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Paint what you don’t see: Business professor creates unique works of art

Avi Datta at work on a painting

Avi Datta at work on a painting. The photo was taken by his wife, Priyanka Aich, academic adviser in University College at Illinois State.

Avi Datta of the College of Business has a rather impressive curriculum vitae (CV). He’s written more than 20 publications, authored six book chapters, presented at numerous conferences, and been awarded thousands in grant money.

Equally impressive is what Datta can do with a blank canvas, a brush and some acrylic paint.

Originally from Kolkata, India, Datta was first inspired to paint when he was 3 years old after seeing a movie with his family.

“When we got home, I still had a vision of the characters in my head, so I painted them,” recalled Datta. “My father thought I might have a talent, so he started buying me art supplies.”

Datta’s artistic abilities grew from there. Claiming he didn’t want anyone telling him “the right way to do art,” Datta never went to art school. Instead, he developed his talent by learning and observing the works of other artists.

“My father worked in the newspaper industry and knew a lot of artists, so he would take me to all their shows,” said Datta, assistant professor of strategic management, innovation and entrepreneurship for the College of Business. “I also have a lot of friends who are artists and they would teach me certain artistic skills.”

avi works on a painting

Avi Datta was first inspired to paint when he was 3 years old after seeing a movie with his family.

Museums are another great educational resource for Datta. Inspired by prominent artists such as Monet, Picasso, and Salvador Dali, Datta was thrilled to have the opportunity to view their works in major American museums when he came to the U.S. in 2001 and again in 2007. Prior to that, he could only observe their art in books.

With so many artists from which to draw inspiration, Datta paints just about anything from people to landscapes. He hopes to expand his art into more abstract concepts and wants to start painting music.

“Jazz musician Miles Davis once said, ‘Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.’ That’s how I want to do art.”

Specifically, Datta is interested in painting what he feels when listening to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

“It’s filled with such rich music,” he said. “I get a composition in my mind, but it’s hard to put it in a painting.”

“When I create art, I’m looking to create new mixes of colors and styles that have never been done.”

Datta finds ways to incorporate art into his classes at Illinois State.

“There are a lot of parallels between business and art,” he said. “The way artists like Picasso create new types of paintings and work is a similar process to how companies come up with new ideas.”

Datta also sees a connection between art and research.

“When I do my academic research, I’m looking to uncover relationships between variables that have not yet been studied,” he said. “When I create art, I’m looking to create new mixes of colors and styles that have never been done.”

Looking at the works on his website, it’s easy to see how unique Datta’s art is. He’s not interested in selling his art and wants to keep it as an escape. “Plus, I don’t have a large enough collection. Most of them go up on the walls in the house,” he added.

For now, Datta will continue listening to music and try to put his feelings in a painting. Once he finally gets it, he says it will be a symphony on a canvas.

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