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May 22, 2011 / the s.a. project

artist: the raving lunatic

It is often automatically assumed that artists must be off the rocker, starving hermits, drug addicts or bipolar nut jobs. While we do have a share of all these so does every other field – for eg; crazy scientists, starving professors, drug addict cricketers and bipolar bankers. But for the arts, these traits are often looked as authenticity markers for the ‘true artist‘! Anguish, Mania, and bouts of depression are justified as career perks. So, those that are new to being artists and aren’t any of the above jump onto the bandwagon and become either one, or all. And, mostly, we who start out poor and starving remain in a conundrum of sorts.

And even though I now understand that the ‘crazed artist‘ is a relatively new phenomena (in comparison to the entire history of art and artists) I too succumbed to the ‘ideals‘ of being an artist. I say relatively new, because if you read a bit of history many of our great masters had healthy lives, worked commissions, had seriously social schedules, raging affairs and even liked to dress up and dance. The tormented artist did always exist side by side, and shared more or less the same fame, but over the years the latter just became a more desirable image through the lens of writers and filmmakers and all ‘the others’. Now we love to fit this image.

We start our art education by idolizing/idealizing the Van Gogh who chopped his ear off, the Holy Blaspheming Sadequain, the lonely hermit Zubeida Agha, the Andy Warhol who lived a concocted reality, the Sylvia Plath who shoved her head into an oven and died of carbon monoxide, the Dali who labelled himself a mad genius, the Miniature god Ustaad Bashir Ahmed who walks around making barking sounds….

There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact they are bloody geniuses. But so are countless others who were/are sane, maybe even boring.

It makes me think twice, thrice, a gazillion times then: why am I so hell-bent on aspiring to be a mythical ‘true artist’ who doesn’t fully believe in working commissions and selling commercially yet still wanting to make a living from people ‘accepting and then buying‘ my work for all its weirdness? By my narrow standards then, the old workshops of the Da Vincis, Michelangelos and of the Mughal Miniature ateliers and the spanking new studios of Ai Weiwei and Damien Hirst should be scams because they employ/ed ‘apprentices’ to carry out a majority of the work that is of a very commercial nature. See…that’s where my theories fall flat on my face. These people have defined new ethos of art. It’s just not bloody right to be so myopic.

What then is a true artist? Is there a true artist? I think I’ll always have my biases.

What made me think about this recently are two separate incidences.

Display (Mother and Child installation and two drawings) – Saadia Hussain

One of my MA colleagues, Saadia Hussain, took her thesis masterpiece (the horizontal drawing panel in the picture on the side) and tore it to pieces and then set it on fire. It was a gorgeous pencil drawing spanning several feet and oddly reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica. She did it because she and the work just could not live together anymore. So she cried…and then killed it. Wow. That’s intense. Some would love the passion; Others would call it a downright shame to destroy such a work.

Adeel Uz Zafar

On a very different note, I recently got in touch with Adeel Uz Zafar. I introduced his work to a potential buyer because I have a strange fascination for his gauze wrapped animals etched on vinyl services and other old works (right). Now the buyer was interested in Adeel working on a commission and make a raging bull especially for him. Ordinarily, these works go for a very high price and Adeel could have taken it on in a jiffy but he just wrote back to me, apologized and said he didn’t take commissions because he just can’t work like that and feels very uneasy like being stuck with a problem. Simple: he rejected the commission. It might not seem like a very big thing, and neither do I mean to say that those taking commissions are doing something wrong. But it takes a very committed mind to admit that they cannot deal with creating a product that’s not coming from the heart.

That’s another kind of Wow in today’s cut throat art market. What say you?


Leave a Comment
  1. the s.a. project / May 22 2011 1:33 am

    crap! there were some spelling errors but i fixed them now.
    crappy crap

  2. s,h / May 22 2011 10:03 am

    saira, i know i did wrong but i have no other way to do.

    • the s.a. project / May 23 2011 12:07 am

      I’m not saying what you did was wrong or right.
      i’m merely examining the passion that made you do it. it’s not something that everyone possesses.

  3. z / May 23 2011 5:02 am

    there is no right and wrong,myopic or not myopic because its a debate of epic proportions with many ifs,buts,ands but i really enjoyed the topic,content and LOL ,Bashir ahmed and barking sounds….funny…very:)…more like classic

  4. saba ansari / May 24 2011 7:05 pm

    I like what you have written and understand that there is method in most madness, and being honest and true to one’s beliefs is the greatest madness of all.

  5. Ussama. N / May 29 2011 5:22 pm

    People need to take a deep breath and detach all the connotations associated with the word ART and ARTIST.

    And lets say that commissioned work is not ART. Well still, even if such works don’t qualify as personal art works in your view, don’t they still qualify as strokes of genius?

    If a patron presents an artist with a proposition to solve an esthetic problem should the artist merely refuse to do so on the bases of what ‘label’ the end product would have?

    And even if by the end of it you can’t call your work a piece of art what is so wrong with that? If a sculptor makes a chair would that chair be admired MORE if it were introduced as a work or art? Would the chair’s merit be reduced because it has the wrong label?

    If gone with the wind was released straight to DVD instead of being released in cinemas would it be a bad film.

    I am out of my league here but I would still want these questions to be answered


    I don’t think I’ll be able to shake off the image of Bashir Ahmed making Barking Sounds anytime soon 😀

    • the s.a. project / May 29 2011 6:16 pm

      that’s precisely what I’m talking about actually in a twisted sort of way in this post. i think. or im just pinching my ownself.
      i feel that way about most things and very strongly but i do mention that im not the bible on these matters. though i would very much like to be one day and then they can teach it to 1st years at NCA…aah corruption at an early age.
      the chair, or your chair per se, is art and art is a chair. you can sit on it or not. your cat can sit on it or not. it would still be either ugly or beautiful or old or new. but it will never be a toaster. so dont toast bread on it. art really is as simple as that.

      you’re never out of your league, unless you’re polite. thats just not a natural human trait. i would know. i’m too bloody polite all the time.

      • Ussama. N / May 30 2011 12:47 am

        Sometimes swimming against the current is not the best option.

        If you don’t like the sea this river leads to you can always Go back to the source of things, shovel in hand, and pave your own little stream…no?

        Maybe through ignored barren lands…If these fields have lost their beauty in your view, irrigate your own. Your gardens no matter how puny in size would have an honesty about them and your mind would rest at ease.

        anyway i believe we have reached an impasse. Your point of view is very strong and i think i need to brush up on my Knowledge of art in pakistan before i can debate you.

        But All I know is that Bram Stokers One book was so less brilliant than Any play written by Oscar Wilde…Just because the latter lost his lover to the former, swam against the current, fell from grace and died a tragic death does not make him a better writer…It makes him a more dramatic person…but no more brilliant.

  6. Maliha Rao / Jun 3 2011 5:01 pm

    Lovely read. Completely agree with your point of view.

  7. faheem / Jul 20 2011 1:56 am

    Dear Blogger

    I really like your writings. I have a blogging collaboration offer for you. I could not find your email, so can you kindly reply on the email I am going to submit below.

    You my not approve this comment.


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