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Deepanjana Pal is books editor at DNA

Art and viewer are incomplete without one another

ndulge me as I get a bit nostalgic because, dear reader, I'm vacating this spot. Technically, I shouldn't get sniffly about this being my last column because now there'll be more time to work on the book that I've been promising myself I'll write. But even as I type this, I'm remembering how, in what now seems like another lifetime, I wrote a book. It was a biography of the artist most of us know as Raja Ravi Varma (despite the fact that he was not a king or even a prince. Blame it on the Brits — they mistakenly added the Raja to his name and he, cannily, didn't point out the error of their ways). I'm not particularly fond of Varma's paintings, but his is an intriguing story about the beginning of a modern Indian art and that was enough to convince me I could write the book while working full-time. My memories of that year are vague, probably because I ran for months on roughly two hours of sleep per day. That wasn't the worst part. The real horror was encountering writer's block every day and looking at each sentence I typed — whether for an article or the book — and wondering how badly it read to someone who wasn't running on two hours of sleep.

Here's what I know for certain: all 284 pages of the book got written as did every assignment I had as the art critic for a fortnightly magazine. The other thing I remember from that year is the relief I would feel when I'd walk into a gallery and realise it was a good exhibition on display. The internal debate about whether it would be simpler to find the words to describe the show or to throw myself off a balcony would come later. At the moment when I stood in front of art that wasn't self-important or rubbish, the gallery turned into a bubble that didn't let in the neuroses that swarmed the world outside. It was enchanted. That was when I realised how much fun I have viewing art.

started seeing contemporary art because I got a job as an art writer. Before that, my exposure to contemporary art was limited, to put it mildly. When on holiday abroad, I sometimes wandered around museums happily and cluelessly. At home, I didn't know where any of the galleries were, nor did I know contemporary Indian artists and their works. My foggy notion of Indian art began with ancient sculptures and ended with a blurry awareness of the paintings of F.N. Souza and M.F. Husain. From the little I'd seen, I thought art was something one admired from a distance rather than enjoyed.

I’d like to share a rarely-disclosed nugget — an artist may begin the process of creating art but you the viewer complete it. Don’t let the forbidding artspeak or the silence of a gallery daunt you because the art inside is itching to have a conversation with you.

For my last stand as Culture Mulcher, I'd like to share a rarely-disclosed nugget — an artist may begin the process of creating art but you the viewer complete it. The artist's responsibility is to be as creative as they can be. Yours is to have fun while viewing the work. If it doesn't engage you, then the art has failed at some level, regardless of what astronomical figure it's valued at by the fanciest of auction houses. Don't let the forbidding artspeak or the silence of a gallerya daunt you because the art inside — bizarre, ugly, ridiculous, pompous or beautiful — is itching to have a conversation with you. Whether it's Subodh Gupta slathering dung over his naked self or Sheba Chhachhi giving the concept of magic lantern a modern makeover or Sarnath Banerjee making portraits of losers, the works are the artists' earnest attempts at drawing you into the world of their imagination.

Contrary to popular belief, it's not a difficult world to enter. I know because I did it, despite not having any sort of academic background in art and very little experience of viewing art. A little more than half a decade later, I'm actually sad to not have the pressure of writing about art shows because they're more fun when you can share how they made you feel. Often, talking and writing about it helps make sense of what's going on in an exhibition. The first step, though, is viewing art. So go visit galleries. Once inside, giggle, curse and question. That's why the work of art was made in the first place.

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