Let’s consider young people first. “Youth” is not an ageist concept. Youth is about the feeling that one’s life still has a lot of surprises and bright moments in store for oneself. With the emergence of the Internet, and the easy access to knowledge and people of all kinds that it brings, we have a lot of “old and young” people amongst us today.
“Old and young” people are ones who are not very advanced in their physical years but look at the world and express opinions as if they were actually old - being conservative, closed and generally displaying a lack of hope. This observation allows us to co-relate the experience of feeling old with the feeling of “knowing”.
Image by Prayas Abhinav
Actually true knowledge (like we know from the writings and journals of our history of great minds) only leads to a realisation that there is too much to be known. But at any point before that, it is easy to be deluded with the misplaced idea that knowledge is a finite entity and that it is possible to possess it.
On the other hand we have a lot of “young and old” people amongst us too. These are people who would otherwise be considered senior but hold fresher perspectives, are more open and are generally being more hopeful about the future. The “young and old” usually do not make an attempt to stay well-informed or keep up with the world in any other way. Their knowledge is generally more intrinsic rather than extrinsic and their scholarship is only of a very explorative kind.
So, when we talk about the aspirations of young artists and designers here, we would like you to focus on the mirror opposites of the “young” as well as the “young and old” only. What do these groups of people usually want? They want what everybody needs for their the security of their future. But as artists and designers, they might desire a few more things.
Young artists and designers want their work to be recognised for its value, they want regular opportunities to travel and grow, they want to be rewarded at regular intervals, they want their neighbours and their social networks to value and understand what they do, they want people younger to them to look up to them for direction… just like young people from other disciplines and fields. The “pragmatism” of not taking the creative sectors seriously is not really pragmatism, it is a kind of acceptance of defeat. An acceptance that as a species and as a society, we have not found a way to survive by doing what we can uniquely do.
Image by Prayas Abhinav
We can put down the fulfilment of some of these desires as the responsibility of the state and some of these on individual desire, ambition and effort. The state gets involved because sometimes cultural practice does not offer direct tangible benefits (and as we go on to highlight later in this text - if studies for assessing the eco-system impact have not been done yet, then there are only question-marks for everyone concerned).
If we first look at the state as an actor who can play a part, we first have to understand the factors that go into justifying something as worthy of state support. The proposed support usually goes to a sector that:
Have a potential for mass impact: Although the creative and design community in the country is actually huge, the entire community has never been seen in the same frame for various reasons. Cinema, literature, art and music all are inter-related for so many reasons but they exist in separate bubbles and are not understood to be a part of one sector - so although cinema, music, literature have the ability of mass impact - support for one does not translate into support for the other leading to a very fragmented landscape.
Eco-system impact: The impact of the development of the sector in question on the wider economy and other aspects of society should be known. This potential for impact usually becomes apparent on study and inquiry - in the Indian scenario such a study has not yet been commissioned.
Strategic vision: If the leaders of a state have not been able to imagine how culture can help them tell the stories that they want to tell then there is very little motivation for other societal actors to support the cultural sector in any way.
So, it is not very difficult to understand that if non-government actors and industrial bodies can figure rationales for investing in the cultural sector, it might be quicker than waiting for the state to come to the same realisation.
This means that all of us, especially those of us who create work opportunities and determine the working conditions for other will have to take an active interest in making sure that “youth” does not shrivel and die a cynic’s death.
The extent to which the desires of the young are alive speaks of the fulfilling capacity that a society has. A youth with a diminished hope does not cast a positive light on the potential that a nation holds.
(Prayas has worked as a curator, writer and teacher across the last fifteen years. His research interests have been systems, design thinking, technology and language.)