The Business Standard (TBS): Is asking about the economic value of Fine Arts an inappropriate question? If yes, why? If not, what is the economic value of Fine Arts and how should we evaluate it?
Sabyasachi Hazra (SH): Arts and trade are two different things. I consider the arts as food for the soul. It's not like you can't see this as a product, but art is indeed an aesthetic field of work that is priceless.
Can you really judge an artwork of Zainul Abedin, or S M Sultan, on the basis of price? Quamrul Hassan, for example, sold even saree designs for a living. Arts work in different modes.
Art is not limited to a single mode in the changing world. Suppose, artists are engaged in developing clothes. When you build a home, you need an artist for interior design. When you build a hotel, you need an artistic mind to select appropriate paintings.
Art has a deeper aesthetic value in such settings. You will not find a product without the necessity of aesthetic adornment. So, whenever it comes to the aesthetics of a product, it is a by-product of art.
TBS: A recent poll by Sunday Times found that 71 percent of Singaporeans believe the job of an artist is non-essential while some say artists may not be essential for survival, but they are essential for living. What is your take on this?
SH: As I said, art has a humane value that you cannot measure on the basis of money. Now in case of a natural calamity, you can't save the day with paintbrushes; you need to provide artists with basic emergency assistance and reliefs. Human beings have some basic demands such as food, clothing and shelter. At the same time, they need food for the soul.
This is where the arts contribute. During our liberation war, for example, fighting the war with heavy artillery was the basic thing to do but we witnessed the artists' role there. We could ask why music, painting and artworks are needed in the time of war. If not for these, who would inspire the distressed people? Who would represent to the world the crisis we faced?
That is the work of an artist with his aesthetic mind. Artists are the people behind a camera who design the best costumes for your favourite movies. Artists are the people who beautify products packages to awe you into regularly purchasing the products.
We will not perish in a month without art, but when it comes to the qualitative demands of human beings, art has no alternative.
TBS: Do you recognise that there is a perception in Bangladesh that Fine Arts graduates struggle in their career? Apart from the established frenzy among parents to raise their children as doctors, engineers or BCS cadres, is there an apathy among people in pursuing arts as careers? Then again, why does art make so much money globally?
SH: I don't find this traditional way of thinking logical. And I think people no longer think this way - pushing kids to have careers with the highest market value. I rather think artists have to struggle less than others in different professions.
From my experience, I can tell you that I didn't take money from my family even when I used to be a second-year graduate student. I could earn the money I needed to survive on my own. But my doctor friends, on the other hand, had always been in a financial crisis as long as they were students.
However, there was a time when artists would have to struggle to get permission to study arts in the first place. Arts had little scope in trades. But now many career fields have opened for artists. An artist's scope of work has also been extended by a lot.
Consequently, the faculties of arts have been modernised. And interestingly, the competition in arts as a career is less intense than other fields of work, such as that of doctors and engineers, if an artist has a smooth route to prove his brilliance.
TBS: How has contemporary art impacted Bangladeshi fine art studies?
SH: The fact that educational curriculum advances slowly in Bangladesh is undeniable. When I was a university student, we solely depended on the reference books our teachers would recommend. But with the progress of the internet and technology, the situation has changed a lot. Now you can find everything on google; thousands of artists and their works are available on the internet.
So, no matter how slowly our curriculum advances, with technology, both our teachers and students are learning about the most advanced and contemporary arts every day.
As I said, when you are into art and aesthetics, you will need to think globally. What is considered art in Bangladesh will be treated as a work of art no matter where it goes. You will notice that a lot of foreign artists now participate in our exhibitions.
TBS: What are the career prospects of fine arts at present? Like many other professions, did technology contribute in diversifying the art career?
SH: Arts has a classic and perpetual appeal. This is a constant process. With technological advancement, it is important that we progress with a sense of aesthetic. You can't coach someone to become a Zainul Abedin. An artist grows on his/her own. But can you take this as a career? Yes, absolutely.
Once upon a time, the target of fine art students was to become a teacher who could live an aesthetic life earning a regular salary. But now you will see that the number of agencies, compared to what we had in the 1970s, have swelled.
Once, a publishing house didn't even think of hiring an artist. But now, not only publishing houses, even a bank hires artists for aesthetic branding. Many artists, on the other hand, find comfort and a positive outcome by working from home. Therefore, I believe that career opportunities in arts have increased a lot.