Once upon a time, the romantic concept of the struggling artist ' gaunt and unkempt but passionate and uncompromising, who would rather spend his last penny on a tube of paint rather than on a good meal ' was indeed a reality. And we are not talking about the time of Vincent Van Gogh, who had sold only one painting during his lifetime. “As late as the 1980s,” says Archana Roy, director, Birla Academy of Art and Culture, “art was not a lucrative career option.” To illustrate just how unappreciated it was, she observes, “Few parents wished to get their daughters married to artists because they felt they wouldn’t be able to support a family.” Not so any longer, say experts.
“The arts ' both commercial and fine arts ' are now a sought-after career option, providing a host of job opportunities and income possibilities,” says Kamalaksha Gangopadhyay, lecturer and head of the department of graphic design and applied arts at the Government Art College, Calcutta. An indicator of this is the number of copies of the course prospectus which is sold every year ' Gangopadhyay puts it at “roughly eight hundred to one thousand” for the 100 seats which are on offer for its undergraduate, postgraduate and other programmes. Aparna Roy, who is a student of art history and aesthetics in Baroda, agrees with him, pointing out that “earlier parents rarely wanted their kids to pursue careers in art ' today they push them into it.”
Archana Roy, who attributes the phenomenon to globalisation, points out that artists today find it less difficult to market their skills and products because there is a huge demand for their craft. For those who are trained in the fine arts ' which includes drawing, painting, sketching and sculpture ' the open market has resulted in opportunities to go global with their work. “Indian art, with its rich history, is especially sought after by art lovers and collectors throughout the world,” Roy explains. “This holds true not just for well-known artists but also for those who are just starting out.” There is also a growing demand for paintings and sculptures, not just in the circles of private collectors but also in various industries which are increasingly becoming aesthetically-inclined, ranging from hotel management to beautification drives requiring the installation of statues and sculptures in parks and gardens. And artists can now exhibit their works in a host of galleries and art houses not just in their own city or country but also in other parts of the world. They can also now display their work on the Internet.
As for commercial art ' which entails the application of different mediums of art for commercial purposes, such as advertising and publishing ' the career prospects of those pursuing it never looked so good. With a burgeoning of industries requiring animators, illustrators or graphic designers to conduct their essential operations ' be it the Internet, television or the electronic or print media, landing a job with a degree in the commercial arts is no problem at all. Even freelancers are having the time of their life. Says Sanjay Dutt, a commercial artist, who left a job to work independently from home, “I get so much business throughout the year doing art work ' including designing banners, logos, posters, boxes and packages ' that I don’t want to go back to a job.”
Nidhu Mondal, who teaches at the Institute of Fashion Technology, Salt Lake City, Calcutta (formerly with the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad) puts great emphasis on the “utilitarian function of art”.
The fashion or textile industry, furniture designing and interior decoration, not to mention teaching at school or college or other art institutions, are some of the options for commercial artists. Says Sanjay Raj, partner, Craft group of Eastern India, “From time to time, we need fresh talent to develop designs for our accessories, jute and fabric products, including cotton, silk and leather. If their designs click, they get royalty.”
That brings us to the question of money. Is fine arts a well-paid career option' While pointing out that an artist’s marketability is related to a great extent on his or her aptitude and application, Gangopadhyay says that the starting salary of a commercial artist can range from Rs 5000-6,000 (as a trainee visualiser in an ad agency) to Rs 10,000-15,000 a month (in an e-learning company), depending on the industry.
Later on, as a senior art director, for instance, you may earn a salary of Rs 50,000-60,000 and more. Graphic designers in publishing houses, the print and electronic media and other e-learning businesses can command salaries going into the six-digit category. Freelancers, Dutt says, “can easily make Rs 30,000 to 35,000 a month working for four to five hours a day.”
Nor is there a ceiling for fine artists. Says Roy, “While a senior artist such as Mira Mukheree admits to feeling unsure even about quoting as little as Rs 30,000 for a painting, saying ‘I only used so much coal or so little metal’, an artist, fresh out of art college, will not even think twice about putting a tag of as much as Rs 1 lakh on a painting.”
And, according to her, chances are that this painting will be lapped up at an exhibition or an art gallery. Says artiste Biswajit Saha, “Even if you are not very well-known, today you have the option of entering your paintings in competitive exhibitions. The market is very good and if your work is decent you usually sell.”
While many schools and colleges offer art as a separate discipline and you can choose your specialisation, some institutions are dedicated specifically to the study of art. A few of them are listed below.
In West Bengal: Government College of Art and Craft (Jawaharlal Nehru Road), Rabindra Bharati (B.T. Road), Bengal Fine Arts Colllege (Motijhil), Indian Art College (Dum Dum), Kala Bhavan (Santiniketan, Bolpur).
In Delhi: Delhi College of Art (Tilak Marg)
In Mumbai: J.J. School of Art (near Victoria Terminus Station).
In Ahmedabad: The National Institute of Design