Artists: Notes on Art Making

Published in Modern Review, January 1942, pp. 72-73

When the war-god is astride and “lets slip the dogs of war,” the Arts and the cultural activities are the first causalities. Yet the destructive activities of war cannot entirely suspend the activities of artists. During the progress of the last war in Europe it was discovered that artists could fulfil very useful functions not only in matters of publicity through significant and effective war posters, and by illustrating war news, but in many other ways, and in England, the Government was led to enlist a number of distinguished wielders of the brush as official war artists, and competent critics have declared that war artists have never done work finer than what they turned out during the war, and the artists emerged from the present war, -- to find Art transformed. In the present war also, a large number of artists have been employed in England, on special commissions relating to many phases of the prosecution of the war. Over and above these special commissions arrangements have been for the purchase of suitable works of men already serving in the forces, who at least have the advantage of working among the materials they wish to represent on the canvas. And already several exhibitions have been held in England (one, in the National Gallery, London), exhibiting works by war artists. As an English critic has observed: “After all what is the good of fighting to preserve a culture and a civilisation, if during the war, both die from lack of attention.”

But, in India, (though not actually in war) the destiny of Art is different, and the war conditions have severly affected the progress of Art,-- the All India Exhibition of the Academy of Art of Calcutta for 1941, having been abandoned for want of space in the Indian Museum now overloaded with sand bags as necessary precautions against possible air-raids. But if major items of Art have been dropped, the year, just passed, has left important foot-prints on the arid sands of Art in India and the chronicler of the progress of Art in this depressing and degenerate days of India’s culture.

Calcutta has built up the reputation of being the Art city of India, but many of its old annual shows have now been discontinued, notably, the stimulating shows of the Indian Society of Oriental Art which are no more than sad memories. Its place is now being taken by minor efforts by individual artist and mushroom societies coming into existence overnight. One of such shows is the Exhibition held by the Society of Modern Art, which was held in January last with a miscellaneous collection of Modern Paintings of different groups including some old examples of Ragini Pictures. Undoubtedly, one of the best shows of the year was the Exhibition of copies of Indian and Ceylonese Mural Paintings opened by Dr. Shyamaprasad Mukherjee at the University Senate Hall, Calcutta, on the 27th January 1941. It afforded opportunities to real lovers of Indian paintings to study some of the anonymous old masters in the clever copies of Mr. Katchadourian. Another very stimulating show, which broke new grounds was the Art in Industry Exhibition held in February last, to which artists from all parts of India contributed. This show patronized by leading European merchants undoubtedly proved that there is ample talent available among Indian artists for commercial Art if a high order. Another commercial artist an Indian, Mr. J.F. Arora held a one-man show in London with some success. Another interesting though a very scrappy show, was an Exhibition of a group of enlarged photographs by Mr. Raymond Burnier, on Indian Temple Architecture and Carvings, chiefly from Rajputana. The last Indian Academy show held at the Indian Museum, Calcutta, was covered and reviewed in detail by a Radio Talk given by the present writer in January 1941. Some very clever portraits were included in a show held in New Delhi during March 1941 in aid of the Aircraft Fund under the patronage of Lady Dorean Hope. In connection with the celebration of the 70th birth anniversary of Dr. Abanindranath Tagore, a four-day exhibition of his representative works was opened at Santiniketan on the 19th August, 1941. An All-India place is long over-due, as very few people, even very few students of the Tagore School of Paintings (the neo-Bengali School) have had any originals. An humble, though a very significant movement is represented by the Society of Artists, Calcutta started by two young artists. Mr Kanwal Kumar and Mr. Rathin Maitra, without any resources, but plenty of energy and hope.

This young society has inaugurated a series of One Man Shows, of which four have already been given that of Ramendra Chakrovarty, of Dilip Das-Gupta, and of Miss Devjani (a talented lady-artist of Indore) being the best. But, expectingThe Modern Review, the Indian Journals have given very scant attention to Art and Artists. The Amrita Bazar Patrika, with on ounce of sympathy for artists, started a new feature with a column on Art and Artists, every week, but the same has been discontinued, though pages after pages are being devotes to Cinema Artistes and other “Artists” with a terminal “e.” The new Society of Artists at Amritsar, with a young secretary Mr. P.C. Nayar has not been able to make any headway, with a scanty roll of membership-and has to its credit, only a small Exhibition of Modern Artists (held in October last) chiefly contributed by artists from Lucknow. We have not had reports of any significant activity in support of the Fine Arts in the Bombay Presidency during the last year. A new society, under name of the “Society of Arts” was started in Bombay, early last year, with an ambitious programme, to cover all cultural activities including the fine arts and crafts, literature and sciences. It began with a very promising Journal, Art and Culture, edited by Mr. Dilip Kumar Gupta, which however has not received any generous response from the public. It has been our experience, that there is very little popular support forthcoming to run a Culture Journal or any Journal of the Visual Arts, without special subsidies from official or private patrons. Mr. D.G. Vyas, a Doctor of Medicine, continues his thundering but creditable agitation for the place of Art in Life, in the columns of the place of Bombay Chronicle, every Sunday, but the Art conscience of the Bombay cities continues to sleep in blissful oblivions of Mr. Vyas’ thunders. The Bombay Field Club, a culture society to encourage interest in Art, arranged for a very educative Exhibition at the Convocation Hall, last year, with a series of copies of Indian Fresco Paintings of Bhaja, Kailasanatha and Tirunantikkarrai executed by Mr. Katchadourian. They were valuable records of India’s pictorial monuments, and it is a pity that the Archaeological Department did not acquire these copies, while it had spent quite a fortune in setting up theCentral Asian Frescoes at New Delhi. From many point of view, the culture-contact tour of Mr. Ravi Shankar Raval, Editor of ‘Kumar’, a picturesque personality of Ahmedabad, and a significant force in the current of Modern Indian Art, was a valuable aid and incentive to la vie artistique, and stirred up interest in Art even of person impervious to aesthetic sensations. May he live many years to repeat such pilgrimages to artists and Art-shrines, and to carry on the banner of Art from place to place.

In the South, expecting the Government School of Art Exhibition, there was no other show worth reporting. But a live movement seems to grow, slowly but surely, at the Kalakhsetra, the ‘Culture-Area of Art,’ at Adyar, under the fostering care of Srimati Rukmini Devi (herself a skilful and enthusiastic interpreter of BharataNatya), whose brilliant tour in northern India has stirred up aesthetics possibilities. In education circles in Calcutta, Art is beginning to recover its place. Though the Calcutta university Institute exhibition has not come off owing to the apathy of its organizers, some small compensation was afforded by many minor student’s shows under the various College Fine Arts Societies’ auspices, chiefly of the Scottish Church and the Bangabasi College. The Doon School at distant Dehra Dun, inspired by its Art Tutor Mr. S. Khastagir have held several little shoes, with an illustrated lecture on Art, “What is Art,” as an extra item. The Calcutta University organized a series of special lectures for training Art teachers to quality for teaching duties in connection with the “Art Appreciation Course” of the Matriculation syllabus. The Mahabodhi Society’s Jubilee Exhibition of Buddhist Art, held at the Senate house, Calcutta, to some extent compensated the poverty of the Winter Exhibitions of Calcutta this year. Yet, altogether, it has been a bad year for Art and Artists.

The practising Indian artists, which include many talents and also a few geniuses, who would have done creditable work in any part of the world, continue their depressing career of the inactivity for want of support and encouragement from those who can and ought to help to keep alive Art and Artists. And even when the windfall comes it goes the wrong way. Thus a talented artists from Tipperah who executed fine frescoes at the India office, London, for want of work and a chance to live, is trying to seek a living as an Art-Teacher, by private tuitions, while a rich Indian magnate, a few months ago lavished his blessed bounties (a bird whispers, it was a purse of Eighty thousand Rupees) on an artist from Europe. “Buy British” is an useful patriotic maxim. When will Indians learn the virtue of patronizing Indian artists? If artists starve and Art dies who lives? Life without Art is bestiality, which is the negation of Life. The starvation of Art in India is no less tragic than any of the scarlet tragedies on the war-map of Europe.

Published in Modern Review, January 1942, pp. 72-73
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