a new scenario since 1990s. The fruition of it came in with the new millennium and the advocates of free trade through corporate means were the champions of piece-mealing creativity giving onus to the conceptual thinkers more weightage in the profit market than those sweatshop workers elsewhere in the world. It happened in the computer software revolution in the Silicon Valley in the US and the call centers and other business centers elsewhere in the world. The conceptual thinkers ‘created’ the original concept and it was executed by innumerable faceless engineers/ executives elsewhere. The same thing happened in the art scene. ‘Trained’ artists became conceptual thinkers and faceless ‘skilled’ artists becoming their executors, with a huge disparity in fame and fortune sharing. It happened in the film industry. The people who really do choreography are never known to the world. But who provide concepts to the skilled dancers become choreographers. In BGM scoring too, the musician who earns the name does only the concept developing; the score writer and executor of the music seldom gets mentioned. Except for writing industry, it seems in all the creative fields, the schism has happened in a big way to create a new set of working class called ‘skilled’ artists.

One should not become sad for having skills. Art is never or creativity is never partial; it has skill sets and conceptual thinking alike. This is a passing phase. People already have started thinking differently about their art pursuits and art acquisitions. With newer ways of accessing art (mainly through interfaces created over internet, for both pure enjoyment and commercial transactions) people have started looking for fresh talents who have both conceptual thinking and skill sets alike. That’s why we see a group of new musicians coming in the lime light. We see new dancers, new choreographers, new designers, new architects and new instrumentalists. And new artists too! The careful obfuscation that exists between the glossy art of today and its real production methods is the only thin veil that exists between the final collapse of the spectacular art and the present glamour that it enjoys. Those who have seen the studio functioning of Jeff Koons, Ron Muvek, Banksy and even our N.S.Harsha, must have suddenly felt some kind of dejection about their art. In fact people are looking for fresh and new avenues where art is created. The mainstream thinking is slowly going out of fashion or to put it in other words, it is taking a different shape. And in this transition, many conceptual thinkers who really do not know how to make their art would collapse and will be erased from the public memory, and their art will be discarded from the future markets as public shame.


Look at the malls in America and China, two successful and powerful economic and business countries. The malls that had changed the topography of urban spaces in both these countries are now left unused or partially used for the lack of consumers and patrons. These malls came up killing the local business exactly the way the multiplexes cinemas killed the single screen theaters all over the world. But today, if you see the multiplexes are all changing their tactics. The number of seats have been reduced to thirty or fifty and at times to ten even. Platinum, Diamond and such premium classes are created so that film watching could become more and more a private affair. It is caused by the introduction of other avenues such as torrentz from which one could download or pay and download new movies. What would happen to these malls and multiplexes in the long run? While the multiplexes will remain for a few more years the malls will be closed down one by one even in India (people go to malls to get free air condition and visit food courts than to really shop). This is happening because of online trade. Right from health services to sex services, from groceries to books, from goggles to cycles, from fridge, washing machine, music system, television to furniture, from high end cars to used low end cars, from mopeds to Harley Davidsons, from your life partner to real dolls you get everything via internet. Look at the success of amazon.com, flipkart and the king of all online trades, the Alibaba.com of China.

I am talking about the change in the historical dynamics. People would eventually stop believing in advertisements and gallery executives. To know a product, then will go to check the properties of the product put down by the producer/creator him/herself or the opinion of the satisfied user. After that they would check out the critic’s or expert’s opinion. They would listen to the dealers’ claims last. They will click the ‘buy button’ only when they are satisfied with the above said parameters. I imagine a world where art is sold in the same way, almost making the galleries and other art dealers as packing and sending agents as it has happened with other products. The local dealers no longer run shops; they just run warehouses from where they pack and send products. I envision a world where the patronizing clients take an evening walk to the local artists’ studios. I envision a world where the people will chose vacation spots where artists work. I envision a world where people will think about art in their own terms. I envision a world where skill is respected as importantly as conceptual thinking. I envision a world where people read a critic’s or an expert’s words before they go and meet an artist. I envision a world where the patrons drop into have some intelligent conversations with the artists in a local café or his/her studio. I envision a world where people think about art as much as they think about food or clothing.  I will not go wrong because that is what the history tells me and I can see, feel and understand the dynamics of history.

Johny ML

Editor-in Chief

Art Tehelka


( All images are taken from the internet for illustrative purposes only)

4 thoughts on “Why I say Conceptual and Spectacular Art will go out of the window in the coming years?

  1. Sir this is the reply i was waiing for. Thnx alot for writing. I was confused about the matter. I hv seen skill is going dead in artworks. It occured to me that skill shudnt die. The beauty is also fading. Is it not that art is incomplete without beauty, skill and good aesthetics..? U cleared my confusion. Sir i am an artist also and i sometime fail to interpret contemporary works. If an artist fails to interpret an artwork’s significance then how come a non-artist citizen wud relate to it.? I try to read abt the thoughts behind the artwork. But that isnt much of help at all. Sir as a creative person we have some responsibilities towards society. Are we fulfilling our responsibility…? Are we creating something which can contribute to the change of bad into good of the society..? If not then why are we making art and why wud society need it..? A place where there are bigher issues than our personal feelings and abstractions. Are we overlooking the serious issues where artists should contribute..? Sir i also envision the world which you mentioned. Thnx alot sir.


  2. <> Sir, I think you’re mixing an artist with an activist when you say “Are we creating something which can contribute to the change of bad into good of the society..? If not then why are we making art and why wud society need it..?” Art is reduced to propaganda if it is made with an intention to change the world, make it a better place etc etc. Whats the use of works of Kandinsky, Miro, Warhol, Pollock? Did they make the world a better place? Of course with hind sight you can say, yeah, they changed how we perceive art itself, they redefined art. If we agree on that, then there is no problem. To each to his/her own.


    • Whatever i said i m just giving my views and not generalizing anything. Yes i agree with your point. If u are talking about pullock warhol and miro. Let me tell you there were times when art needed different approach and different perspective and the pioneers succeded to do it. We got know about cubism, surrealism, abstract, popart and so on. But What are we to do with there discoveries.? We have to learn frm it and “use” it and take it to another level. just like scientist’s used Newton’s and Einstien’s invention of gravity and force to make a rocket go to Mars. I m not mixing science with art. But theres a way evrything under the sky works. Our forefathers used to make fire by rubbing stones together. Are we still struck there..? Time changes, people changes so shud art. Yes it has changed but “in my opinion” not in better direction. I May be wrong.


  3. Thanks for bringing this whole scenario to light. My husband is an artist and we always hold such discussions. I always feel that person with brilliant mind and pure art at hand can create something magical.


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