Calls for a comprehensive review and reform of the National Artist selection process have obviously fallen on deaf ears, as the search for new awardees has been resumed—despite the clouds of doubt and controversy that still hang over the prestigious honor.
So, do we just gird ourselves against the next wave of injudicious conferments as lessons are obdurately not learned?
Another series of questionable awards could sunder the top artistic honor for keeps, and that would be such a pity, because our best genuine artists should be recognized and rewarded for their exceptional creativity and service to the nation.
So, what do we do to convincingly underscore our concern before the die is cast?
Perhaps some eyes will be opened to the risky situation at hand, if we see it the other way around and cite the aspirants who shouldn’t become National Artists (and they are legion)!: Like artists whose lifetime achievements don’t add up to an exceptionally significant contribution to the nation’s artistic life and sensibility.
Many minor artists don’t really have an organically unique point of view in relation to the expression of their artistic sensibility and insights, so why should they aspire to a national-level honor?
Many lesser awards are existing or can be put up to satisfy their craving for “recognition”—within the context of their inherent creative limitations!
Also undeserving are aspirants who try to finesse the top honor not through exceptional creativity, but by virtue of sheer volume—and volubility—of output.
Like the insistent gent who, even after being turned down multiple times, still reminds selectors that he has many (generally mediocre) works. Or the actor who comes up with cliché characterizations on drama series, but still thinks he should be cited and rewarded for them.
We don’t begrudge those ambitious dreamers for wanting to win, but we should constantly point out that the National Artist award is intended to honor exceptional artists for a lifetime of consistently outstanding creative output, nothing less.
The top award is similarly not intended for artists who bank on strong connections with influential people, groups and even presidents who are prepared to anger many artists just to please a favored few.
Ditto for artists who name-drop many awards and citations garnered “internationally,” hoping to impress “colonially minded” locals to mistakenly believe that those foreign honorifics are definitive proof of their smug recipients’ amazingly extraordinary creative gifts!
And, make that double for people who aren’t really practising creative artists, but try to make their mark as educators, organizers, etc.
We should also be wary of aspirants who have been turned down three or more times in the past, but stubbornly continue to “try and try again,” in the fond hope that, one of these years, the selectors may lower their standards or guard, and “accidentally” allow them to win!
By the way, this isn’t a far-fetched dream or notion as far as the selection process goes: During one cycle, an undeserving aspirant was able to get shortlisted as the second-tier selectors’ choice for his particular art form—and it was only the eagle-eyed judiciousness of the final voters that prevented him from getting enough votes to cop the top honor.
It’s likely that his ilk will be trying their luck and “connections power” again this coming cycle, so what happens to the nation’s artistic standards if they finally manage to “win”? —Eagle eyes and claws, one and all.