Paul Gauguin - Landscape from Tahiti, 1893

Artists by birth

What drives a normal human being to turn to art and then what leads to success in art?



Lately, the faculty of an art institution has started to celebrate their colleagues’ birthdays. This trend has caught on because social media has made this information available to more people. But events like these invoke some questions. Is it okay to celebrate birthdays of teachers at workplace? Isn’t a workplace more about the professional conduct rather than intimate affairs of people?



This leads one to ponder upon the significance of artists’ dates of birth on their personality and performance. Does a zodiac sign impact on an artist’s practice, thoughts, ideas and aesthetics? Today when the possibilities of curating artists’ exhibitions under new themes are almost exhausted, one may consider having a show of Piscean painters or Sagittarian sculptors etc. This may be a new form of artists’ collectives. Or there could be shows of artists having Hotmail or Gmail accounts or those who use android or Mac and so on.



The real question is whether our artistic fate is formulated by or linked with our births or is determined due to social or some other factors. We do come across twin artists, born within the gap of a few minutes, bearing identical faces, brought up in the same house and yet so different in their pictorial preferences.



The same issue crops up when one meets applicants for art schools. Students aiming to become an artist, designer or an architect belong to the same household where other siblings select ‘normal’ careers such as medicine, law, engineering, civil service, computer and I.T. One wonders about that particular drive within a person that transforms them into a creative individual. Children from normal families living ordinary lives suddenly discover a calling for art and plan to pursue it. What is it that compels young enthusiasts to spend years in this field without having an earlier exposure to the world of art? Why do they forsake everything for art that may not even guarantee them monetary security?



This passion, verging on madness, had compelled Paul Gauguin, a French post-Impressionist artist, to leave his lucrative job as stock broker, comfortable home with wife and children and land in the difficult terrains of Tahiti to paint and die in misery. There are other cases in which prosperous doctors, wealthy bankers and powerful government officers have abandoned their regular posts for the love of art. This is a wild goose chase, since one is completely in the dark about the success of an artist in coming years.




One does recall discussions with many famous artists when they were young and were calculating the possibility of leaving art and taking up computer engineering, working as insurance agents or migrating to other countries as drivers or salesmen in order to earn big bucks. But there was something within that compelled them to remain artists, despite the grim prospects. Today, a few of them are celebrated artists with considerable international recognition.



Yet, one is still not clear about the urge for adopting art as a profession. Gone are the days when it was perceived as a symbol of freedom, an icon of fashion or a means to allure the opposite gender. Now there are other areas of knowledge and training where one can experience all this. Still, one keeps meeting people who are craving to join an art institution.



One needs to be a psychologist to fathom why they opt for art against all odds. But once they enroll and then graduate and start struggling as practising artists, they have to rely on various sources in order to secure a place for themselves in the wide world of art. Some depend upon their regional identity (Kashmiri, Sindhi, Urdu-speaking, Pathan, Punjabi, Bloch etc.) or gender or association with a particular art school or a city or an influential group or they become followers of a certain style, for instance realistic, stylised, abstract, traditional, miniature etc.



None of this can ensure the success of an artist. They may get their first solo show but that could be the beginning of an end.



So what is the magic word, talisman or secret? Date of birth, connection with a powerful lobby, alumnus of a prestigious art institute, or being at the right place at the right time? None, actually! The secret lies in a search to find the truth. Even if there is no result at the end, the journey itself, the experience, is worth the trouble. The quest promises something great and is rewarding eventually.



In all likelihood, it is the untiring investigation and not the zodiac sign or date of birth that guarantees the metamorphosis of a humble student into an international celebrity. If we focus on someone who had barely passed his degree show but may dominate every international art fair, biennale, and triennial across the globe, we may be able to know more about art, the art world, world and about ourselves.





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