Christian Long

Raghava KK: Five Lives of an Artist

In TED Talks on April 25, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Reflection by VIVIAN H.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Raghava KK:  Five Lives of an Artist

The title “Five lives of an Artist” immediately drew me to Raghava KK’s talk.

The title seemed to imply a process of rebirth, something fascinating about dying to be reborn again. This reminded me of the Phoenix rising from its ashes, and that there is never really an end only another opportunity to start something new. “Failure” in a sense is as inherently a part of a person as their accomplishments, in fact it is the stepping stone for continuous progress.

“I quit school to pursue a career as a cartoonist. I must have done about 30,000 caricatures. I would do birthday parties, weddings, divorces, anything for anyone who wanted to use my services. But, most importantly, while I was traveling, I taught children cartooning, and in exchange, I learned how to be spontaneous and mad and crazy and fun. When I started teaching them, I said let me start doing this professionally. When I was 18 I started my own school.”

Raghava brings the courage for accepting potential failure to the face of pursuing one’s passion. I admire the boldness with which he allows himself to let go of the conventional and expected, in order to find something unknown and new. As a student I believe that is one of our biggest fears, after the time to play school is over, what do we really want to do? Society has created this predetermined mold, in which a good successful person would go to college and get a degree, then go on their way to be a successful business person. If we think about it, how many people really have the courage to break away from the established tradition, and follow what they believe is right?

What really impressed me was not only Raghava’s boldness, but the spontaneous way his life seemed to unravel and fit.

He says “I had to meet my Prime Minister. I went to the place wherehis helicopter was about to land. I saw layers of security. I caricatured my way through three layersby just impressing the guards, but I got stuck. I got stuck at the third. And what happened was, to my luck, I saw a nuclear scientist at whose party I had done cartoons. I ran up to him, and said, “Hello, sir. How do you do?” He said, “What are you doing here, Raghava?” I said, “I’m here to meet the Prime Minister.” He said, “Oh, so am I.” I hopped into his car, and off we went through the remaining layers of security.” Here he brings a reminder, that at times you just need to let go of everything and follow where the next moment takes you.

Raghava then proceeds to talk about a more arduous problem he was faced with while he was caricaturing. He published a cartoon soon after 9/11. It was a “naive observation, that turned out to be a disaster. That evening, he came home to hundreds of hate mails, of people telling him how they could have lived another day without seeing this.” He was also asked to leave the cartoonists’ organization in America, which was his lifeline. This just goes to say that art can be a very powerful tool, it touches a person not only visually, but emotionally as well. “Cartoons are really powerful Art, and comes with responsibility.” However if Raghava had never taken that fall, he would not have learned what it meant to pick oneself up again. “In the night, I die. In the morning, I am born again.”

This gave Raghava the opportunity to travel around, experiencing and picking up various styles of art from painting dancers, to fashion, to billboard painting. Collaboration became his main tool for communicating and learning. He eventually met his wife who started managing his career, bringing success. However, just when things were taking off Raghava’s mother fell ill. Raghava was uncomfortable with living this larger than life person. Like many artists, he started to paint the darker side of humanity with intense topics that disillusioned his spectators. His works even turned a little violent, and political activists decided to ban and threaten him. Finally Raghava decided it was time to try something different, to be reborn once again. After he had his child, Rudra, two things happened. His mother got better, and Obama became president. Raghava moved back to New York, and a new phase of his life started. He started to work with children all over the world, and was especially inspired by this one girl. She had cancer, and he drew a caricature of her. A few days of her death, they published a book for her and used his cartoon as the cover. The girl, Belinda, wrote a note saying “Hey Rags, thank you for the magic carpet ride around the world.”

Raghava’s life was filled with ups and downs. Failure, success, determination. This just goes to say that maybe we will never be fully in control of our life, so we can only do the best we can.

“For me, my art is my magic carpet ride. I hope you will join me in this magic carpet ride, and touch children and be honest.”

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