“So long as government and law provides for the security and well-being of the men in their common life, the arts, literature and the sciences, less despotic though perhaps more powerful, fling garlands of flowers over the chains which weigh them down. They stifle in men’s breasts that sense of original liberty, for which they seem to have been born; cause them to love their own slavery, and so make of them what is called a civilized people.” writes Rousseau in his ‘Discourse on Arts and Sciences’ in 1750, criticizing the role of art as something which corrupts human beings, somewhat similar to Plato’s take on art. Art of which Rousseau is talking about mainly consists of the 18th century and pre 18th century art which majorly are sculptures and paintings, either of the classical era or a revival of the same. Art today is more diverse and an idea of critiquing the ‘systems’ is prevalent, yet again it is very distant from the public domain.
Even though Rousseau critiques the development of art, but artists at least of the 18th century had a huge stature in public domain e.g. neo-classical paintings by Jacque Louis David were read as one of the many instigating agents to the French revolution.
There is art in public domain – The Murals in subways and metro tunnels or the sculptures of netas dotting the city today, though it may boast renowned and respected artists like Ramkinkar Baij et. al. , but all these art ‘objects’ lay mute in the public domain. For some it adds to the beauty of the space, for others it has become so usual that it goes unnoticed. Probably the stagnant nature of art in public domain got the idea of Delhi’s first public art festival in December 2008, which included renowned artists like Vivan Sundaram and Subodh Gupta. There also, security guards were employed to so called ‘protect’ the art installations which are meant to be ‘public’. The very objective of public art was lost the moment there were measures to keep the public out.
Even though contemporary artists critique the ‘systems’, but in India, artists are far away from the public domain (except for popular mediums like movies). The public perception of an artist is that of an elite and of art is of a luxury ‘product’ that only rich can appreciate and possess. The complex scenario of art market makes it even more alienating, wherein the artist starts to create art that sells and styles take more dominance than content, where the originality is in question and where the ideas keep replicating in varying scales and magnitude. Rousseau puts it beautifully in his discourse “It is thus that the dissolution of morals, the necessary consequence of luxury, brings with it in its turn the corruption of taste.”
There is no true public space in Delhi, all the so called public spaces just tend towards a false notion of the public-ness. In such a scenario only an artist can claim to create a public space, because only art can be that tool which can achieve this, not in a permanent sense, but a public space for a fraction of a second will also do. Such a huge potential is trapped in the money making business of gallery speculation. This leads an obvious question WHY ART?