Looking at a beautiful piece of art and admiring it one feels that the artist who produced it is a creator. But observing an artist for a long time, rather closely seeing him work at his model, one feels less inclined to call him a creator. He will appear to be rather in the nature of a discoverer. He will seem to be finding out for himself things-beautiful things, harmonious in body and movements and colours-already in existence in a world created for all of us.
This particular quality of the Artist became very obvious to me when I recently observed Abanindranath Tagore-the well-known painter and pioneer of Indian Art-giving expression to his artistic talent in a new and novel direction. He is not painting now. He is out in search for bits of things. Things which are odd and little, like dried roots, twigs, rusty nails, hooks and bolts, nut-shells, broken pieces of furniture, discarded toys and many other trifles that are rejected by normal human beings.
But Abanindranath Tagore requires them. He has developed a keen searching eye which look for things-things of beauty hidden in rubbish, objects with perfect blending of light and shade thrown away as waste material and in fact everything that does not enter into the accepted category of " artistic " objects. He would, for example, go into his garden or back-yard and pick up a root or a piece of broken flower-pot, and of the artistic value of these he may become conscious at once. Or he may not. But if he gets some suggestion of their inner beauty, he would carry these things to his favourite place in the verandah overlooking the garden. Here he would start looking into them with rapt interest.
He would examine them closely. He would turn them round and round, sometimes bringing them near the sunlight, sometimes away from it. He might do it for hours until he had really discovered something. He would sometimes wait a whole day or night for the proper light and then renew his researches.
The very early morning light, even before sunrise, is what he considers best for his purpose and so he has named it, "The Revealer" This light, he says, is most suitable for discovering the beauteous shapes and adding more to the already discovered beauty of things. That is why he would very often go to bed keeping some of his favourite dolls on a table next to him, to get up early, sit up near a half-opened window and watch them patiently.
Thus the artist would go on, adding to his collection of odd bits, gazing into them, revolving them about all imaginable axes, discovering forms and shapes, movements and colours, until he had seen through them thoroughly. One is struck by the sincerity and vigour with which he regards these rejected fractions of objects superior artistic models.
His next task is to make what he has discovered more obvious. For, surely, if he did not, the discoveries would be lost, perhaps even to himself. There are various ways in which he does it. But his one guiding principle is to effect minimum disturbance on the original structure if at all. He may remove a tiny protruding bit from his root. But this he would do to give the root a meaning, and the removal would be justified only if it referred to a foreign element which was appended, as it were, by accident to his otherwise perfect model. Those little breakings, cuttings, scrapings or sawings that he does on his objects, however, are definitely not sculptural activities. He does not construct, he does not carve. He only uncovers what is hidden just below the surface. If there is too much to remove, the attempt is given up.
Like his removals, his additions on his objects are also trivial. He might put in a nail here or a peg there. He would never, however build up or carve out a limb for the purpose of adding it on to the body of his object.
He would then place the chosen object on his table and, may be, hold it in an inclined way. .This method of inclination is his great discovery. Without the angle the object may just be a piece of dry wood; with the angle it becomes a live model full of movements. When the object is fixed on a pedestal and the fore-going inclination maintained he has done his act of composition as an artist.
In other cases, composition may be more complex. He would make a monkey out of bamboo roots. When the monkey is placed squatting on the pedestal the picture is perhaps not complete. Something more is required to give it sufficient life. The monkey needs a fiddle. So would begin a vigorous searching by the artist. He would look first into his stores of collected elements. If he fails to find what he wants he would go out in search into his garden. He might look for days before he finds one. In the meantime he would not make a fiddle. He must find one, otherwise his model will remain ever incomplete.
When the models are completed they represent something very unique and something not at once obvious. One has to place the model in front add start looking at it as the artist himself does. Suddenly the suggestion comes-one cannot escape it-and the model appears to be meaningful and uncommonly bold-much bolder than any true model. Then one realises what an enormous amount of careful and patient selection is behind these products, what a powerful mind conceived and composed them. Then one begins to understand that the artist sees what we do not, that the artist can give a meaning and value to the uncared for things.