Thursday, October 26, 2006

Are Art Colleges out of sync with today’s Ad - world?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the loaded poser through power-packed perspectives from the ad-frat!

Once upon a time, most of the eminent, respected, coveted and hot-shot art directors of blue-chip ad agencies came from art colleges. Be it Mumbai’s J.J. or Baroda, Delhi or Kolkata’s revered, hallowed premises, art colleges were indeed the acknowledged hub, nursery and breeding ground of talent that defined visual language in the specialised area of advertising communication. Today, in year 2006, one can practically count on one’s fingers how many art college students have actually managed to get a toe hold in Adbiz. Why? What happened? Why this total disconnect and eclipse? Who’s to blame?

Delhi-based Sanjay Bhattacharya, a red hot gifted celebrity artist who happens to be a Kolkata Art College alumni (with years of working experience in various ad agencies) opens the batting with characteristics flamboyance. “When we started out in the seventies and eighties, our goal was to join an ad agency and hopefully some day to become a successful art director. Today, with the insane and obscene amounts of moolah artists are making (aided and abetted by gallery owners actually swooping down on several art colleges to identify and showcase raw talent) the ad agency bimari has been flung to the backburner! Today’s agenda and funda is simple for the art college types: Get fame, name, big bucks and page 3 celeb status by going the art route. How many ad agency art directors enjoy even a fraction of the aura that many young artists do? I rest my case!”

Gulu Sen (the dynamic NCD of Dentsu and a Delhi Art College product himself) doesn’t hesitate a second to lament the situation... “While it pains me, I have to admit that art colleges today definitely suffer from a total disconnect with the basic dynamics of the contemporary ad-scene. Prehistoric courses taught by people light years away from the ever changing nano-second communication business, act as irreversible road blocks. Sure, visiting faculty from the ad industry helps but at best these are one-off exercises. What is really needed is a professional orientation built into the course, programme and curriculum.” Sen also feels that the art college obsession with “design” must stop, because the ad-scene has irrevocably changed. “Today advertising is totally idea-driven, hence the earlier skill sets have to be quickly replaced with concepts and thinking that embrace the here and now-not stuff that comes wrapped with the smell of mothballs!”

Siddhartha Roy (Executive director of the Kolkata-based RESPONSE) wonders why art colleges continue to be so myopic in both their vision and mission. “Look at how amazingly National Institute for Design (NID), Ahmedabad has fused in seamless fashion, their blueprint with the new age demands and requirements that embrace the new world view in the work space. It’s something to be lauded.”

Roy also feels that the best talents today consciously stay away from the art colleges, educate themselves in the visual language and ultimately veer off towards exciting terrain like editorial designing, web designing... even film making!”
Shantiniketan-trained graphic artist Pia Sen (who presently works as a respected consultant in Madison Avenue NYC) is appalled at this denigrating line of thought and protests vehemently! “Unlike the upstarts in India, I work with some of the finest practitioners in the business, in the fabled capital of Adville and you guys have no idea of how appreciative they are of my graphic design grounding. They find it artistic, exotic, subtle and understated in an environment that often tends to be too overtly addy, flashy, aggressive, loud and straining for effects.”

Sen believes , it is today fashionable for the ad frat in India, “enjoying their first flush of kudos from the west” to bad mouth art schools and ra-ra the role of technology as the prime mover and driver of modern communication. “Ironically here, the true blue creative minds still woo and romance the ‘idea, thought and concept’, and believe that simplicity remains the most powerful, persuasive and magical catalyst, and connect between the brand and its constituency, not the fancy hi- tech gizmos!”

Shabuj Sengupta (an ex-Delhi art college alumni and presently associated with BATES as Art Director) reinforces Pia’s whammo in his own fashion. “Despite the supercilious and dismissive attitude towards art colleges, it is interesting that in most ad agencies, the head honchos powering the art department are from art colleges themselves!” Sengupta admits that both the applied art courses and the teaching staff have not really got into any form of “reality check” but that’s largely to do with the red tape, formality and the zillion procedures that come with the sarkari territory. “I do believe that from the third year, ideation should be taught since ad-biz is essentially a business of ideas. Also, it might be a good idea to form a committee comprising some of the hottest art directors from the industry (who are ex-art college students) and consult them in terms of direction and focus towards making the course more relevant, meaningful and industry-centric. I have no doubt that most of the students would love to participate and contribute in a movement like this.”

At the end of the day, basics are the real foundations and Sengupta believes he owes a tremendous amount to his Delhi Art College grounding. “If the Ivory Tower critics are so much against the art college module, let them convince the government to close it down and let the industry pick up talent from the Apeejay’s and Wighan&Leigh’s of the world... They’ll figure out for themselves the difference in record time! After all, heritage counts.” Sure thing!


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