Friday, October 15, 2010
An interview with my wife (on art)
September of this year was our tenth marriage anniversary. I interviewed my wife (she is an artist) for that occasion.
This is the second interview in this blog; it is mostly about art.
RA: Hello SS. Can we start the interview?
SS: Enna vachu edhuvum comedy keemadi panlaye?
RA: No, let us be professional here. You will discover how skilled I am at writing and interviewing. You have only seen the positive side of your husband. Now you will see how serious I am with a subject. I am relentless and ask very tough questions. Lying is useless; you may as well give up now.
SS: Is the interview about art or you?
RA: Yes. About art. I know. I am just warning you.
(In the meantime, my son wanders into the room; wants to be part of the interview process. We convince him to go play with toys - "choppu". He has a little set of small wooden cooking utensils.)
RA: You know, art has always interested me. If you think about it, I am an artist myself - I draw with words.
I guess you could say I paint colorful characters.
I outline the landscape of life with my words.
Do you notice how good I am with this?
RA: Anyway, my point is art is such a essential part of our lives. But many people are not aware of it. They only have contempt for people studying art.
I guess you could say the same thing about writers. I have gone through a lot of insults in my life for being a writer. The first time I wrote something about the neighborhood cat, my father laughed at the manuscript and threw it away.
SS: You know, if you just want to talk about yourself, I can go play with the kid.
RA: Ok. I guess my question is how did you become a drawer? What interested you in drawering?
SS: I am not a drawer. I am an artist.
SS: I am not a full-fledged artist. I came to know I had a talent for it in school. But I only thought of it as a separate field you could specialize in after watching the "Art of Painting" show by Bob Ross in the WYBE channel, Philadelphia.
I also had access to the Free Library of Philadelphia close to our home, which had an extensive collection of books on art (even for a novice).
RA: Now, that would be after your marriage to me?
RA: So you could say I had a part to play?
SS: No, Bob Ross did.
RA: Ok, so then you went to the Community College of Philadelphia. What options does a person studying art have in the USA?
SS: They start from High School, where they create a portfolio. The idea is to get a BFA degree which makes you employable in Graphic Design, Product Design, Printing, Textiles, Interior Design, Architecture, Photography, Web Design, Animation, and even into movie and advertising fields.
Usually you apply to a private art school. The best is Rhode Island School of Design. New York University is famous. The Pratt Institute. UPenn in Philadelphia has a good art department.
RA: What are the options in India?
SS: Government Arts College, Chennai is good. I think Art director Thottatharani, actor Siva Kumar and many others studied there. The "elite" schools in India (like the IITs) are the National Schools of Design. The Ahmedabad NSD is very famous.
Again, you get a BFA (4 year) degree and then you can do masters (MFA).
One big difference is that the Indian schools have an age bar. Generally after 27, you cannot get admitted to any of these.
RA: Back to Philly. What courses did you take in CCP?
SS: I started with basic drawing and design. I never planned to complete a diploma there. (The CCP provides an Associate in Art degree; it is equivalent to an art diploma).
I had several streams to specialize in - Printing, Art & Design, Photography or Architecture. You take a lot of common courses and then take a few specialized courses (for 65 credits). I specialized in Art & Design.
They teach you drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramic work, basic design, three dimensional design..
RA: Now, when you say design, you don't just mean graphic design.
SS: No. There is a separate stream called design. They teach you Fundamentals of Design, Color Theory, use of space. For example, when I say three dimensional design, it has nothing to do with computers or animation. We had to mold or cast and prepare models. That was 3D design.
Such a design course, with no reference to computers, gives you a very strong foundation for all design work, such as Interiors.
The computer is just a tool. Design has existed for a long time.
RA: You also had to take Art History courses...
SS: Yes. You remember the heavy text books.
RA: We had a fight over where to keep them.
SS: Art History is vital to students because it inspires you with art over time and different cultures.
RA: In other words, it lets you copy not just from current artists but also dead artists.
SS: What we create now will be history for future generations. Varalaaru migavum mukkiyam, Amaichare.
RA: What was the teaching like? You had been to college in India. Was it different?
SS: We had to do creative work all through the semester. It was very stimulating that way. Like anywhere, there were good teachers and bad teachers. But I always felt good at school.
RA: Ok, for people finishing art school, where do you like to work the most?
SS: Ad agencies. They are the ultimate prize in terms of work. Also Design firms that do graphic design. One of my friends is specializing in product photography.
RA: Now, let us get to the crux of this interview. Modern art. Why is it so weird? One of my classmates in college said it was a complete scam because you could hang a picture upside down and nobody would notice. Kamal Hassan makes fun of it in the movie "Kaadhala Kaadhala".
SS: Sometimes it creates magic. It has to do mostly with your subjective interpretation.
The important thing is there is no "message" in modern artwork. There can be focal points, but the artwork itself cannot be reduced to a single message. It is like poetry - you just understand something that makes a connection. I think it plays with the viewer's emotions. A landscape or a portrait is about the scene represented by the artist. In modern art, the viewer plays a major role.
Sometimes people confuse messages with symbols. When we say "symbolic" (in India) we generally mean in terms of "something that is a hidden hint for something else". In the West, they actually mean symbols, cultural, historical symbols.
RA: So, if you see a human being drawn in a weird way, it does not "symbolize" anything? Such as his mood, or his nature?
SS: It can, but such art is not really "modern". Such symbolism has existed throughout history.
If a human being is drawn in a different way, then whatever it means to the viewer is all that matters.
You should not ask an artist what she "intends to convey" in a painting. In art class, if we are asked to talk about the masters' paintings, we describe what we see - such as if it is an oil or watercolor and other obvious features. But we never were asked to talk about the "meaning" of the painting. That is wrong when it applies to any art, particularly to modern art.
RA: So, it is like hearing a Ilayaraaja song and asking for its "meaning"?
RA: My classmate Vijay and I had an argument about modern art in college. He said that the art that we see normally growing up, such as in magazines, the European paintings, Ravi Verma's paintings...they seem more "natural" than modern art.
SS: European paintings brought in realism around 16th century because they did a lot of research at the time of the Renaissance. The proportions that they drew in were based on real human proportions. Before that, drawings in Europe were religious themed mostly. They also showed very ideal figures. The figures' sizes were based on hierarchy in society (you can still see this in Mughal paintings).
They had something called a register where the focus or the top of the painting was Christ or the King. The knights followed and so on. Serfs were shown as small figures at the bottom.
Now, that CHANGED to realism in 16th century. Even that included symbolism and hierarchies.
That is, the paintings that we consider "normal" would not have been considered normal 500 years back. Not in India, not in Europe.
Art has always had different streams and evolutions. You cannot judge between the arts of different times or different cultures.
RA: I would say that applies to music and writing and so on.
RA: Thank you, SS, for your time. Now, one final question...
RA: Do you think I am the best person in the world ever?
SS: I will answer that on our 20th anniversary.