It isn't surprising that chatter at art openings is hardly ever about art. Or that seasoned buyers like to keep their market tips close to their chests to remain ahead of the pack. In the absence of art education at the university level, art practitioners, critics and select galleries feel the importance to have open forum discussions and talks on art to plug the gaps that exist between seeing art, buying it and actually knowing about it.
Seasoned critics Girish Shahane and Ranjit Hoskote, Art India editor Abhay Sardesai, artists Anju and Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat, Sudhir Patwardhan, Gieve Patel, Nalini Malani, video artist Ashok Sukumaran and filmmaker Shaina Anand are pooling in their ideas to hold regular talks at galleries like Bodhi Art, that hosts talks on Tuesdays and at Rashmi Poddar's Jnanapravaha, at Queen's Mansion, Fort. The Asia Art Society, headed by Bunty Chand, regularly organises lectures along with Jnanapravaha. Even auction houses like Christie's and Sotheby's are now hosting talks on the nitty-gritty of art investment—the most recent being a talk hosted by Dr Amin Jaffar, curator of the Asian art section of the Victoria and Albert Museum about the trade between India and the West, highlighting how the East-meets-West phenomenon is manifested in the design of objects.
"It's good to see talks that are less about money and more about art, but I suppose artists should be talking and sharing ideas and work too," says
Mortimer Chatterjee who recently gave a talk on investing in New Media Art.
Sardesai addresses wider issues like the history of Indian art, and various terms and 'isms' used for art. "There is no forum where people who aren't trained in the act of looking at art can get information and insight to art. However, things are opening up. Now that art is associated with glamour and money, parents don't bat an eyelid if their kids want to be artists or study art," says Sardesai. Besides covering the history of art, he also gets people to respond to art in a dynamic lecture-demo format. The course is currently is an annual affair but Sardesai is looking to expand it.
Rashmi Poddar is perhaps one of the first to start an art and aesthetics course at National Centre for Performing Arts, however it reaches out to a smaller and more select number of people—the events at Jnanapravaha though, cater to a larger audience.
"Our aesthetics course is not easy to get into and there are few who clear the course. That is because often people join with a market approach to art which is not what we are all about," adds Poddar.
Unfortunately, the academy has not responded as enthusiastically in including art as part of their curriculum. "Usually, there isn't enough money and so younger practitioners are not interested in teaching; one cannot expect people to do things pro bono," reasons Sardesai.
The Common Room, an artist-led collaborative spearheaded by New Media artists Himanshu S, is a new venture being floated. "One has always longed for a formal space to dialogue about art. While we've had many public art events, this will hopefully draw things together in a more systematic manner," says Himanshu.