Tuesday, 1 August 2000

Saffronart Art Café I Interview with C S Krishna Setty I 2000

Pushpamala N interviews Art critic/ Artist CS Krishna Setty about art criticism in Karnataka.

CS Krishna Setty [born Theerthahalli, Shimoga Dist., Karnataka], studied painting at the Davangere School of Art and then worked in the Garhi Graphics Workshop in Delhi. He is a post -graduate in Kannada literature from Mysore University. After teaching for a few years at the Davangere School of Art, he joined Clarion Advertising and he is now Manager, Public Relations in Bharat Earth Movers Ltd. He has also been the regular art critic for Kannada Prabha, and now Praja Vani, both leading Kannada Dailies.

His publications include monographs on artists, a book on expressionism and the recent publication 'Chitra Chitta' a collection of essays on art. He has edited various Kannada cultural magazines and has been editor of the 'Janapriya Pustaka Male' series of the Karnataka Lalit Kala Akademi [KLKA] to popularise art amongst the people. Krishna Setty is an inveterate organizer involved in the Karnataka Kala Melas, travelling art shows and founder of 'Dakahavisa' art organization and a member of the KLKA.

He is the founder president of the 'Drushya Kala Sahitya Parishad', an organization formed to promote art writing in Karnataka.
PN:      Krishna Setty, you have started a forum for art critics working in Karnataka called Drushya Kala Sahitya Parishad. You know, when I was teaching in the art school CAVA in Mysore, one major problem we had was that very few students knew English but there were hardly any art books in Kannada available.

KS:      Yes- there's a lot of art activity in Karnataka- even in the districts, but news about contemporary art is not reaching people there. Unlike in Western countries, there is not enough art literature in our country. And though there are a lot of art writers here there was no concerted effort to publish and reach people.
That was our first agenda. Then we had another agenda of developing art terminology and art writing itself in Kannada - so we formed this organization in May 1999. We have about 30 writers who are members, based all over Karnataka and we try to meet often, maybe once in three or four months usually in Bangalore- 
We bring out a magazine in Kannada called Chitraakshara once in 6 months. We're really concentrating on developing art literature; we're not really interested in publishing reviews or profiles of artists.

PN:      What exactly do you mean by art literature?

KS:      For instance, in each issue we review an art book- at the moment we are concentrating on books written in Kannada. Apart from that, we have an essay on an important art writer like Shivaram Karanth, or PR Thippe Swamy. And in each issue we take up one art term and discuss that in length. In one issue we took up Edward Bullough's theory of Psychical Distance, which has been extensively used in both literature and art, which is about the relationship between the work of art and the spectator. We have discussed in detail the concept of 'Chitra Turaga Nyaya', which is from Indian poetics, introduced by Shankuka in the 9th century. This term literally translates as 'Picture- Horse Law'- where Shankuka says that if we see the picture of a horse in a painting, we know it is not a real horse - but if we don't believe it, we cannot enjoy the picture. Most of the Indian theorists take examples from poetry - very rarely do they take examples from visual art - so we found this interesting.
In October 1999 we organized a two-day State conference of art writers in Udupi and 80 writers from all over Karnataka took part in it. Some of the papers have been published in Chitraakshara.
PN:      In the seminar on 20th Century Art held recently by the Karnataka Lalit Kala Akademi in Bangalore, I found that very few of the speakers had done any real research. In fact this is the problem with art critics - they do not have the scholastic rigor of a historian or social scientist.

KS:      It's true we haven't developed a good faculty for art theory and art research. I feel this is because of a lack of scope.
By scope I mean there are very few people writing full time - most of us are part time writers unlike sociologists or historians. While academics teach their own subjects and do research in their own fields - we are all working in different kinds of jobs. I work in a public sector company, KV Subramanyam teaches language in a government primary school, KS Srinivasa Murthy works in a bank, AL Narasimhan works with the State Gazetteer and Anil Kumar teaches in an engineering college. And we all write regular art reviews in various papers and also publish books!

PN:      Tell me about your new book Chitra Chitta.

KS:      Chitra Chitta translates as 'The Mind of a Painting'- it's actually a collection of seminar papers and essays that I've written in the past 15 years. There are 12 articles in the book on a variety of subjects. In one I deal with nudity in painting- it's written around the controversy about Husain's nude Saraswati painting. I've discussed how the nude has been used historically in Indian art. Another essay deals with contemporary artists using miniature-painting traditions. One discusses the relationship between literature and art, there's one about printmaking in Karnataka and one essay which talks about how to see a painting- or what is visual art...I've also discussed Picasso's 'Guernica' in detail.
PN:      I see a lot of regional art critics talking about the local directly in terms of the global or international art scene without contextualizing the work within the national art scene, and our own histories, influences and preoccupations.

KS:      Most of our art writers have not gone to Western countries or even traveled extensively in India. They basically know what's happening in Karnataka. Why we often refer to Western art is just because we get plenty of literature on Western art! Quite a few art books are being published in India now but there are no good libraries in Karnataka which stock them- not even in the KLKA or the art schools.
PN:      Many of our art writers come from a background of literary criticism; I think there are problems with that.

KS:      There's a real problem with critics coming from a literary background- they don't understand the sensitivity of the artwork. I'll give you an example- I'm basically a graphic artist- sometimes the printmaker works with such great sensitivity with the medium, I can see the struggle- but in a review the critic will just talk about the image. I know how difficult it is to get certain effects. A line etched is not the same as a line drawn in pencil- you can't see them in the same way, or enjoy the texture.

PN:      Who publishes art books in Kannada? And how are they distributed?

KS:      Compared to other states KLKA has published a lot of books. Some of them are monographs on well-known artists from the state; some of them are portfolios of pictures, for example of Karnataka murals or of contemporary artists; there are books on art history and a popular series on art for the public. This year we're bringing out a collection of art reviews of important critics from the state. Private publishers have published a few books. Some artists themselves are writing as well as publishing books.
There's a bulk purchase scheme here for the state libraries, but the KLKA is not really making a concerted effort to get all the state libraries to order their books. Each scheme has a last date and formalities to be followed- you have to make an application- But since there are a lot of artists and art institutions here [there are 150 art schools in the state!], they buy them directly. The print run is normally 1000. Many publications of the KLKA have been sold out. 

Pushpamala N 
Bangalore 2000