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Vocation, the art of the matter
- Anjolie Ela Menon on what can’t be a hobby

Fans would recognise her arresting canvases and murals anywhere, even without the distinctive Anjolie Ela Menon signature — very neat, with a dash below the last ‘n’.

Based in Delhi, Menon, a Padma Shri, first made waves in the world of art in the late 1950s. Growing from strength to strength, she is now an institution by herself.

In Jamshedpur now for the ongoing Tata Steel’s Art in Industry, Menon spoke to The Telegraph on Friday on the sidelines of her talks with budding and well-known artists.

“There is struggle if you want to be an artist. It is not easy,” said the septuagenarian.

Though her work started selling from her teens, her parents had different ambitions for her.

“My father wanted me to be a doctor and my mother pressed me for literature. But even at 13, I knew I was going to be an artist. For anyone who wants to take up art, I will say one thing. Art should not be your profession, it should be your vocation. There’s a difference between the two,” she said.

With Indian artists getting recognised abroad, many feel ‘art pays’. But Menon said there was no substitute for talent.

“Only the very talented should join (this field). There may be thousands but very few will make it here. Artists must have originality and be driven,” Menon told The Telegraph.

Menon studied briefly at JJ School of Art, Mumbai, and left for Europe on a scholarship from the French government in 1959. At the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Art in Paris, she began experimenting with palettes, surfaces and styles.

For more than five decades, her oil on masonite paintings and mixed-media works have been called haunting, autobiographical, subjective, interpretative, impressionistic and iconographic.

Ask her, and she refuses to be boxed in.

“We have a history but why stick to that? There are changes that we should be ready to accept,” she said.

On indigenous art forms, she spoke on the thin line between art and craft.

“Art is an exclusive and original piece, while craftspersons make the same thing again and again. For indigenous art forms to get recognition, there should be some innovation, something different than what has already been done,” she said.

On the ubiquitious art classes for children, Menon said: “Art shouldn’t be introduced to children as a hobby but as something serious. Let children be exposed to various types of painting,” she said.

On camps like Art in Industry, she had a suggestion. “I’d love to see more talks on art. Show art to people but also host seminars to stimulate thought,” she said.

Do you agree with Menon’s views on art? Tell ttkhand@abpmail.com