Art History

The six canons of art which guided and inspired the artists of ancient India were formulated in a condensed form in the following Sanskrit Sloka:

Rupabheda pramana bhavalavanyayojanam sadrisya varnikabhanga iti chitra sadangam.

In brief the sloka means that Sadanga, the six limbs of essential principles of Art, are: 1. Rupabheda or distinction of forms and the knowledge of appearances ; 2. Pramana or proportion, arrangement of line and mass, design, harmony, perception or in other words correct perception or measure ; 3. Bhava or action of feelings on forms ; 4. Lavanya or infusion of grace and the seeking of beauty and charm for the satisfaction of the aesthetic spirit ; 5. Sadrsya- similitude or the truth of the form, and, 6. Varnika bhanga or the turn, combination and harmony of colours.

It is interesting to note that the ancient Chinese artists also had their six canons of art very much similar to the Hindu Sadanga, which they called 'the six component parts'. In fact, these are the universal principles of all great art irrespective of time and clime. Art education, in the last analysis, must aim at imparting a true and deep understanding of these six basic principles and at providing for an adequate exercise in accordance with them.

Abanindranath, who wrote illuminating articles on the significance of the ?adanga* as early as 1915 and thereby unlocked the treasure house of Indian aesthetics to the world of art, has recently prepared an Art Primer called Sahaj Chitrasiksha. Beginners' books on art there are many in English and also in other languages. But the distinction of this Primer lies in the fact that it encompasses so much within the narrow limits of a little over thirty pages and still retains a charming simplicity of presentation. The language of the book, suited to the child and childlike in its idioms and exposition, may throw many a casual reader off the scent. Its true value as a primer for Art Education may not strike the eye. But a careful reading will reveal its excellence to Art teachers in general and those among them who are interested in the education of the child, in particular. The range of thought, the wealth of suggestions, the line, tone and colour of the words, the vivid examples and the precise definitions all go to make the book a contribution of great importance. It is likely enough that even a trained and experienced artist will frequently be startled out of his self-complacency and made to see a new extension of meaning in an old concept or even the whole theory of art in a new perspective.

And yet it will be eminently suitable for young learners for whom the Primer provides not only directions for the proper use of the brush and the pencil, but also a lucid exposition of the essential principles of art. This is sought to be done not through abstract discussion or theories but through an appeal to the experience and imagination of the child himself. In fact Sahaj Chitrasiksha will serve the purpose of a Sadanga for the child, a codification of the basic laws of art newly arranged for his benefit. Abanindranath has, with his characteristic respect for the child, brought to bear upon this book his thoughts and practice extending over more than half a century in the domain of art education. I shall attempt in the following paragraphs to show how he has tried to do this in and through the six brief chapters of the Primer and with what success.

The first chapter deals with Line and Tone. The concept of the line, which has obliged both Chinese and European art critics to get involved in long-drawn dialectics, and the classification of its various movements, have been presented with the help of a few vivid analogies and illustrations. The happy use of homely words culled from the wealth of colloquial and idiomatic Bengali, brings home to the student, as no formal definition ever could, the essential notions underlying classification. For instance, Abanindrinath classifies the line under four principal heads:

Speaking of Tone, he describes it to be an undefeatable mass as long as it is not enclosed within an outline. It is the Line which gives a form and definition to an object:

In this way he tries to bring home to the young artist that the skill to manipulate Line and Tone forms the basis of all artistic activity.

The second chapter which is on Form and Pattern follows logically, from the first. It is the Line and Tone which constitute the essentials of Design and Form. The author starts by dividing Form under two categories viz. angular and curved. In their permutation and combination, these forms arrange themselves into various patterns or designs. With the help of very simple examples Abanindranath tries to reveal the secret of the beauty of form in the visible world as also the beauty of pattern used in decorative art. Ornamental and decorative designs are based on the two principles of repetition and variation. A random and haphazard arrangement of forms:

Does not create a pattern. It is only when this factor of repetition or variation is introduced that patterns emerge:

The same of form repeating itself gives an impression of sameness or monotony.

When several units are arranged according to a definite order the result is a decorative design. Thus, variation is of the very essence of decorative art.

After discussing the essentials or the mechanics of art in the first two chapters Abanindranath enters into the more abstruse region of Perspective and Proportion. It is our measuring faculty and sense of proportion which informs us about the shape and size of forms. It tells us also about what is far and what is near and how far away or how near the objects in a picture stand in relation to one another. In this chapter Abanindranath introduces the novitiate to the mysteries of Pramatri Chaitanya-'that wonderful measuring instrument of the mind'-and shows how our experience grasps the quality of the form and the form, in its turn, takes the quality of the mind. He shows how the inner proportions or the structural anatomy of a thing reveals its character by itself:

When, however, things appear in relation to one another:

It is the relative proportions, the contrast in size, shape and distance, that brings out the character of each. The quality of observation and perception which is an essential factor in Art Education, has been explained and defined in the short span of less than three pages of the Primer.

The fourth chapter is devoted to Expression and Gesture or Bhava-attitudes assumed by forms under the stress of feelings. Our eyes can detect attitudes or alterations which forms assume when excited by feelings. But the inner expression or the true significance of forms acted upon by emotions can be detected by our mind only. It is the mind which gives the pictureasuggestive quality and not the eye which limits itself to the surface or the visible appearance alone. This quality of suggestion is the very essence of a work of art. These are topics that defy exposition. But the degree of success with which Abanindranath has been able to explain this difficult canon of art, is nothing short of an achievement. He has started by referring to hieroglyphs of picture-writing and by slow degrees introduced the young beginner to the complex question of the role mind plays in the making of a picture. Here is an illustration he has given to show the mother's anxiety for her young:

And this is how he delineates projection of an idea of a straight and upright attitude:

In the fifth chapter Abanindrinath deals with the most difficult attainment which an artist has to acquire, namely the Use of Colour. He speaks not only about the different mixtures and uses of primary and secondary colours, but also about the real nature and meaning of colours. The tones and gradations, the relation between forms and colours, harmony between colour and the changing moods of the mind are some of the questions tackled in this chapter. Speaking about the knowledge of pigments and colour mixtures, he observes:

“The colours in our paint-box are mostly derived from clay. It is with these clay colours that the artist has to depict the shine of the glassware, the glow of the fame, the dim light of the earthen lamp, the gloom of the darkest night and the bright gleam of the moon. As long as we do not obtain mastery over brush and colour, the colours in the paint-box avail us nothing." One remembers in this connection the observations made by the author in his bigger treatise, the Sadanga, where, speaking of colour he says, “It is not our eye but our mind, which really mixes the colours. Mind determines the exact degree of blueness or blackness which is required by the night sky. Mind measures the exact quantity and quality of its own colours which must be united with the colours of our paint-box.'

And so we come to the last chapter where Abanindranath speaks about Light and Shade. Shade and Light are not mutually exclusive; they go hand in hand as inseparables and put each other in relief, sharp or subdued as the case may be. These conceptions which constitute the secret of pictures in black and white, as also in colours, have been made accessible to the young learner with a rare power of verbal suggestion. There are portions which call to our mind the concluding para of Sadanga where he mentions the range of feelings that may be expressed with the help of Pen, Brush and Ink: "With ink it is possible to express the full range of colours, if we only allow our mind's tone and tint to write with the black of our ink, Ink ceases to be inky when the mind is infusing it with its own colours. Let your mind but dwell upon ink and you will make it glow like a fairy lamp showing all the colours of the spectrum."

It is a happy sign of the times that Drawing and Painting have at last come to claim their own rightful place in all schemes of progressive education. This, I feel sure, will open up an avenue of self- expression for the children and give some of them at least that opportunity to reveal their creative talents, which the young mind needs and demands. Sahai Chitrasiksha will be found eminently suitable for the purpose of Art Education. As a Teachers' Manual it will fulfil a long felt need, because of the wealth of ideas and suggestions contained in its six chapters. Art-teaching can be made a most interesting adventure if a syllabus is drawn up with this Primer as the basis.

But, it is as a book for the children that Sahai Chitrasiksha will come to rank with the other masterpieces of Ababindranath. The sympathy and insight that he shows in his approach to the child-mind are patent in the language as well as in the illustrations conceived by him. It will be a mistake, to suppose that this Primer can be ranked with the ordinary run of text-books. The knowing and superior tone of the expostulating teacher is nowhere to be found. Nowhere is there any attempt to curb the child's intuitive perception of the world of form and colour, for the sake of cramming certain theories and abstractions down his throat. It is the mother's method that he has adopted and its outcome is likely to be an unconscious and natural integration of the truth of art on the part of the child. If art could become part of the child's everyday life, mix and mingle with his day to day experiences and perceptions-then art education would have served its purpose very well indeed. This Primer can achieve this object if any printed book can. It is only the writer of Rajkahini and Kshirer Putul who could make a fairy tale out of an Art Primer. In Sahaj Chitrasiksha Abanindranath shows himself to be as much a master of the pen as of the brush.

(*) Sahaj Chitrasiksha-in Bengali, by Abanindranath Tagore. Illustrated by Nandalal Bose with pen and ink sketches based on examples conceived by the author. Published by the Visva-Bharati from 6/8 Dwarakanath Tagore Lane, Calutta.

* Sadanga or the Six Limbs of Painting by Abanindranath Tagore, First published in the Modern Review in October, 1916. Later published in book-form by Indian Society of Oriental Art in 1921.

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