“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” These words were said by famous playwright George Bernard Shaw almost 150 years ago. The world is more chaotic now than ever, but one Indian woman is trying to bring some calm into this overwhelming chaos.
“No one in the corporate world in India has the time for art, but there are many who appreciate it. For those who seek art, I wanted art to go to them,” says Shravani Vatti, founder of ArtEnthuse, an art rental programme for corporates.
As a part of the programme, Shravani studies the kind of art people want around their offices. It could be paintings, sculptures and prints, and based on the space and needs installs the art in their offices. Each art installment lasts for about three to four months.
Anybody who knows what Shravani does today may falsely assume that she comes from a family of artists or is an artist herself. Ṭhis cannot be farther from reality. She is an engineer from Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, but she took up an internship during her second year at an art firm that wanted her to log artists’ work and analyse them.
“My internship was an eye-opener. I was analysing the works of 200 artists, and they were so interesting and varied. I wanted to learn more about art but there was no way I could find any information. That’s when I realised I could make a business of it,” explains Shravani. This happened almost half a decade ago. Today, Shravani is the founder of two art-related startups in Pune.
As soon as she graduated in 2012, Shravani founded Ardizen, an e-commerce portal for artwork by mid-level artists.
She says, “There are different sets of personalities for every form of art. Some people find some artwork abstract and standoffish while some others just love non-traditional art. I wanted to help take the right art to the perfect kind of enthusiast.”
Though the website has portfolios of over 600 Indian artists who have put up their work for sale online, Shravani puts in a lot of offline effort to convince buyers to seal the deal. In the last three years, Artdizen has sold around 100 paintings that each cost around Rs 1.5 lakh on an average.
As she spoke to more people about what kind of art they wanted, Shravani realised that not many wanted to spend huge amounts of money on buying art; they felt it was too permanent.
“Many people from the corporate world are not keen on buying art upfront; they want to get a feel of the work before they invest lakhs in it. This made me wonder, why not rent art?” says Shravani.
Her theory was simple: art rentals are a great way to explore art forms. Pick, try, like, choose, and install. She decided to start ArtEnthuse sometime in January this year, but it was tougher than she expected. Artists were not happy with the idea of renting their works.
Shravani recalls how difficult the first few days was:
“When we started, the initial sentiment from artists was that they were selling themselves low. They didn’t want to come on board. But once we got the top artists like Ganesh Panda in the country, it became easier to encourage more artists to join this programme.”
She explained to the artists the cost analysis of rentals versus exhibitions, and how rentals could reach a wider variety of audience as opposed to exhibitions. Shravani marketed this idea as a ‘cost-free exhibition for artists’ and successfully piqued artists’ interests.
“Indian artists are not all alike in one manner; they are all eclectic. They primarily draw from their experiences, things that affected them just like artists from across the world. But some are cautious about displaying their works to the world. This is a behaviour we are trying to change,” adds Shravani.
Today, ArtEnthuse has made art installations at over 200 offices across the country, and makes revenues of about Rs two to three lakh every month. Each installation costs Rs 2,800 per month per piece.
And do ArtEnthuse customers buy the art after the installment duration lapses? “Absolutely! They sometimes get so used to the work that they buy it after the rental contract ends,” says Shravani.
Based on the latest figures available online, the Indian art market is worth anywhere between USD 100 and USD 200 million with paintings comprising 99 per cent of the art market.
According to Shravani, customers who buy art usually fall under three categories: the ones genuinely interested in art; the ones who like it for its aesthetics; and the ones who just use it as space fillers.
Shravani wants to empower all these three categories of art enthusiasts with access to information on her platform.
“We want a world where we are more aware of the art around us. And we want it to be a sustainable career option for artists too. Full-time or not, there shouldn't be any difficulty when it comes to artists showcasing their work,” she adds.