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Written by Devki Modi
I have always been drawing and painting throughout childhood. However, I formally started training in art only during my high school years. Something that began as a passion soon turned into a serious exploration when I began pursuing my undergraduate degree in Fine Art in London. Living in London, Mumbai and now Boston over the years has yielded my deep-rooted desire to establish a serious professional career as an artist.
Bubble wrapped. Packed in a box. Rolled up. My paintings were ready to be shipped to Mumbai after completion of a successful degree show. Dreams and hopes sat wrapped in that cargo. I was ready to dive right into my career as an artist in Mumbai.
The artist at work
A few weeks later: I sat in my studio in Mumbai after graduating from the Chelsea College of Art and Design, London, one morning surrounded by empty canvases, paint, paper, reference photographs – the experience of painting that was so familiar to me suddenly became one of the most daunting experiences. The reality of graduating was finally sinking in. I realized that the sheltered environment of my university in London no longer surrounded me. Although I was surrounded with lots of inspiration, I was extremely confused as to how I was going to tackle the city’s established artistic community. I initiated with doing some market research. Visiting art galleries, attending lectures and general networking I started understanding the limited possibilities available to artists like me.
The Indian contemporary art scene is a very niche community. While the galleries are giving a chance to the more mid-career and established artists, collectors view art to be more of an investment. This at times leaves the recent graduates and early career artists to face a lot of challenges, disappointments and rejection in the commencing years of their career.
As per the statistics on higher education in India, during 2012-2013 each year, approximately 7,500 students graduate with various art degrees, besides many more from other disciplines. There are very few platforms that are willing to take the risk of promoting new artists. The imbalance between the number of students graduating and the availability of opportunities leads to internal competition amongst the artists who then stand against each other as opposed to standing with one another. It also makes it difficult for a new artist to have a stable income. In order to sustain, most artists have a commercial practice like teaching or working at a gallery or museum along with maintaining an individual art practice, which also gives the artist a chance to build their network. The only thing one can do is to keep oneself involved in the scene and hope that something will work out.
The scarcity of good infrastructure like the easy availability of independent studio spaces, open calls for artists and jobs made it difficult to break through. Interning and participating at art fairs facilitated me in exhibiting my work as much as possible. Even so, most of the times there is very little or no follow up at all from the interested buyers whom I met at the fair.
Collaboration amongst artists is an upcoming culture. Artist run spaces, residencies and art fairs like Raqs Media Collective, Khoj in New Delhi, India Art Fair in New Delhi to name a few are great sources of inspiration and examples of a group of artists, who have come together to create opportunities and widen their possibilities.
Devki at the India Art Fair conducting a curated walk
Each rejection gave me the confidence to work harder. I recognized that eventually it is the strength of the artwork that was going to stand for itself.
As a young artist, in my opinion it is very important to be a part of an artistic community and cultivate healthy relationships with peers. This not only helps to create an alliance but also facilitates interactions that can help nurture each other’s practice. I believe that creating a free open studio space where artists can meet, interact, converse and critique each other’s work could be one of the stepping-stones to make the transition from a student to a struggling emerging artist more comfortable.
Apart from that creating more open call opportunities and juried exhibitions would get more viewership opportunities, besides tying up with interior designers and participating in group shows, being a part of pop up shows in cafes and galleries which encourage young talent. Another great avenue are online galleries and websites that promote young talent. One such website Artsome, acts as an interface between art connoisseurs and patrons and young talent. On one side they perform an educational role to familiarise common people with artistic terminology, whilst giving a philip to upcoming talent through their contests. (Please log into firstname.lastname@example.org for more details).
Disenchanting as it sounds it is true that the life of an artist is one of struggle. Embracing the struggle made me appreciate the journey as a part of the process of being an artist. Focus, will power, consistency, hard work, passion and patience form some of the foundational structures of the long journey ahead. It teaches one to be enduring, determined and perseverant thus believing in myself and my power to create. The struggle keeps one grounded thus enabling to develop an individual artistic integrity, intent and idiom.