Artists then, Researchers now

How has Art, Literature etc. thrived through the human history? True there have been people who just loved their work so much that they did not care for any other worldly considerations and went ahead with it. Still for a large part artists and writers were dependent on the royal patronage for their survival and enrichment. It was due to this patronage that a poet or an artist could devote himself (in rare cases herself) to his interests.

Why was this patronage required? Amongst other things largely it was so because with the art forms it is difficult to satisfy any immediate human need. No wonder, in many circles full time artists and poets would be classified as “Good for nothing” fellows, especially when they are not under any patronage. Not that these things never served any ‘useful’ (yeah – useful in the sense in which it prevailed in these critical circles) purpose, but it was not possible to recognize their need immediately most of the time.

Think of Research in present day scenario. True many research outcomes have lead to great commercial and social successes in past, still large part of it can not be justified on that ground. The way a poet or artist would be devoted to his/her profession for the love of it, a researcher would do things for the love of it. And researchers are supported by the government grants etc. (all right there are several variations, but on a broad level it is true) which is very similar to the royal patronage artists would receive in those days.

Now, how did the patronage to the artists and poets got removed. It got removed with the establishment of democracy mostly. When the riyasats in India were abolished, a major hue and cry of those against it was that it would take away support from many artists.

Now, is it likely that some other revolution, some other change of system would take away the support for researchers too?

(Do not get me wrong – I am not in favour of something like this! I a only discussing a thought that came to my mind.)

And if that happens, what kind of society we are moving towards? Good or bad? There are all reasons to have contradictory views. It’s a fact that it is so much more difficult to live in today’s society as an artist or author as compared to say an Engineer or Doctor. Is it all right? On the other hand too much of emphasizing patronizing of arts forms may lead to the kind of absurd situations that existed in the days of royalties – with every Tom. Dick, Harry, as an artist getting patronized, while large number of people are dying out of hunger.

And then, patronization was not always a “goodie-goodie” thing for art or literature always. At least not for their independent expression. While, they relieved the artists of the necessity of succumbing to populist pressure for earning the livelihood, in most cases they did have to succumb to the wishes of the royal patron in terms of content of their writings. And a rebel against such situation itself has produced quite some amount of literature and art. Research also has to see the interest of funding agencies; but that probably is for good and, at least as of now, does not look like a major hindrance.

7 thoughts on “Artists then, Researchers now

  1. There is an essential difference between research and art – and that lies in a fact you yourself state – ‘With the art forms it is difficult to satisfy any immediate human need’.

    Even good (or successful) art does not satisfy any immediate human need.

    Successful research does…it may increase production of foodgrains, for example….

    The only uncomfortable (for lack of a better word..) thing about research is the uncertainty – NOT THE PURPOSE. The purpose of research is to satisfy human needs (these needs may be comforts for some, like air-conditioners, but they are immediate needs for a few at least – those who have gone up in the ‘needs hierarchy’ – i know ‘need heirarchy’ is not the right term, but it sums up what i wish to say….)

    Whereas, in the case of art it is not uncertainty which is causing a problem, but the purpose…by problem, i mean that there are fewer people who see the usefulness of art….

  2. While I would not try too hard to prove the equivalence of Art and Research (I acknowledge the differences you have mentioend), still, it is not simply abuot uncertainty. I am reminded of a class of “Theory of Computation” at IITK, where somehow a discussion started off on the utility of knowing a concept like Turing Machine and for full one hour, the instructor could not really justify anything. He ended up saying that we do it because its so beautiful!!

    Now, may be Turing Machine is not that useless after all – at least not today. But at the time the research was done, it would not have been possible for anyone to see a practical need. And it is very much possible that for quite a bit of what is done in research, no need would ever be found.

    Similarly, art and literature are not totally useless either. Many of the pieces of art are generating quite some bit of tourism revenue today 🙂 Literature has done useful service to the society at several points of time.

    So, the differences are not that crystal clear either.

  3. The kind of research you mention – I have a better name for it…It’s called a hobby 🙂 This is done for the sake of personal satisfaction, rather than any other goal. Such ‘research’ should be classified as hobbies…

    I know what you mean by that sort of research coz i’m one of crazy idiots who does them….And I know that I am not doing it for the betterment of mankind, or even to make money. I do it because it is beautiful 😀

    I am also working on another device (i’d prefer not to elaborate) – this is with a goal to eventually produce it, and make money. This is true research…for if it makes money, somebody has bought it….if somebody has bought it, it must be to satisfy a need. Thus any true research should satisfy a need….

  4. Well – You are defining research and then saying that is must satisfy a need! 🙂

    And this is pretty much a circular definition. According to you by definition true research should satisfy a need. I am afraid many would not agree to trash other things being done in the name of research. What is useful and what is not, itself is a function of time-frame. A short term view in research may not always be healthy, I am afraid!

  5. But don’t you see it, theoritically if it is a truly representative government and if the researcher is doing the research just for himself (i.e. his need loop doesn’t pass through any other individual), he must be supported by the government to the fraction of his representation.

    For maximum efficiency, the government would set up and allocate resources to need cycles in descending order of their length (length being calculated by the number of people) on an infinite horizon (or upto a horizon it can plan/perceive) with decreasing weightage for links farther ahead in time (due to uncertainty involved). After all such loops have been set up, if there are individuals left (like researchers doing the thing just for themselves and even the government perceives it as so) they would be entitled to support equivalent to their representation in the government (and the truly representative government will represent every single individual).

    Monarchies, riyasats etc. by their very nature are different and the nawabs could have needs separate from their subjects. In fact these artists thrived at the courts of the nawabs because they satisfied the nawabs’ needs. The nawab gave this need cycle (artist-nawab) much higher precedence and support than it deserved (the support received by a need cycle, in the representative scenario, should be proportional to its length after taking into account risks associated with uncertainty) because the nawabs were a part of it. This in fact was was one reason why the nawabs were eventually thrown out.
    Ya, the solution would be modified according to the definition of represenatation but if you got that definition wrong, you’d end up in the dumps like the nawabs :-).

    Thus if my government were truly representative I could do something just because it made me happy and still expect support…how I wish this’d come true :-).

  6. ‘He realized the great part which science could play in the industry, and the inspired view which he showed to local manufacturers and to his students alike can be glimpsed in these remarks of Pasteur on applied science: “Where in your families will you find a young man whose curiosity and interest will not be immediately awakened when you put into his hands a potato, when with that potato he can produce sugar, with that sugar alcohol, with that alcohol ether and vinegar? What student would not be happy to tell his family in the evening that he has just been working on an electric telegraph? And be convinced of this: such practical work is seldom if ever forgotten.” It was men like Pasteur who started up the laboratories in colleges and schools that are so indispensable to the teaching of science. But while Pasteur spoke to industrialists of the practical value of science, he was at great pains to stress that pure research – knowledge for its own sake – is essential to the progress of science. “What is the use of a pure scientific discovery?” he was asked. He regarded the question as fatuous and quick as a flash he came back with the counter-question: “What use is a new-born baby?” That settled the argument.’

    extract from an aricle by William E. Dick on the life of Louis Pasteur.

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