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'A' for Art?

“But you get good grades!” 

That’s what my parents said when I told them I wanted to pursue art in school. 

“But you get good grades!” 

That’s what my teachers said when I told them I wanted to study art in college.

“But you get good grades!” 

That’s what my friends said when I told them I wanted to be an artist in the future. 

We live in a society that places significant value on academic strength — on letter grades over motivations, ‘A’s’ over opinions. Should you be a strong ‘A’ student, there is an automatic assumption that you will ‘do something with your future’; and ‘something’ usually translates to pursuing the rigour of science or the practicality of commerce. So, my desire to be an artist has always confounded those who know me. They’ve tried to convince me that ‘art is a hobby’, that 'I can always do it on the side’; and yet, with each expostulation, I have become even more certain of my passion.

Many people know and remember when their journey started, when they knew that the one thing they loved doing was what they should pursue. But my journey with art started long before I can even remember. I went to a school where are was given so much importance that our Social Studies class in the 8th grade was basically just an art history class. So, love for art came very naturally to me.

Most people start painting, enjoy it, start loving art, and then begin going to art exhibitions and museums. I always loved painting, drawing, and everything artsy, but I wasn’t passionate about it until I starting visiting exhibitions and seeing famous artists’ works. The first art exhibition I ever attended was called ‘Floating World’ at the Chemould Prescott Road Gallery, Mumbai. I entered the gallery with expectations to find an array of pieces related to water, but what I saw surprised me: there was an enormous butterflies’ cocoon, a series of drawings of homeless people sleeping on the road, a series of impermanent houses made by refugees, and a world map made of rope. That’s when I realised that art is not just the visual you see before you. Art is interpretation. Art is advocacy. Art is so much more than the end result. Art is the thought behind every stroke of the brush. Ever since ‘Floating World’,  I have been amazed by art’s ability to abstract and yet connect so deeply with people.

I didn’t fall in love with art just because of the excitement I felt every time I got a new idea for a painting. I fell in love with art while learning about the birth of impressionism when the Salon de Paris rejecting Monet’s paintings. I fell in love with art when I studied the chiaroscuro technique Rembrandt used. I fell in love with art when I saw how art had the power to speak volumes, to fight, to defy, to educate. I don’t want to be an artist simply to protest my society’s narrow-minded view of art; but instead, I want to be an artist because that is how I engage with the world.

Over the last five years, every sketch, canvas, print or installation has brought me one step closer to being an artist, and many steps further away from the traditional trajectory that people with ‘good grades’ have. Most people find it incomprehensible. Why would someone who gets good grades possibly decide to pursue art? Why would they choose art when they could choose a career option where they could make so much more money? The answer is simple. I don’t want to be one of those people who wakes up every day dreading to go to work. So while “I love art” may never be reason enough for others to understand why I want to be an artist/designer, it is the only reason that will ever matter to me. What I know and others will always struggle to understand is that my body of art work always has and always will give me more satisfaction than any ‘A’ ever could.

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