The art of writing on art

Kishore Singh

One perhaps does not say the word research and accessible in the same breath. However, for writer-critic Kishore Singh, it has been his passion to make art-writing accessible to a wider audience. He believes that one of the primary ways to make the public fall in love with art, is to write in a manner that is accessible yet educative. “My first writing assignment came to me in 1979, when I interviewed Krishen Khanna for a magazine called Design. It was run by Patwant Singh, an art aficionado who lived on Amrita Sher-Gil Marg at the time,” recalls Singh. Khanna’s non-judgmental approach encouraged Singh and he soon found himself falling in love with art, writing regularly for the Business Standard.

Kishore currently works at the Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) which he joined in 2010. With his team he creates books, catalogs and short films to make art accessible and demystify art for the public. The books and catalogs also provide a context for larger-than-life artworks displayed at DAG’s Hauz Khas gallery and during the Art Fair. “Writing on art is usually very scholastic or in newspapers and magazines it is clubbed with other soft features like food and fashion,” he observes. While fashion and food writing have larger audience, art writing is still a growing industry.

This often translates in fewer people wanting to write about art. “I have found that most journalists find it more satisfying to work on hard news and current affairs that is either political or business oriented because that is usually more rewarding in the long run. This is not good news for those who are passionate about writing on art,” says Singh.

Unfortunately, in the field of art writing its usually harder for younger people to find a footing. “It is very hard to find young writers who are good, and so I had to throw myself whole-heartedly into ghost writing for many of the youngsters,” he says with a fond laugh. “It’s very hard to make people interested in art because there is an air of intimidation around it. We have a huge disconnect from our own culture, since during the Colonial period there was an unnatural bifurcation of art and craft.”

This is further heightened In India, since we have a very different approach where art objects range from a beautiful utility piece to a painting that we put up on the wall. “With Modernity, bifurcation into various categories happened. Painting and sculpture occupied the realm of high art while Madhubani and Gond were relegated to craft and folk art. This alienated the commoner, who often finds it easier to relate to a more everyday understanding of art in our lives.”

One of the ways to get people interested in art was to talk about the emerging art market. “Art as investment would often find itself on the front pages of the news section. People were suddenly interested in talking about art,” recalls Singh. While this was a good way to bring art writing to the front, it somehow focused mainly on the monetary rather than the aesthetic aspect of art. Sipping masala tea, Singh shrugs and says matter of factly, “Well it is a trade-off”.

Kishore Singh collaborates with various young and midcareer writers to create a vast repository of books and catalogues. “We want to reach out to as many people as we can, which is why we always offer the books on discount to students and art-lovers. We have books in Brail and special tactile art that allows them to experience paintings through touch. I am so moved that they have now come to recognize artists styles and can even identify the painter,” says Singh who collaborates with Abhaar, a group for the especially abled run by Siddharth Shah. School children also often visit DAG and the idea is to get them reading and looking at art from a young age.

DAG also encourages young writers to learning about art and they offer short courses in writing. One of the exercise is to get the writer to describing the work of art, in a manner that is accessible and democratic.  Singh left us with some tip: “You must be in love with art to write about it. A well-researched article does not have to be full of jargon. Never leave a story, write about it because otherwise that space will be given to someone or something else. Art doesn’t belong to the rich or the museums…it is national treasure that has to be shared with everyone.”