Visual Art has the power to bring an Artist’s imagination to life. Communicating an Artist’s creation in words, further enriches the experience by highlighting the importance and context of the artwork.
Kriti Bajaj, our next pathbreaker, Editorial Manager at Saffronart, a leading auction house based in Mumbai, researches and writes about Indian Art, Jewellery, Antiquarian Books, Luxury Collectibles and Real Estate, with the aim to make art accessible for a broader audience.
Kriti talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about getting the opportunity, through her work, to lay eyes on masterpieces that otherwise remain hidden away in private collections, as well as stunning gemstones, and centuries-old books and photographs.
For students, every Artist, however talented, needs a medium to reach out to the outside world. If you have an eye for art, a flair for writing and an enthusiasm for conducting research on culture/history, take up Art Writing !
Kriti, tell us about your background?
We moved cities a few times, but I spent the better part of my school and college years in Delhi, which I call home. By the age of 9 or 10, I had developed a keen interest in reading, and attempted to write my first “serious” poems. I was also very interested in dance when I was younger, and during later years at school I actively contributed to the annual school magazine, writing competitions, and served on the editorial teams of the magazine and the Model United Nations conference hosted by my school. Apart from this, I’ve enjoyed the thrill of travel and learning about new places and diverse cultures from an early age.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
After studying science (with biology and maths) at the +2 level, I initially considered a field such as biotechnology, but wasn’t too sure if it would really be a good fit. I was attracted to the US university system of majors and minors, where you could take a number of different classes from any field and then decide on a career. However, I wasn’t aware of such an option in India, and I was considering a gap year to explore and figure out my next steps. Instead, my parents and friends suggested that I enroll in college for an arts programme, and consider transferring the following year if I found that I wanted to change my field of study.
I applied to a few colleges in Delhi University and got into most, but when I passed the entrance exam for the BA (Hons) in English at Lady Shri Ram College (LSR), I decided to pursue that. I had been a voracious reader throughout my school years and I enjoyed the courses, many of which introduced me to new texts and ideas, and even new subjects such as philosophy. A few months in, I realised that I was probably better suited to the arts, and threw myself into college life, participating in activities such as creative writing, Model UN (International Press) and editorial boards of the English department journal and the college magazine (for which I was also the photography editor). It was also around this time that I independently developed a passion for photography, and took an additional course in film appreciation offered at LSR in the afternoons after classes. On weekends, I studied German at the Goethe Institut (Max Mueller Bhavan) for 2.5 years.
After graduating from LSR, I decided to take a year to explore, and began the summer with some volunteer work, followed by a 7-month internship at the UNESCO Parzor Foundation which focuses on the preservation of the living and material heritage of the Zoroastrian community in India. My responsibilities here were diverse, but significantly, I had a chance to write about some of their projects and events for international magazines, as well as edit and compile a souvenir book that was released at the India International Centre in Delhi. During that year, my interest in visual culture also prompted me to enrol in an introductory art appreciation course at the National Museum Institute in Delhi.
At the same time, I was exploring options for a Master’s in the UK or Europe. I applied to a handful of schools and eventually opted for an MA in Social Anthropology at SOAS, University of London due to its unique approach and courses, which included media theory and the anthropology of film in addition to broader studies of society and culture. I wrote my dissertation on the depiction of mental health in Indian cinema and graduated with distinction.
Both my degrees in literature and anthropology helped me build a solid foundation in research, analysis and nuanced writing – skills that have benefited all of my work and projects thus far.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
I sometimes like to think that this career chose me! Of course I acted on certain opportunities that lead me here, and my education and experience enabled it, but some of it definitely feels serendipitous.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
I have always had many interests, and I’m open to seeing where an opportunity or experience might take me. So rather than meticulously planning out all the steps of my career path, I prefer to orient myself in a certain direction based on my background, skills, interests and potential at the time. Due to this, my journey has taken interesting turns with each experience feeding into the next, sometimes in surprising ways.
As I mentioned, my first internship played a part in helping me realise and test my interests in writing, research and the study of cultures and communities. This led me to SOAS, where I came to love visual culture even more. I shared my writing and photographs regularly through blogs that I’ve had for over a decade now – which, incidentally, is a great way to keep developing your writing, storytelling and creative expression aimed at an audience. As with any skill, practice is key. After graduating from SOAS, I continued to look for suitable jobs, but I didn’t want to wait around – I founded an online arts and culture magazine called Bricolage. Working on this project taught me skills in commissioning, curating and editing written content and images, and also interacting professionally with creatives around the world. During this time, I was also appointed an Editorial Director of the anthropology journal of the University of Edinburgh.
Once I started working for Art Radar, a Hong Kong-based online contemporary art journal with a team spread across the world, my focus shifted from a broader interest in visual culture to visual art specifically. This first job made me realise the scope and diversity of the art world, and I quickly built my knowledge not only about art, but also the socio-political and historical issues of many countries across Asia and the Middle East – because artists often engage with the concerns of their time or stories from their past (or future). In my role as Managing Editor, I gained experience in commissioning, editing and planning content across the site; developed a growing pool of experts to contribute stories; acquired skills in hiring and leading a team; and built a great global network. As a mentor on the art journalism course, I guided students – many of whom were professionals – in various styles of art writing, from press releases and news articles to catalogue notes and features.
Over time, I had the opportunity to collaborate with many publications – Blouin Artinfo (New York/Paris), My Art Guides (Venice), Aesthetica Online (York) – many of which approached me via LinkedIn. It is certainly worth having an updated profile on LinkedIn, and even reaching out to people in similar careers with a polite message explaining why you are seeking a professional connection. I also set up a personal website which allows me to compile and showcase all my past and current work in a single location. These writing and editing roles developed my skills in pitching stories, adapting to the voice and style of varied publications, meeting deadlines, and negotiating. Eventually, they led to my current job as Editorial Manager at a leading art auction house in Mumbai.
How did you get your first break?
After graduating from SOAS, I returned to India and spent a while looking for a good opportunity – with a Master’s degree and an education loan, I was determined to work for a reasonable salary. I was already working on Bricolage in the meantime, and I had a few interviews and conversations both in India and abroad. I came across a vacancy for an arts writer at Art Radar on the University of London Careers Group website, and decided to apply. Unfortunately, the position had been filled, but the editor responded positively to my request to freelance with them. About a month later, during which I did a feature on the Delhi Photo Festival for Art Radar, I was invited to interview for a staff writer position, which I was subsequently offered after a writing test. Six months later, I was promoted to the position of Managing Editor.
What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Looking back, two challenges come to mind. It is definitely a good thing to be given the responsibility to manage a team, but I initially found myself a bit nervous, especially being younger than most of the team at Art Radar. Immediately upon my appointment as Managing Editor, I was interviewing potential writers to replace my previous position, and though it felt strange to be on the other side of the interview experience, it turned out to be very rewarding. I’d also had a great editor who taught me a lot, and gave me leadership advice that I still turn to. Such opportunities helped me realise that respect is earned. I was in that position because I had something to offer, but I continued to listen, be open, and support and enable my team members as much as possible.
Another challenge has been finding ways to balance work with other interests, and preventing stagnation. At work, I’ve tried to come up with new ideas and suggestions for improvement and efficiency whenever possible. I think it’s important to keep finding ways to grow, including outside the job. Luckily, both Art Radar and Blouin Artinfo allowed me a degree of flexibility in timings and other aspects. I occasionally freelanced on the side, which allowed me to write about topics I was passionate about but didn’t fall within the scope of that particular publication; and I spent my mornings for nearly three years learning and teaching line dancing.
Where do you work now?
Currently, I am an Editorial Manager at Saffronart, a leading auction house based in Mumbai, with branches in Delhi, London and New York. The auctions here are primarily of Indian art, but also other categories such as jewellery, antiquarian and rare books, luxury collectibles and real estate. My primary responsibility involves researching, writing, editing and proofreading the catalogues for each auction, as well as everything content related such as the website, newsletter, blog, and coordinating press and PR materials. Our team ensures factual accuracy, provides context, and highlights the significance of a work and what it adds to a collection. To put it succinctly, we find the right words.
Such a role involves strong research, writing and editing skills, an ability to write in different styles (for example, a catalogue note vs. PR materials), and, of course, having some background in art so you know what to look for. At the time of joining, I had 5+ years of experience in art writing and editing with a range of arts publications internationally.
A typical day varies depending on what we are working on at the time, ranging from meetings to plan the next catalogue or content for a project to miscellaneous writing/editing requests from various teams. When we are working on a catalogue, I will usually have decided which artists and works I’m covering that day, and begin with research into the period and style of the work using books in our library or online resources. I will then cull down the general information available to identify what is valid for that particular lot, and compile my notes and write the catalogue note (which will be later edited and proofread). The completion of each catalogue note takes from a few hours to a couple of days, depending on the significance and value of the artwork. During the proofreading stage, we usually complete 2-3 rounds of edits involving going through all the text, details, captions etc. with a fine-tooth comb.
What I like most about my job, as with anything that involves research, is the opportunity to learn. It has allowed me to cement my knowledge of Indian art, which I didn’t focus on exclusively in my previous roles, as well as categories I normally wouldn’t have been exposed to, such as jewellery. But the real perk is getting to lay eyes on masterpieces that otherwise remain hidden away in private collections, as well as stunning gemstones, and centuries-old books and photographs.
How does your work benefit the society?
I think one of the biggest concerns with visual art is that it can be inaccessible, and as a writer I see my role in bridging that gap by explaining and highlighting the context of an artwork, artist or art movement for a broader audience. As for art itself, there shouldn’t really be a debate about its significance in our lives, especially as we go through difficult times – art provides hope, it helps us make sense of our times, it expresses outwardly what we feel within. A quote by Toni Morrison comes to mind: “We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I’m still very proud of the online magazine I started at a time when I didn’t have a whole lot of experience. Even though I retired it after eighteen months due to other commitments, I was heartened by the support of our volunteer team and contributors from around the world who submitted stories, poetry, photographs and art for publication.
A couple of years ago, I was commissioned by the Camden Council in London to contribute a piece for the Camden Kala programme, which was organised as part of the UK-India Year of Culture. I wrote an essay titled “Finding my Feet” in response to the brief, which is especially close to my heart because it reflects my personal experience in London through the layers of language, walking and anthropology.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Firstly, I would encourage them to try their best but not be disheartened if Plan A doesn’t work out – there is always, always another way or another thing that one can do, and sometimes detours and suprises lead can lead to something even more fitting. Don’t worry too much about money, but make smart decisions (it’s good to be financially independent!) and keep learning no matter what level you’re at.
Secondly, don’t always choose the safest path and take (calculated) risks now and again. And if you do force yourself into a career you have no interest in, you can still make a change and learn new things. It’s never too late to do that.
Finally, if you have varied interests, find ways to pursue at least some of them now and again. No matter how interesting and fulfilling your career is, you will be thankful to have something you’re good at outside of it to delve into.
I look forward to being involved with and writing about the arts in the future. I would also like to actively pursue the history and study of photography and image collections/archives, which is a special interest of mine.