Sat, 27 Sep 2003

Commercialism or creativity in art?

Kartika Bagus C., The Jakarta Post, Surakarta, Central Java

Surakarta formerly served as the administrative center of the ancient Mataram Kingdom. In more recent times, the city has become more famous as a city of Javanese culture and a home to many artists.

Nowadays, Surakarta has a Pujasari painting community which is quite well-known, not only among the locals, but also among foreigners.

Pujasari is an art market located in the one-hectare Pujasari Restaurant Complex in Sriwedari on Jl. Slamet Riyadi. The restaurant is situated at the front and right part of the area, while in the middle of the compound there are 30 art galleries.

Unfortunately, only 10 of them have survived.

It is sad to see that the Pujasari painting community has failed to flourish as some artists and art critics label it a producer of cheap and commercialized paintings.

One of the senior artists in Pujasari, Luluk Soemitro, 62, acknowledges that many of his colleagues are trapped in a cycle of commercialization because they need money. Instead of developing creativity, many artists produce items just to fulfill the market demand.

As for Soemitro, he has chosen a middle ground. He still maintains his creative idealism in some of his pieces but he also follows the latest trend in others when he takes orders from customers.

"A painter needs idealism, but also needs money," said the owner of Warung Seni art gallery.

An art critic and teacher at the state-run Sebelas Maret University in Surakarta, Narsen Afatara, said that the Pujasari painting community should be able to survive on the local level because their work is appreciated by the people.

"In general, their paintings have a place in the heart of the people and are well-appreciated because, so far, the people still like those kinds of realist and expressionist paintings, as well as the abstract ones," he said.

When asked about appreciation on a national level, Narsen, questioned the definition of a "national" painter.

"Is it someone appreciated by the people nationwide because of his work or just his popularity?"

"If the emphasis is on the appreciation of his art, then the Pujasari artists are quite successful. They can survive domestically and deserve two thumbs up," said Narsen.

He added that many foreigners also bought the paintings, further proof that the paintings were popular enough.

Despite the fact that some frown upon their art, the Pujasari artists still have loyal customers. Some even purchase large quantities for resale.

The paintings have large price range, from hundreds of thousands rupiah up to Rp 20 million (US$2,353).

Those in demand most have a traditional touch. Foreigners are particularly interested in the paintings of traditional markets, Surakarta Palace and the activities of common people.

The Pujasari art center enjoys its peak season during the Idul Fitri holidays, when many Surakartans, who now reside outside the city, return home and buy paintings. They usually like colorful paintings, such as tropical fish, roses, village panoramas and fruit.

Last year, the Pujasari painting community officially established a new organization called the Association of Surakarta Painters (HPS). It currently has 125 members. While the senior ones are mostly naturalists and realists, the younger ones are more interested in modern and contemporary arts.

Chairman of the association, Sulistyo Hadinagoro, said that he wanted to improve the image of the Pujasari painting community and improve the professionalism of its members by organizing national painting exhibitions and staging monthly training seminars.

"We want to improve our image, not just as people who paint, but as artists. And it takes time," said the painter, who has received an award from the Surakarta Palace and another from the Indonesian Parenthood Association in conjunction with UNICEF.