Artists: Notes on Art Making

Every letter in the written word has a highly evolved form, a form attained through usage and guided by man's racial or national sense of seeing and shaping, the line following the laws of continuity and free manual rhythm of action. Man has been writing for centuries; he has con­tinually sought to make his writing beautiful and yet in practice he is most unselfconscious, with the result that each man's writing announces his own true character and personality. What more suitable medium can one invent for making pic­tures than the written word? The Chinese and the Japanese have demonstrated it to the satisfaction of the world. In India the Tantric tradition enjoins the use of the written word, symbols, figures and that most marvellous of all inventions, the tabular column, for picture making. Colour is used to put the message across effectively. The Kalamkari painters of India, especially those of Andhra and the other Southern States paint their cotton temple hangings depicting the heroes of the epics; the legend is always interspersed with the figures, written with great calligraphic freedom. The drawings and symbols used also share this calligraphic quality.

Perhaps these thoughts occur to me because of a growing appreciation of the great traditions of man in the field of art. There are people who believe that the tendency to-day is to escape from the weight of traditions and to move towards a sort of internationalism in the visual arts of painting and sculpture. England's Herbert Read states. "The internationalism of modern art makes it difficult for the critic to claim a distinctive type of art for his own country. There is no British art since 1945-there is an art, more vigorous than any art Britain has known since the death of Turner (1855), which has made a distinc­tive contribution to a world-wide movement of the arts". This statement tends to imply that the present day art of Britain has very little to do with the British character as the world knows it. How an art can be international without national characteristics is beyond one's comprehension. The redeeming feature in Sir Herbert's disturbing statement is his use of the term 'distinctive contribution'. This, I presume, again brings one back to the concept of racial and national character in the artist, as a feature of perennial interest.

Again, one cannot help feeling that it is pre­mature to say anything positive about the accep­tance of 'modern art' by all peoples of the world to such an extent as to reject the great traditions of mankind wholly and entirely as Sir Herbert's statement might appear to imply. We have yet to wait another few decades to see exactly how the resurgent Asians and Africans react to Europe or America's new art of the early 20th century. In Asia and Africa they have already begun to feel that what is most attractive to them in the aesthetics of modern Europe and Africa is the West's approach to utilitarian architecture and industrial design. The art of modern Europe and America still remains incommunicable to the vast millions of the rest of the world. A few of the initiated have learnt to accommodate the alien point of view, more often without any genuine understanding of their own deep-rooted traditions from which wars and invasion have partially torn them apart.

Talking of the problems of the oriental artist today, Ludwig Goldscheider says "...An Indian artist, on the other hand, cannot merely study the Ajanta and the Tanjore wall paintings and Imitate them on a smaller scale-this would not make him a modern master: he has to go through the school of world art. But to become a genuine artist he is not allowed to forget or suppress his racial and national way of seeing and shaping-he has to be an Indian artist or nothing at all. In the end his painting will be as different from all European art as the thinking of India, Upanishads and Buddha, is different from European thought. (No true message without that difference.)" If this thought is accepted then it would mean that according to Sir Herbert Britain and the rest of Europe are tending towards the acceptance of a common art form surrendering all national and racial characteristics which hitherto were interesting aspects of the arts of the various peoples of Europe.

Let us now listen to T.S. Eliot. In his essay Tradition and the Individual Talent" he states that 'the most individual or original parts of a poet's work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.' A historical sense which is indispensable, gives the poet, says Eliot, a perception not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence. It makes him not only traditional but 'most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his own contemporaneity'. These thoughts make one wonder if we in India can, with our present brand of Internationalism, ever hope to paint or sculpt with true significance so long as we deny our ancestors,-so long as they do not assert their immortality through us.

Lalit Kala Contemporary, Volume 5, September 1966.
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