My talk as reported by The Hindu

“His ideas might give most art lovers, especially the die-hard supporters of the culture cause in Bengal, more than a sleepless night. But Tyler Cowen, Professor of Economics at George Mason University in the United States, firmly believes that Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Leonardo da Vinci and even Shakespeare were businessmen and is willing to prove it.

“They were all businessmen, they wrote for money. Art and commerce have always been linked. The countries that have been commercially well off have been leaders in the arts and we have to embrace that. There is nothing evil about marketing,” says Dr. Cowen, who was in Delhi to attend the Liberty and Society Seminar organised by the Centre for Civil Society this past week.

While equating Beethoven with a businessman might be hard to digest for those who believe that creativity can never be commercial, the professor’s thoughts on globalisation will also not fit into their book as ‘acceptable’.

First, he claims that globalisation does not lead to homogeneity of cultures but encourages heterogeneity and will help endangered forms of art, an argument which is neither “Right” nor “Left”.

“I don’t think that India has anything to worry about on the count of culture. It has a vibrant culture; it has a great food culture too. India is growing and the purchasing power of people is also increasing. There is more foreign culture that is coming into India, but India has always had the ability to integrate different influences from the Mughals to the British and make it distinctly Indian. The earlier styles were a fusion of culture from Persia, China, but always with an Indian touch,” he says.

With the market forces better developed in the modern world, it is easier for craftsmen as well as artists to reach their consumers that would help in preserving the traditions of the past — an angle that might escape most people. But one that Dr. Cowen points out in his book, “In Praise of Commercial Culture”. “There would be areas where diversity would have gone down, but there is enough evidence in the 65 countries that I have travelled that in most areas like literature, paintings and music it has increased. Globalisation has led to the system of notation to be used in Indian classical music, which will preserve music for longer. If the stuff is good, people will buy it, I bought about 20 CDs of Indian classical music myself. I know everyone is not like I am, but I am pretty optimistic about classical music,” he remarks.

A “hero” that most commercial Hindi movie directors would love, his theory resemble the ideas they have been have been selling for years. “I know people criticise Hindi movies saying that it is not like Satyajit Ray. But I think that they require as much talent as a Ray film. They have a dreamlike quality, similar to Shakespeare. It appeals to universal human emotions and everyone wants to fall in love,” he adds.”


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