For the artistic mind, a deeply distressing cognitive dissonance is inevitable. The artiste must create- whether it be with his body, hands, words, or other bodies – but create he must. There is no escaping the indescribable itch that rests in the belly of an artiste. There may be repeated attempts to soothe the itch with the balm of the packaged, manufactured, bulletined ‘real world’. However, all attempts short-lived. The creator must create, but he also needs to eat and live, and hence the dissonance. This is where patronage and its different forms step in.
For the artiste, being able to live well from his art is the ideal situation.
The relationship between the artiste and the patron has always been one of understanding and shared passion. A practice common since the early 10th centuries, strengthened by the Renaissance in the 13th century – patronage has enabled the creation of art despite human life moving towards a deeply inhuman capitalist economy. The nature of patronage, however, has shifted with the times. Earlier, the artwork was commissioned in a very direct way, with the patron deciding what the artwork would look like, to go so far as to choose and supply the materials themselves. While this did provide the artiste with work – and conditions to work in – it wasn’t a creatively congruent environment.
Patronage in India took an interesting turn from around 100 BC.
The Sanchi Stupa and the monasteries of Mathura are famously known to be collectively patronized by thousands. Donative inscriptions on the Sanchi Stupa have indicated thousands of individual patrons, only three of whom were royalty. The majority of the donors were, surprisingly enough, monks and nuns. The remaining show that the rest of the patrons were ordinary homemakers. In Mathura, all of the Jain images and sculpted slabs of the monasteries were the contribution of hundreds of Jain women. Collective patronage of religious art was common among the working-class of India at that time, and never again since.
Royal patronage in India has been instrumental in bringing out incredible talent, and allowing them to flourish. Most Indian kings have been great patrons of the arts. Akbar’s reign, in particular, created an environment conducive for the growth of Mughal & Persian art, with great work being done in astronomy and literature too. King Harshavardhana of Kannauj – a poet and dramatist himself – built a court of poets and artists called the ‘nine gems’.
The face of patronage further changed with the advent of the British rule, and the collective consciousness moving towards revolution.
Post-1947, the state attempted to fill the void of patronage, with institutes like Lalit Kala Akademi, International Council for Cultural Relations, and Sahitya Akademi. However, as it goes, no government-made body is free from the perils of being of the government, however loud they yell ‘autonomous’. State funding nowadays disappear into the black holes of particular pockets, rather than into building the cultural landscape for the future.
With the advent of the corporate world, businesses have started pouring money into the arts.
Unilever’s Rudi von Leyden actively promoted a group of artistes called ‘The Bombay Progressives’, back in the 1940s. Since then, exhibitions, concerts, cinema, and theatre have been sponsored by companies. Cultural institutions like Bharatiya Kala Kendra and the Centre for Art & Culture in New Delhi have been built by the Shri Ram Group. The Oxford Bookstore regularly holds readings for new and established writers. Mahindra Group sponsors the annual Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai – a celebration of blues music, and has set up the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, the only award ceremony honoring and promoting theatre in India. Aadyam is an initiative by the Aditya Birla Group where theatre groups across India are given the platform to build a new play, and showcase it.
The Park Hotels have collaborated with Prakriti Foundation to create The Park’s New Festival, which is in its 11th year running. The festival travels India with three commissioned and supported pieces of contemporary art – theatre, music, and dance. Prakriti Foundation has consistently brought to India, and to our stages, brilliant artistes whose work have made their mark. And this year will be no different. Watch this space as we get you more stories around the festival.
The faces of patronage may have changed over the centuries, but it is evident that the creator cannot function without the patron, and the other way around too.