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Despite all the rich and diverse culture India boasts of, traditional handicrafts and any hope of making a successful living in the arts is slowly but surely dying out
Posted On Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 01:49:21 AM
As Indians, we are proud of our culture and arts. Thanks to our long history and the vibrant diversities over a nation of continental dimensions, we have inherited a rich treasure house of heritage .
Nevertheless, not many of us are aware and acutely conscious of a silent cancer eating away at the vitals of our arts.
Ironically, the two positive forces of globalisation and IT, which have brought a lot of blessings to humanity are the culprits.
Globalisation has made the earth flat. The IT revolution has meant the death of distance , reducing the world to a global village.
The net effect is a strong trend towards homogenisation and loss of diversities. The McDonaldisation of the world has made everyone addicted to junk food.
Mass production of textiles might have helped to clothe the world better, but it has sounded the death knell for a whole host of handloom traditions. A whole range of handicrafts are disappearing thanks to cheap mass produced fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs).
Every art has three dimensions. The first and most important is creativity and human imagination. The second is the human skill in the form of craftsmanship. Anand Coomaraswamy pointed out how the artist is essentially a a craftsman.
An object becomes a piece of art when the critic perceives its beauty. This craftsmanship, to begin with is naturally manual. Traditionally, the skills of craftsmanship are nurtured and honed over generations when a son follows his father’s craft.
The third dimension is execution and production. It is in this stage that finance and marketing become decisive. After all, a craftsman needs a market to sell his products and make a living.
Technology has greatly influenced this dimension. Many a handicraft nurtured by the skilled fingers of our master craftsmen have been replaced by efficient, impersonal, heartless machines.
Traditionally, the financial side of arts and crafts was taken care of by patrons, kings, zamindars and in our times, corporate houses like the Tatas and ITC.
The traditional arts today face the problem of fading out of existence. This is the silent cancer affecting our arts.
It is not as if sensitive people are unaware of this. In fact, we do have a ministry of culture and a number of dedicated academies in the Govt. of India .
Every state has its counter part of the Govt. of India organisations. There are a number of private trusts for music, dance, painting, drama, literature, handicrafts and so on, set up by many industrial houses and philanthropists.
Nevertheless, all these institutions have no programme for nurturing creativity in the talented youngsters of the new generation and ensuring that artists have an attractive, financially flourishing career.
Equally significant is that they have no vision for protecting the great living artists who are really living treasures. They are being viewed and handled in the same manner as members of an endangered species by the wild life conservationists.
They do not answer the basic question — can a young Indian today choose arts as a career and hope to not only flourish on his creativity but also earn remuneration comparable to attractive careers in other professions like IT, medicine or engineering?
All students who complete plus 2 are conditioned to choose between the established professions and careers in engineering, medicine and commerce.
As a result, liberal arts is practically the last resort for a student. Even a student who has a natural flair for arts is forced to choose a non-art course. Harsh economic reality dictates their choice.
Lord Snow in the fifties came up with his theory of two cultures-liberal arts and science. With the established dominance of the science and technology culture, how are we going to preserve our rich cultural and artistic heritage?
What is needed is a new look at our present approach to arts education and promotion of culture. Exploring that option must be the subject for another column.
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