How does one define art? A painting on the wall or a sculpture in the park, often with a rider -- 'Do not touch. Please admire from a distance'.
But it's all changing.
The distance between a work of art and its admirer is increasingly collapsing as art walks into people's lives discreetly in the guise of objects of daily use, making itself increasingly functional.
The trend that picked up pace in 2018 is all set to continue this year as well, say members of the art fraternity.
Art is now about not just seeing but also for touching, feeling, sitting on it, wearing it, and even storing in it.
According to Sundeep Kumar, CEO of Craft Bton, making art functional helps break the prevalent elitist notions about art, making it more accessible to people.
"Bringing art and aesthetics into people's everyday lives is definitely preferable to confining it to just dcor. If you appreciate beautiful things then you would seek beauty in everything," Kumar told PTI.
Mexican artist Alan Saga's pair of spice jars made out of cement, as part of Dalmia Bharat Group's Craft Beton collection, is a unique example of functional art.
Inspired from the age old tradition of storing spices and condiments, the jars are shaped like sacks familiar from local spice markets across Asia.
The collection which attempts to instil beauty and design into an array of utilitarian products, has everything from handbags, clutches, lamps -- floor, table and wall, cushioned stools, book shelves, jewellery, bathroom essentials and more, all made out of cement.
Also part of the collection is "Audrey" by Iti Tyagi. The centre table made out of cement shows how the dull, grey raw material often visible in sacks at construction sites, is capable of falling like a drape.
With a pair of leather boots visible from just beneath the hemline of the cemented table cover, this work of functional art has a vintage Parisian edge to it.
While the trend saw resurgence in 2018, functional art is not new, particularly in India, a country where historically even windows have been embellished with carvings or lattice works.
The reason behind this revival, expected to continue in the years to come, Kumar said, can be attributed to the growing income of people who are now wanting to "satisfy their higher order needs".
They demand more of an object than just functionality, and more of art than just beauty.
"People have always enjoyed beautiful things. With greater prosperity and exposure, more and more Indians are recognising that there is more to products than mere function," he said.
Leading auctions in the country last year gave a pointer towards this peaking interest and the desire to spend on art that is functional.
The sales, besides fetching impressive numbers for classical, modern and contemporary art, also sold furniture and jewellery for whopping prices.
At Sotheby's maiden India auction, 'Boundless: India', two 'Butterfly stools' by Japanese industrial designer Sori Yanagi from Indian architect B V Doshi's collection sold for Rs 2,50,000, exponentially higher than the estimated price of Rs 40,000-60,000.
At Saffronart's Fine Jewels sale in October, a gamut of traditional and contemporary jewellery pieces, including earrings, chokers, rings, bangles, 'baju bandh' (arm ornament) and maang tikka, went under the hammer.
An exquisite pair of Gemset 'Chandbali' earrings with a lower estimate of Rs 4,00,000, sold for Rs 4,60,000.
A period spinel and diamond necklace fetched Rs 14,03,460, a seven strand pearl necklace sold for Rs 4,02,500, and a period colourless sapphire 'Bajubandh' sold for Rs 5,75,460.
Saffronart's annual Design Sale, too, indicated a strong interest in furniture that blends tasteful aesthetics with functionality.
A carved cabinet, an art deco display cabinet, and armchair sold for Rs 36,000, Rs 81,600 and Rs 1,44,000 respectively.
That the shift is likely to continue in 2019, is evident with Saffronart returning with its biennial jewellery conference in 2019, and likely with another edition of its Design Sale, which was a huge success in 2018, achieving a total sale value of Rs 85 lakh.
Mumbai-based auction house Astaguru is also scheduled to host (dates yet to be announced) a 'Watch Auction' and a 'Jewellery and Silver Auction'.
Handicrafts curator Jaya Jaitly has been instrumental in bringing art into the day-to-day lives of people through the Dastkari Haat Samiti that celebrates Indian art, crafts and textiles.
She has long been bringing Kashmiri papier mache art onto steel tiffin carriers, wooden takhtis, jewellery and more.
"Whether it is for celebration, prayer, or for more mundane utilitarian objects for dressing or kitchen, no crafted art in India is purely decorative or meaningless and abstract," she said.
Most recently, the Samiti created eight beautifully artistic rickshaws as prototypes in Varanasi, trays and trunks in Madhubani and Gond art, as well as clocks out of Kashmiri wall plates.
In the new year, Jaitly will continue making art useful with the 33rd edition of Dastkari Haat Crafts Bazaar that will feature a range of Gujarati Vankar shawls, Banarasi textiles, inlay furniture, papier mache, carpets, durries, home decor accessories and organic products.
So, you no longer have to spend a fortune to own a piece of art. Art is all around you. All you have to do is stop, spot and appreciate.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)