Updated: May 5, 2012 18:51 IST

Why art is art

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Artist, Undone; V Sanjay Kumar, Hachette, Rs.495
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Artist, Undone; V Sanjay Kumar, Hachette, Rs.495

An insight into the art world, its madness and whimsies, and those who people it.

If every artist stuck to his or her familiar genre instead of experimenting with others, life would be rather dull. It is from exploration that novelty begins and serendipity can take credit for a great deal of what is fun, exciting and, indeed, interesting. Writing, for instance, is often not easy for a painter, who otherwise would express a vision of the world and its idiosyncrasies with fluency and sophistication. A sculptor often says what needs to be said in marble or bronze or wood, even as words come slowly, with difficulty. But there are some who find an audience for more than art that is made with a brush or a palette knife, conveying ideas and inspirations with a keyboard or even a pen. Rekha Rodwittiya did it with her autobiographical books fairly recently and now V. Sanjay Kumar has his say in a novel, Artist, Undone.


The story wanders from the known, the familiar, the oft-seen, to a world where reality merges into artistic dreamscape. The author uses his own life and work as a springboard, vaulting into a seemingly messy situation and navigating it with humour, warmth and a certain special madness that only a creative soul can produce. In the book, Harsh Sinha quits his job, as so many do, and is vaulted into a world where there is no wife, no child, no home and no stability. He aims to not alienate himself from his existence, but immerse himself in it, wanting to stay home, bask in the attentions of his wife Gayathri and daughter, instead of running with the rest of the rats in the business of marketing that he knows and has managed so well for so long.

But when he quits his job in Mumbai and goes to his family in Chennai, his wife tells him, with no wavering or question in her voice, that he has to leave, he does not belong there any more and they do not want or need him thenceforth. There is also a new man in her life, he sees, a crazy artist called Newton Kumaraswamy. Shock and perhaps relief follow close behind each other and Harsh takes off on his own new adventure, with friends and himself for company. He does have a painting, though, a very expensive artwork by Nataraj Sharma that he bought at an auction with no real intentions or plan for what to do with it.

For some reason, the painting is the root of his troubles, Harsh believes, since his world changed right after he bought it. And, strangely, the man in the work, a grizzled man wearing glasses and staring at a horse, reminds him of himself. From then on, the story meanders along, told from various points of view — Gayathri, Newton, Manoj Tyagi, Roongta and others — stopping at point that are mysterious and yet tantalising.

Great deal of fun

The book is well written, fluent, easy to read, its words used with celerity and adventurousness, but story itself is not especially coherent or meaningful, not at first reading. The author is funny and making fun of himself, of people he knows, even the art world, but the insider jokes and the quiet laughter add little coherence to the tale. What is a great deal of fun is the insight provided into the art world, its madness and whimsies, the people who populate it, from the artists to the critics to the buyers to even the occasional visitors to art shows.

One point made — that should be the axiom for anyone who wants anything to do with art, however peripherally — is why art is, with all its ifs and buts and craziness, art! And for that alone, if nothing else, this is a definite must-read.

Artist, Undone; V Sanjay Kumar, Hachette, Rs.495

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