The Purposive Ethos of an Artist

The purposive ethos of an artist, I shall call it.

It’s about the physical, cultural, and psychological constructs that surrounds and defines an artist. This ethos is not a descriptor of every artist — but the one that wants to be known as an artist, a stereotype wannabe, if you will.

There is the physical setting of ‘being’ an artist. In India, it would mean that you have an unkempt beard, wear a slightly soiled white kurta over torn jeans. Footwear should be as shabby as possible. Then there has to be that one eccentric accessory — beads, threads, chains, something of an adorned signature. A female artist would be similar, hopefully, without the beard. It’s a means of saying I am an artist without having to say, “I am an artist” There are exceptions to this, I’ll admit, that makes identifying artists difficult.

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Then, there is the cultural construct within which an artist lives. This is very specific to the kind of art the artist is engaged in. There are references to inspiration that a layman is expected to miss. There are elements of technique that the viewer is supposed to be oblivious to. The dialogue and the conversation, the choice of abstract language to describe yet another abstraction create the cultural pedestal on which the artist stands. Barthesian irony abounds, when I see abstract art being described – especially with an abstract description.

Finally, there is the psychological setting: an artist demands the right time, the appropriate mood, and a permitting environment to create art. Awaiting divine osmosis of creativity. When translated, this means that an artist can work only when away from the dull clanging of the reality of life. Sounds from the kitchen, the doorbell ringing, family chatter in the other room. A quiet setting is helpful for almost any vocation, but the artist’s insistence on this setting makes it, almost, an artist’s prerogative. There is, it seems, a good reason why most people with day-jobs are not artists.

These constructs, to me, seem to fulfil a two-fold purpose.

The first is of assuming an identity that permits an entry into the tribe. Recognition and appreciation, for an artist are two very important motivating and defining factors. Money, as every such artist will tell, you is a distant second. The easiest way to become an artist is to wear the garb; emulate the tribe.

The second, for the lack of a better word, is an excuse not to work. I don’t mean not to work in a shunning-your-responsibilities kind of way, but to allow time to go by, and wait for inspiration to come by — some kind of validation for laziness.

And now, read the entire post again. Remove the sharp references to the artist. Dull the message and sandpaper it to rounded edges of generalisation.

In some form or the other, we are all artists.

Sidenote: I read this piece in an essay, “Contemporary Indian Art: Souza as a Paradigm” by Srimati Lal

Today’s fervently active Indian Galley-climate — apart from showcasing some formidably gifted and skilled artists born after Independence such as Baiju Parthan, Anupam Sud, and Atul Dodiya — is also riddled with derivative installations and ‘trendy’ conceptual abstractions that seem to conveniently bypass the need for artistic draughtsmanship or direct, personal painterly skill, in favour of the mimesis of mechanical or technological applications that, more often than not, blindly mimic outdated and gimmicky Western experimentations such as ‘Happenings’. Indeed, such sensation-oriented ‘special-effects’ in Western art only point towards the sterile vapidity of a vocabulary that has exhausted itself. […] no amount of ‘avant-garde’ gimmickry can replace the power of direct, personal artistic skill and emotion, sheer artistic draughtsmanship, the power of line and the magic of the human entity in art, coupled with the ideation of an authentic thought process.”

Originally posted in a slightly different context on my other blog; Gaizabonts.

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