Art as a hobby, art as an investment and then, art as a business, the diverse world of art doesn’t get any more lucrative than this. With Indian artists slowly and steadily becoming the toast of the art world, an increasing number of individuals are actively pursuing it as a business. The most interesting feature of this trend is that the number of women getting into the arty business is soaring by the day, be it as artists, art promoters and even gallery owners.
With the changing times, art, which was mainly considered a hobby, is today looked upon as a serious career option. With active government patronage via art and fine arts schools, the need for professionals to manage the works of artists and get down to tasks like organizing shows, attracting buyers, conducting auctions, etc increased manifold as did the need for dedicated art galleries, shows that numerous art savvy women have been more than happy to fill up. In Goa, too, the likes of Yolanda de Souza, Harshada Kerkar, Miriam Koshy, Naina Bandekar and Shaistha Thappar among others are synonymous with the world of art, as much for their own creations and collections as for their efforts to promote other artists, especially newcomers.
But is it really the kind of cake walk these ladies make the business look like, especially the task of organizing art shows, workshops and selecting new and upcoming artists and giving them the necessary launch platform? “You need to be passionate and believe in your work. There is no other way,” says Yolanda de Souza, who left her full time job to pursue her artistic calling. Though it was definitely a risk on her part as there was no real art scene in Goa in 1990s as it is today, it paid off and she is a successful artist in Goa today. Harshada Kerkar, who comes from a family of artists and is an acclaimed artist in her own right, says, “You have to invest your mind body and soul to succeed. In my gallery, this year, Vinita Chenvenker’s work was the highest priced. However money is very relative.”
But is the money earned enough? Can pursuing art be full time self sufficient career for women? Yolanda, who today commands quite a hefty sum for her paintings opines that it’s all about whom the market is for and what the work is about. Meanwhile, Harshada says, “I think painting is quite remunerative today. Art offers enough for every artist’s need but not for greed. Yes art can be taken as a full time career. The return on investment in terms of job satisfaction and garnering a name and goodwill in the market is tremendous. However, many a times. artists fall prey to the traditional malady that Goa is famous for, being sussegad.”
Gender discrimination in the art world
Is art as a career more difficult for women, be it as artists or curators or promoters? Does the proverbial glass ceiling exist here too? “Honestly, I don’t believe that any kind of gender discrimination exists in the art world, at least not in Goa,” Yolanda opines adding, “It’s all about the work. If you have it in you, you can succeed. The only thing you need is to know how good or bad you are. Self realization is important.” Echoing these thoughts, Miriam Koshy, curator of Gallery Gitanjali and an art enthusiast says, “I don’t think my gender has affected my work in any way. It has always been about the work.” Harshada adds saying, “Even upto 25 years back, men were looked down upon, especially if they chose to become artists and the journey towards success is tough for both. Art by men and women are not priced differently.”
About availing and obtaining government assistance
Traditionally, art prospered under the benign patronage of kings, rulers and philanthropists. In today’s democratic world, the government plays a huge role in encouraging and moreover, supporting artists. Goan artists enjoy quite a bit of patronage from the government, a case in point being the Art Gallery at Kala Academy which is completely funded by the State Government. The gallery space is given on hire on first come first serve basis on payment of hire charges. Since January 2011 till December 2012, 22 male artists and six female artists have organized exhibitions in the Gallery. For students of Goa College of Art, the Gallery is given on hire at a concession during a period of five years from the date of their graduation. Kala Academy only hires out the Gallery but does not keep any records of sale made by the artists concerned. The pricing of the works of the artists is decided by the artists themselves.
Making it big in this lucrative business
As a career, art is no different from any other and it entails all the steps that any other career would. Artists need to focus on marketing, networking, financial and administration skills. It is important to spend a lot of time on these aspects apart from the time spent on creating works of art. That apart, public relations is also a highly necessary skill.
Like any business, the art market also has its business cycles. The boom in Indian Art Market coincided with the country’s growth towards economic superpower. Apart from Husain, works by well known artists like SH Raza, Tyeb Mehta, FN Souza,Vasudev Gaitonde, etc were sold for astronomical amounts and the trickle-down effect benefitted all the artists. However, the art market took a huge dip after the 2008 global economic crisis. Prices of paintings by well-known artists fell at auctions by upto 30 per cent and for those by other artists by upto a massive 80per cent. Interestingly, this brought the art market rates down to realistic levels. However, the quality of the work is most important. Harshada says, “As a gallery curator, when it comes to that all important decision of whom to give a break to, I go by my own liking. Being an artist I easily recognize real and fake. Pricing sensibly and realistically is most important. Most artists don’t have patience, and sell at any price. So it is the investors who make money,” says she, adding that 50 per cent of the artists in her gallery are women.
What should art buyers consider
Art buyers today have also become a highly knowledgeable lot who do their necessary research before they invest huge sums in works of art. Although top artists command astronomic prices, there are works available for all budgets. If one is starting an art collection, works by emerging artists is clearly the more affordable choice. The question, however, remains about successfully identifying the right names. If this is your worry, too, first timers will do well to seek professional advice from art experts. However, remember, investing in art successfully needs patience as it is not one of those areas where you can ‘make a quick buck overnight and then disappear’.
Typically, real appreciation in the value of a painting could take about 10 to 12 years or even more. Harshada says, “Like any other business investments, art also has its share of risks. But the risk is minimal as compared to a share market. If the buyer invests wisely, the sky is the limit. To make profits, the thumb rule should be to invest in good works of art and not in the artist’s good name. I say this because good work is everlasting whereas a good name may fade. Most importantly, don’t trust art critics blindly because paid reviews are a sub-species of paid news.”
Last but not the least, always remember to buy the type of works that you like and understand, because apart from its investment value, art also has an aesthetic value. Hence, even if the art market sinks, there is always the painting on the wall which you will have the pleasure of viewing and appreciating, day after day
It’s just over the last few years that being an artist has become profitable, especially in Goa. Earlier it was impossible to make a living only through painting, and most artists travelled to Mumbai, the hotspot for Indian artists. To get sponsors and financial aid to hold an exhibition, too, was difficult. This is slowly taking a positive turn with the emergence of an enterprising younger generation of art enthusiasts. When it came to selling my works at the prices I fixed, initially it was quite difficult to sell. But winning the Harmony Award for Emerging Artist of the Year in 2001 helped me tremendously. Since then my works have fetched the price they deserve. Bargaining is a harsh reality in the art market which is never spoken about. It hasn’t affected me since I have never allowed my prices to escalate unreasonably, thus leaving no room for negotiation.
Like any business, art, too, has its risks. Not only abstract paintings, all forms of art, have their share of risks. However, I feel that no one is an artist purely for the money. It is more the passion that drives us to paint, and then the need to showcase our works, which is where exhibitions come into the scene. Holding an exhibition is no doubt a costly affair, but if you have the right contacts, the financial aspects are looked after. Unlike the spending scenario five or six years ago, people are now spending less due to recession and this has hit the art world as people are buying less. People have also started bargaining on the prices of art works. But it is not all about the money. For me it is a passion first and then a business.
As an artist, initially there are lot of struggles, but once you have created a name for yourself, the journey becomes easier, and hence, getting financial aid for exhibitions becomes easier, too. The cost of putting up a solo exhibition at times can cost a minimum of `1 lakh. The longer you are in the industry, getting sponsorships from sources and the Government becomes easier. It is risky though for new comers to put up an exhibition as the fear of not being able to sell their works and thus cover costs always exists. Established artists do not face this problem as their collectors will buy their works, no matter what the price is.
Tanaaz De Sousa
Despite the fact that I have had only one exhibition, I feel it has been quite profitable as I sold quite a lot of my works. Goa in the larger art sense, is a small but an upcoming art market and because of this, it is not that risky being an artist anymore. Though it takes time for an artist to establish himself/herself, I personally feel I got lucky thanks to all the help I received. When it comes to pricing my works, Rajendra Usapkar helped me a lot and people were quite impressed with the prices. I did not have to bargain on any of the item. So, though it is risky being an artist, especially one that is still new to the industry, it is a risk that I am willing to take.