The pace which characterises the advance of non-objective art, even in India, during recent years, has been astounding. What is significant - perhaps alarming, to those who cannot shake off convention easily, is that this cult of non-objective art appears to have caught the imagination of some of our very gifted artists. This rather sudden, positive shift has created a problem which is both engaging and challenging - not one which is merely imaginary, a passing mist likely to be blown away in course of time, as some people would have us believe. To discount the more positive aspects and achievement of non-objective art would be as unintelligent as thoughtless as to discredit the more salient aspects of the figurative element in a work of art.
There is thus the problem, quite concretely, in the minds of a number of artists and in the minds of the spectator, most certainly. One might concede though, that it is grossly exaggerated. Having admitted the existence of the problem howsoever confused and impassioned, we thought that we might ascertain the views of some of our artists and critics on it. This symposium of the thoughts of thirteen artists and critics - of diverse approaches - represents their own views on the subject; derived in each case from his, own direct or indirect experience. The statements are welcome, because they are to a great extent free from references.
Sri Laxman Pai, who has been a consistent figurative painter, avers that all art forms are abstract. He supports this very positive statement by suggesting that it is form and colour that invest a work of art with the essential aesthetic elements, which alone can hold whatever positive environmental or personal references that may have crept in.
“I would unequivocally say that, basically all works of art are Abstract.”
“After all it is the appreciation of the paintings, or any work of art, that counts; the manner in which the spectator absorbs the work.”
“Let us take, for example, an Indian Kangra Miniature painting on ‘Krishna Leela.’ What should attract the spectator at the first instance is the impact created by the solid forms, the colour and lines. Figurative elements which illustrate the painting are only the starting and binding medium for the artist, who created that painting. Religious minded persons or devotees of Krishna, may however, appreciate the same painting in a completely different context of sentimentality which, in fact, is not a real appreciation of the painting, but the self-satisfaction of individual notions.”
“The majority of onlookers do relate their own visual experience in appreciating a work of art, and when they find a vacuum in their mind, then only the false expression comes; they claim it is abstract art and cannot understand it.”
“Figures or any natural form of nature are generally the starting point for an artist. Each form has a shape; it may resemble a human figure. The trouble is not of the form but the search to find a resemblance of it, to satisfy individual sensibility.”
“Therefore even in so called figurative painting, which might have been started with natural forms in the process of the painting, the artist comes to discard representational character and concentrates on the main elements of the painting, that is the achievement of harmony in a given space, of the forms, lines and colour.”
“And this appreciation should be direct and free.”
“This controversy will cease only when there is a change in the onlooker’s approach towards the appreciation of a painting or any creative work of art.”
Sri Pai, indeed, traces the controversy between abstract and figurative art to the tilted and preconceived approach of the spectator. It needs no effort to agree with Sri Pai as to the supremacy of form and colour in a work of art. But, surely even Sri Pai knows that irrespective of this preconditioned approach of the spectator, something more needs to be said to explain the polarity between a Rembrandt and Mondrian.
The same emphasis on the fundamental role of the form (and colour) in a work of art is laid by Dr Charles Fabri, who is astonished that there should be any serious consideration at all whether art should be abstract or figurative.
“I am always astonished that people seriously considering art could worry about the problem of whether art should be abstract or figurative.”
“The simple answer is that Content (or Subject Matter) has nothing to do with art proper. Art is Form, and great creative art can be born, whatever the subject matter of painting or sculpture.”
“A great painter can create splendid art with some such content as employed by Francis Bacon or Giacometti, not discarding the figure, not to speak of the great masters of yesteryears. Chagall is as modern as any abstractionist, and a fine abstractionist is good as the Old Master were. Picasso in many ways father of the new modern movement, or Paul Klee, obviously one of the great forerunners, could create strikingly original pictures in either way. In fact, looking over the whole scene of present-day painting, I find that quite a number of the finest painters are somewhat tired of pure abstraction, not to speak of Pop Art and Op Art, which greatly depends on figurative work; and many find some element of figurative work (“representational elements”) a great help in expressing their feeling about shape, structure paint and, to be sure, form.”
“There is absolutely no merit whatever in emptying your canvas of figurative work, or filling it with. Art is another dimension, as it were and just as El Greco could make a masterpiece out of a figure of Christ, or Rouault creates powerful images with the same theme, Braque can do either abstracts or “concretes”. Le Buffet can grip you, in the nineteen sixties, with representative art of compelling beauty.”
“In India, the major artists now working, Mr M.F. Hussain, Mr Tyeb Mehta, Mr A. Ramachandran, Mr J. Sultan Ali, Mr F. Souza, Mr Laxman Pai, Mr Krishen Khanna and many others still retain figurative elements in varying degrees in their very fine arts, and Mr Bimal Das Gupta and Mr Swaminathan (to mention only two) have discarded figurative work. It makes no difference.”
“Historically speaking, standing back and speaking of the centuries, it is the same kind of variety that is offered by past ages. The masterpieces of the ‘trecento’, of the renaissance of the mannerisms of Michelangelo, of the baroque of Titian and the baroque of Rembrandt, all offer masterpieces. So do Rouault and the Douanier Rousseau and Paul Nash and Karel Appel. Subject matter, La matiere littéraire, has nothing to do with great art.”
“A great painter can make great art whether he is abstract or figurative.”
But let us set aside the problem, the controversybetweenfigurativeandnon-figurative art - imaginary or real - for the present. Admittedly, no work of art is a plain, open book, making its impact in part or full at the merest glance. It is said we have to “live” with it, contemplate it and allow it to grow on us, so that we comprehend its beauty, its passion and significance. And this process of comprehension of a work of art calls for imagination and life-experience, to seize upon its essential significance and meaning, to clear it of its essential ambiguity and complexity. This position extends beyond the spectator - to the artist-creator himself. The world inherent in a true work of art is a “twilight zone of sensibility”.
“I want my work to be ambiguous. I would like it to appear to me every morning as a new configuration. Also I want it to straddle the visible and the abstract with its forms now becoming recognizable now going into hiding. I think that this balancing of the abstract with the objective is one of the most significant characteristics of the traditional art of my country - like in its temples which are impressive as abstract heaps of stone but which bristle up with mythologies and representational detail at the second glance. This is where I get into contact with it. I want my work also to live in such a twilight zone of sensibility, although the ingredients I put into it are not what they used to be but are of this time.” -----K. G Subramanyam
It follow, therefore, that a work of art admits of imaginative interpretation to a remarkable extent, particularly today.
“I believe that in a modern work the spectator has to bring with him more than half the emotion…I feel that there is a greater scope for imagination in a work that cannot be pinpointed to any specific emotion. That is the limitation of representational work.”
Josef Albers states it even more succinctly:
“A cow sees grass merely as an edible. I don’t believe it sees a lawn as a carpet and it probably does not care about all the greens possible. But a poet putting his nose into the grass can see it as a forest.”
But there is a tendency to read too much into a work of art. Find what one wants to in it and exult or not find what one wants to and dismiss the work as meaningless. It is a difficult business - this business of comprehending a work of art. It is so even to the most experienced viewer.
This “Conversation” between Mark Rothko and Seldon Rodman illustrates the point further:
“You might as well get one thing straight,” Mark Rothko said relaxing, “I'm not an abstractionist.”
“You’re an abstractionist to me,” Seldon Rodman said, “You’re a master of color harmonies and relationships on a monumental scale. Do you deny that?”
“I do. I'm not interested in relationships of color or form or anything else.”
“Then what is it you're expressing?”
“I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions--tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on--and the fact that lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I communicate those basic human emotions.”
Or the following letter by Jeane-Antoine Houdon to Boissy, the Art critic (Paris, April 14, 1778)
“I am at a loss, Monsieur, to thank you for the flattering things you say of me in the letter you were kind enough to have printed in today's Journal de Paris. Had I been less praised I should feel more obliged to you, and would not importune you with my gratitude. But was I to remain silent, I might be suspected of accepting all your praises. It is certainly my great desire to merit them but I will take the liberty of informing you that in making the bust of Moliere that you came to see in my studio, I had indeed no further object than simply to make a portrait of Moliere...But it was not my intention to portray the Father of Comedy who is, you say, characterized by this bust. If those who look at this head of this great man find that my bust renders the features of a writer who was, as you say, the Father of Comedy, there is no just reason for gratitude to me. If everyone finds it a good likeness and artists think it a good sculpture, I am very proud; but if it is perceived in his eyes, his bearing etc. that it was he who created Tartuffe, Le Misanthrope and Les Femmes Savantes, I assure you I had no suspicion of it. Praise for the lineness and the work, I accept. Praise for the intentions with which you credit me, indeed I cannot.”
“As for my Diana, though that is the work with which I took most pains, I cannot accept the comparison you draw from it. Since you are acquainted with the Vatican Apollo and appear to be a connoisseur of sculpture, you must agree that my work comes nowhere near that. I say this not from modesty but because I found that figure all but perfect, perfection.”
All this with reference to the relationship of the creative artist and the spectator in respect of a specific activity-comprehension of a work of art.
But the transformation of the creative idea into concrete creative expression is itself complex and is conditioned by several factors. The protagonists of figurative or abstract art alike accept the signal fact that art does not germinate, much less flourish, in a vacuum.
It is inextricably involved with life.
“Figurative Art lived a long undisturbed life from the primitive period until the end of the 19th century. A long life chequered with several evolutionary changes, left unchallenged. But the sensational discoveries of the present era in the field of science and technology widened the vista of the artist and the sense of enquiry within him urged him to search beyond the surface. In this search for inner reality, his intuitional, emotional and intellectual faculties came to his aid. In addition to this desire in creative man the change in the political and economic sphere all over the world gave him an opportunity to assert his sense of individuality. This self-acquired freedom of expression opened a new horizon for the creative artist and the various revolutionary changes became effective from the beginning of this century culminating in Nihilism. Between the two extremities a balanced approach is being explored by many a contemporary artist all over the world.”
“The term ‘Abstract Art’ is generally used for all works of art, be it painting or sculptures, where motives or objects depicted are beyond recognition. Merits of works in this category are judged on the merit of organisation of form, colour and space and so. This attitude has broken all the national barriers. Quicker modes of travel invented by modern man and intermingling of peoples have made the various movements and inventions in art common property all over the world. As a consequence daring experiments with evernewtechniques andideasarise. This newly acquired licence in some; cases resulted in artists imitating each other and thus lose their identity. The craze for originality often resulted in works beyond the comprehension of the spectator and perhaps of the author himself.”
“The significance of a work of art, be figurative or abstract, depends on its elevating qualities and on its values that stand the test of time. Figurative art all over the world lost its vitality during the 18th and 19th centuries, but is seen as a new force in the hands of modern masters like Picasso during the early part of this century. Possibilities of projecting figurative art, intelligible and interesting to the sensibilities of the modern man are being tried by artists everywhere. They believe in projecting man to them the human figure or the motifs of nature form a creative vocabulary. They infuse abstract elements from nature into their creations. For example, in a painting with a musician singing the sound element too is infused in. The expression of an emotion not only depends upon the subject matter but also on the juxtaposition of colours and treatment of space together with inventive symbols. The resulting work attains a new reality, far truer than the visible reality and far removed from the so-called academic or impressionistic work. It is in this middle path. I believe that there lie immense possibilities of maintaining the artist's individuality and at the same time of creating works which attain universality.”
-----K. K. Hebbar
Is it then feasible to attempt an analysis of the source or sources of the creative image, which is the result of a complex, cumulative life-experience?
“To me art is the unfolding of a vision, a reality which has its own independent existence. In the formation of this independent reality having its cohesiveness and cognition, various experiences perhaps come into play simultaneously. It is futile to analyse whether these experiences spring from figurative, recognizable forms of nature or are inspired by the cumulative synthetic image of all experiences abstracted into a world of fancy. The significant experience which can lead to a subjective reality is the only experience important to me. It may be the symphony of a musical composition, a chance glance at a full-blossomed rose, a bleak panorama of a sand dune or the pain of separation in love. Thus a simulation of objective reality is not all important in art, but art must reflect a significant independent reality through one's own subjective experience. If this independent reality can be expressed in the best manner in its simplified from of abstraction, there could be no objection to such an image.”
“It is strange, however, to find an image which has absolutely no reference to any perception at all. We know that in the nature there are three absolute forms the straight line, the sphere and the cone. But how beautiful and varied are the combinations of these absolute forms in nature. Thus the creative process knows no bounds in art. The raison d'etre of creative expression goes through a process similar to "play". But this is a unique kind of play in which the various elements of objective reality and subjective experience take a synthetic form. I feel the decadence and complexity of our present-day civilization can most significantly be expressed by a bold use of abstract form. A compulsion towards distortion and elimination of the representational image are present in decadence of our complex modern civilization. Therefore, visual language has taken a different course towards a personal reflective world, that of abstract art.”
-----Sunil Kumar Bhattacharaya
If we dwell on the evolutionary nature of art, with all the effect of sociological and scientific changes in it, would it not then be possible to sound a note of inevitability of the trend of art of a particular age and environment?
“Art has never been static but a vital living spirit of the time, fulfilling the needs of man from time immemorial. Man's needs now are different from what they were in the past---from the magical and propitiatory images of nods and goddesses for mass worship and exorcism.”
“The tremendous impact of science in the present century has had a deep effect on everyday life and expression including art. The decline of faith and the correspondingly increased reliance on materialism has created an unprecedented gap between the artist and society. The artist has thus become a greater individual than ever before which has only made the gap wider. He is treated with indifference whether he does figurative work or non-figurative work. Devoid of his social responsibility, he functions on an extremely personal level, his problems being essentially his own and so the solutions. This is the one major reason I can think of for the modern emphasis on abstract art with its immense possibilities as a medium to interpret the modern artist's personal poetry and vision. To term this new mode of art as a jugglery would be unfair, for the artist has only delved deeper into his own personality and has chosen to deal with more vital problems of the spirit in preference to the purely physical. Instead of making a face laugh, he now makes a triangle laugh or a square weep.”
“In the ultimate analysis, the experience of an artist, on which depends his expression, comes out of his environment which is now unlimited. The artist rearranges his basic impressions and the resultant forms are not bound by any physical proportion. He creates his own proportions which are spiritual, as in music. It is this purity of form that makes a work of art abstract.”
“I have no preconceived notion of abstract or figurative art. I have been both at different times. I have never had any intention of making any of my sculptures precisely abstract or figurative. I suppose, nature has always been my great source of inspiration and the position remains unchanged even now. My main concern today is to distil basic forms from this inspiration. But the nature of my creative vision has not altered. I see, therefore, no contradiction between abstract and figurative styles. Both reflect aspects of life.”
-----Dhan Raj Bhagat
“I do not remember the exact year but it was immediately before or after the Festival of Britain in 1951, that the Artists' International Association, London, organised a special exhibition called the "Square and Mirror". A mirror and a plane square were placed at each end h of this exhibition symbolising the faithful imitation of nature in art and it’s opposite the invented images which had little no bearing on nature. The exhibitswerearrangedaccording asthey belonged towards the mirror or square and those that seemed almost half way between these concepts were in the middle. This may appear as an attempt to over-simplify abstract art in the effort to differentiate from the figurative or representational. But it offered the artists and art critics an opportunity to pause and think for moment in the middle of hectic changes and experiments that were taking place in the art world at that time.”
“In no epoch, before our time, have we seen such rapid changes in form and concept in art as well as such large scale experiments. In sculpture today, not only are the materials of the old days, such as clay, wood, bone, stone and molten metal of bronze amalgam, used, but materials which were hitherto unknown or not used, such as plastics, welded metal sheets and wires and other synthetic products. These are now being incorporated in sculpture and have indirectly influenced its form and expression. In fact the unorthodox handling of old and new materials have in many cases obliterated the difference between painting and sculpture.”
“It should be borne in mind that in the exhibition just cited the mirror did not stand for those whose ultimate aim was to imitate nature with photographic accuracy and yet failed to make things look real and alive. The best artists who adhered to the study of nature, succeeded in translating their experience of reality without rendering an accurate imitation. Rodin was a great sculptor of this category. It would also be wrong to presume that the artists who were committed to the representational art were unimaginative or insensitive to forms that were unrelated to nature. It was with the advent of the Cubism that the final curtain fell and art became completely liberated from the tradition of representing optical images and committed to guide another aim that of substituting abstract or symbolic forms for images. 'A symbolic art, an art of substitution, had prevailed for long epochs in the past, and it was natural, therefore, to seek in the past, either symbols that might still be serviceable, if adapted to contemporary sensibility (such as those Cycladic statues of the Mother Goddess that symbolise an everlasting archetypal feeling), or more generally, a confirmation of the fact that inner feelings could be objectified in symbols that had no other functions'.-Herbert Read. There are sculptors who find symbolic significance in objects found in nature or even in man-made objects, and introduce these in their sculpture, sometimes, even incorporating them as they were originally found.”
“Modern sculptors, both those who still maintain the formal tradition of the past (in the sense that their creation should serve humanity and give their work a public setting) and those who, reject this tradition, and endeavour to establish different values of 'pure form'; are fundamentally concerned with the sensibility to volume and mass, the interplay of hollows and bulges, and rhythmical articulation of planes and contours, unity of conception.”
“In the sphere of abstract art, the new images seemed to be veering towards two different sensibilities- one which still retains an interest in feeling, animation and life as we sense it in nature and the other which is quite insensitive to life or animation, but not to dynamism or automation. Even in Cubism, Picasso and Braque did not altogether reject the elements of human interest in life and animation, whereas, Gris’s objective was to create an absolute formal pattern culminating in pure geometric shape. Constructivists like Gabo and Pevsner are mainly concerned with construction of pure forms similar to architecture or industrial design. Gabo says, "No art movement of the past ever went so far as to presume the possibility of an independent existence of a work of art apart from the naturalistic content, or to suspect that there might be a concept of the world which could reveal content in a form. The constructive idea has revealed a universal law that the elements of a visual art, such as lines, colours, shapes, possess their own forces of expression independent of any association with the visual aspects of the world; that their life and their actions are self-conditioned psychological phenomena rooted in human nature; that those elements are not chosen by convention for any utilitarian or other reason as words and figures are, that they are not merely abstract signs, but that they are immediately and organically bound up with human emotions...The human race will get used to responding to the language of absolute art...But there is one thing that absolute art has yet to go through. It is this: to know how to use that new language.”
“Henry Moore, a dominating figure in modern art like Picasso, is outside the confines of any group or movement, and he says, "Because a work does not aim at reproducing natural appearances it is not, therefore, an escape from life-- but may be a penetration into reality...an expression of the significance of life, a stimulation to greater effort in living.”
“The post second World War period has produced another category of sculptures which can be described as 'assemblages' of diverse ready-made objects and the primary aim of such inventiveness is more to surprise, shock or amuse than to produce only aesthetic emotion. Now it seems that there is a kind of purposeful rejection of everything pertaining to life and human feeling and this factor pervades the expression of modern sculpture everywhere.”
One is therefore led to the very tempting, conciliatory proposition that there is no tangible conflict between abstract and figurative art and that the polarity between conventional ideals of art and of the modern is symptomatic of the present age. It is suggested that the non-figurative art forms best express the contradiction, frustration, love and hate of our troubled times.
“The terminology 'Abstract and Figurative' is of recent origin, established partly in the process of the simplification following the European Renaissance. I would rather use the word non-figurative to abstract that is 'Figurative and non-figurative Art'.”
“The meaning of 'abstraction', as I see it, is to draw away from a mass of visual impressions that is to represent its very essence. This trend is evident in the Arts produced in various periods of history. As soon as one starts putting something on the canvas or to build or carve something in sculpture it is quite apart from Nature, from that which is living, moving, growing, and all the related organic activity one embarks into the realm of abstraction, however outwardly representative the character of our expressions be. The process of art is always a process of abstraction. It is a matter of interpretation of ideas and feelings inathousanddifferentways.”
“There is a marked tendency to work in a non-figurative way among contemporary artists. In some quarters, this tendency goes so far as to think that this is the only 'progressive' style and that all else is old-fashioned and retrograde.”
“However, my own feeling is that there has been plenty of non-figurative art produced throughout the ages. Most of the symbols produced by different civilisations are wonderful examples of non-figurative art. They contain valuable human experience and philosophical significance. Non-figurative art for its own sake, without the element of abstraction, as I have explained, has little meaning for me. The quality of this abstraction depends on one's own capacity to understand, feel, and interpret objective reality.”
“This is precisely what any artist does, whether contemporary or ancient. There is a basic undercurrent which is common to all arts of different periods. The artist's aesthetic sensibility and his ability to transform the visual world into a work of Art through the materials and means at his disposal mark a unique human process. The ideal is not to achieve 'progress' in Art, but to establish the right kind of relationship between man and universe, releasing his creative urges and establish a harmony within and without.
“Having stated my view about abstraction in art, I see that there is no real conflict in art expression, between contemporary or ancient art. What we term 'Abstract or non-figurative Art' today has a great meaning not because it is abstract or non-objective but it is the language of our age.”
“This is a language of art, which expresses our century and the world in which we express our feeling of love, hate, anger, frustration, etc. through the art form which is evolved out of our present day problems of existence. Our Art has a specific meaning for us because it is the language that we speak and which has the capacity to contain temporary feeling.”
-----K. S. Kulkarni
“Our world to-day is subject to such immense tensions both national and international, that in the struggle for existence every facet of the mind be it emotional, artistic, or intellectual, vibrates at full pressure. More than ever before does Art in its varied forms enter our everyday life.”
To my mind it is absolutely clear that both Abstract and Figurative Art have got to co-exist, to the detriment of neither; on the contrary, I believe the co-existence is towards the enrichment of both.
“Abstraction has given art a new dimension. It demands of the artist, an extension of his mind, the intellect being encouraged to soar at will, and probe into realms that were held inviolate by thinking man half a century ago. The imagination has never been as stimulated as now, when a painting or work of sculpture is dependant, almost wholly upon colour, texture and a revolutionary use or material. With its lawlessness and intuitive character Abstraction reflects the confusions and contradictions of the age.”
“Having said what I already have in defence of the Abstract idiom, I must however point out that my own research and predilection as a painter, has led me to feel and sympathise far more with Figurative Art.”
“Let us not forget that the many brilliant and revolutionary experiments of our century, the whole complex edifice of Modern Art, an almost top heavy superstructure, exist because of the solid and magnificent foundations which have been rooted in Figurative Art for centuries. The one has led to the other in the very process of artistic evolution.”
“I feel keenly that unless Abstraction is clearly understood both emotionally and intellectually by the artist concerned, before he puts brush to canvas, an expertly handled the painter heads down a one- way street to a 'dead end'.”
“This is never so with Figurative Art in which the imaginative significance transcends the more depiction of subject matter. The expression of reality, being humanistic is infinitely more intuitive, more emotional and intelligent. It may achieve a truly abstract quality as for example in South Indian Bronzes. I dread the decorative in a painting and Abstraction so often heads straight for this pitfall with its constant pre-occupation with texture, design, and spatial effects. I find the monotony and coldness of this idiom limiting, and the possibilities of quackery infinite.”
“In my own paintings I feel the need to refer to nature for stimulus. For me it is the point of departure towards new and limitless horizons.”
Sri Sankho Chaudhuri emphasises the inevitability of the "figure" in whatever form, even in an extended form, without which expression is impossible. He almost suggests the impossibility of pure abstract art.
“The choice between emphases on the form in content of art has been an age-old dilemma. Emotion-the main source of man's expression is abstract, but is always expressed through a concrete recreation in terms of colour, line, and form. A motif or a symbol is the outcome of the concept of the concrete expressed in terms of the abstract or vice versa.”
“The abstract is an intellectual concept. It has no definite area, time, and space. It is a value and a truth that is empirical. Man, being an anthropomorphic creature has always used the vehicle of 'the figure' (man) for his expressions from time immemorial.”
“In our talk, or in our writings and in our art, when expression becomes the main preoccupation we tend to generalise; we talk of philosophy and truth, which are abstract. It is the interrelation between the concrete and the abstract - realisation of a lofty truth and the struggle for its expression in terms of personal experience that makes a work of art fascinating, and a poignant imprint of the struggle. Truth by itself remains an impersonal cold and lifeless.”
“Like worship or meditation, man's devotion or desire for spiritual realisation becomes easier through the medium of a deity who is in fact a man-made symbol. So in art Man's innate urge for expression finds an easy vehicle in objects and figures created by man which then became the means to his expression.”
“Modern abstract art started as an experiment to separate painting from its content, which to the artist was an illustration and merely succeeded in conveying a meaning or telling a story. Identification of an object or theme the artists held, was not necessary for appreciation of a painting as a work of art. The language of art, it was felt, is the creation of forms pleasing to the eye. This lead to theories of optics, and aesthetic sensibility which had so far been beyond the purview of the artist.”
Abstract as the non-representational or the non-objective or non-figurative inartisessentially theexpression of the cynic and the sophisticated-where truth in the form of principles has resulted in machines which produce power and products possessing greater precision than man's hand could ever achieve.
“Such people living among machine-made objects, devoid of life and the human touch, have been found to get joy and emotional response from the crude and so far neglected works of the primitives. It was the realisation of the faith that lay behind such creation which culminated in the movement where creativity and discovery of new vistas was the sole preoccupation of the artists. This resulted in simplification and dehumanization of form leading to geometric and mathematical creations.”
“The question whether a particular piece is to be regarded as the means to an end is still, and will perhaps be always, debated, but in the process described above, it is the ‘why’ in art that has become more important than ‘what’.”
“To me pure abstract, like it’s opposite, the faithful realistic depiction, is impossibility and a misnomer in art. A straight line which is a concept of the shortest distance between two given points is an abstract line invented man. A vertical line brings to mind the association of an electric pole, and a horizontal line, the horizon. Thus I wonder if there can be any abstract art without any association in the personal experience of the artist.”
“If the painters' preoccupation is with such elements as colour and line, the sculptors' is with volumes and structure. Structure is the basis of all growths and is the strength-giving base inherent in all materials. This structure differs from one material to another. The structure of a human figure is the skeleton and the outer shape or form depends on the development and growth of muscles around the skeleton and bones.”
“Structure is therefore the simplest and the most rudimentary of shapes. Structure by itself may look abstract: it becomes hypothetical and inductive, a cold statement of a foundation which may satisfy the intellect, but loses certain humanity. My own principal interests have been in life around me; my idea of the truth involves not only the origin of forms and structure but goes beyond this. True there can be no sculpture without structure but that by itself does not explain the elements which to me are a means to further the developments inherent in art. The urge for expression transcends the object and only then enters the realm of real art.”
“Human feeling still finds a response in me, and perhaps it is that hear -- I still seek to find among all the dry, drastic statements of truth.”
Is it then a question of emphasis of certain aspects of human condition, valid in each age? What about the more noticeable part of technique and materials, which is becoming increasingly evident and has become symptomatic of avant garde art? Technique and materials not only produce the essential visual impact of a work of art, but go a long way in creating moods, both tense and pleasurable.
“The means at hand for my chosen expression are paint materials. I have colours and brushes, canvas and the mediums required to dilute the party colour material and to use them thinly, thickly, blended and mixed or in any other way suggested while manipulating them, with brushes, rags, palette knives or a printer's roller. I spread the colours mixed with oil mediums on the canvas the way I want them to be laid and placed.”
“My interest in manipulating these materials has changed from time to time. This has happened because the more you work the more you know of the possibilities of what you can do with these materials. A colour can be laid thinly in an even tone. It can be laid strongly saturated at one end and very pale at the other. You can allow it to dry and paint over it with another wash in a different direction. The result achieved can be scratched wet or brushed over with thick paint material creating a stronger sensation of contrast. You can wipe out a layer of colours completely or leave the bottom layer partially visible. Hundreds of such possibilities exist; these create various kinds of visual sensations. But colour creating colour sensations presents other possibilities when it comes near other colours or is placed in the same 'unity' away from each other. In one painting 'one unity ‘-there may be hundreds of such blobs or brush strokes. These colour placing are capable of creating degrees of contrasts, tensions, recessions and projections, blending and abrupt endings.”
“Abstract and other paintings including figurative paintings are made up of such colour manipulations. Abstract paintings in part or as a whole does not represent anything else besides what it is of. But it is possible for a spectator to impose on it his own readings meanings for which the artist, its creator, cannot he held responsible. These 'unities' may even create moods, soothing, pleasant or otherwise in the minds of the spectators.”
“Other paintings include works which may have a story to tell. The subjects may be a record of a passing glimpse or a more deeply studied view of nature or specially arranged objects. They may be things imagined or dreamt of. These illustrative 'unities’ can have various kinds of appeal to the spectator, who may read the story, recognize the semblance of the original view or object and also participate in the personal dream experience of the artist.”
“However, the aesthetic considerations behind the laying of coloured forms forming into a ‘unity’ may be missed by them. Nor should it normally be expected of them to participate in this enjoyment. They may get interested and admire the skills employed by the artist in using colour, in creating illusions. In the acquisition of such skill practice, experience, and knowledge are required.”
“In abstract painting intense feeling and knowledge of colour matter and its handling to form a unity through possible and desirable juxtaposition is necessary. Abstract painting also offers the possibilities of expressing feelings such as those of disgust, contempt, bewilderment, love and detachment etc.”
“As for the pleasure derived in the act of painting I would say that abstract painting offers far greater and purer pleasure than the figurative. Apart from the sanction of liberty abstract painting makes its own severe demands. A painter of `abstracts' has to have his ideas more aesthetically oriented, has to be more conscious of things happening on the canvas, has to be more concerned with the subtleties of colour sensations, have more feeling for the recordings left by the brush strokes, and of the rubbings, wipings, scratchings, thinnesses and thicknesses of his paint. He is more directly concerned with the material that he uses. If an abstract painting has no aesthetic values it is just to be thrown away.Otherpaintingsdo exist andcared for, for they have other values.”
“The of appeal Indian classical music, specially of instrumental music, is very much like the visual experience derived from abstract painting. I think it should therefore appeal to Indians. The idea of world brotherhood or ‘one world’ has not been politically possible but it has become possible through abstract art.”
“Today, it seems, however, that the possibilities of innovations through the manipulation of paint material are near exhaustion. Op art and pop art are the offshoots of abstract art. I think art movements will not turn back but move forward. Lessons learnt from abstract art will always dominate the creation and aesthetic valuation of art. I have learnt that lesson and it is manifest in my work, figurative or otherwise.”
-----N. S. Bendre
In this flight or--is it elevation-of art from its regional or national context on to a universal level, is it probable that art has lost its local flavour and tone, both of which it did contain in the past ? In having attained universality, has art lost its essential variety?
“Ever since I began to paint, human figures have fascinated me. But today l find that we classify an artist as a 'figurative' or as an 'abstract painter'. Such a division never during my student days. And in the years to come it is certain that art will go on changing and various schools or trends may come up, but I feel that paintings with human figures will never become obsolete. It will always continue to interest people. Take, for example, Picasso or Cezzane, who have not, in spite of their intense experimentation over years, have not abandoned the figure totally.”
“I think an artist has a message to convey. I have, at any case and do not see anything wrong in this although it is rather out of fashion now to own such a desire. I want my paintings to be appreciated and understood. This is possible for me as a figurative painter. All this does not mean that i underplay the formal elements of a work of art, colour, form, line etc. But I think whatever ideas one wants to convey can be conveyed without sacrificing the formal elements the least.”
“I want people to see my works and say, that here is a painting from India. It depicts an Indian life, an Indian figure, an Indian thought etc. The very universality of abstract art precludes the chances of its national or geographical recognition. And, while it unifies the world in a way, it is likely to destroy the individuality of a people. Imagine a Chinese painting in abstract style at an International Exhibition. Everything about it will be a guess. The Chinese painter need not just perpetuate his tradition; he can be modern, very modern indeed, and yet be Chinese.”
“In figurative works, I feel that I am able to bring out different kinds of expressions and rasas, as we have in Indian Aesthetics. I cannot convey these significant moods in abstract style where the main concern is with arrangements of 'non-visual' form and harmony of colours.”
“Every country has its own pictorial art and it is fair enough that we should develop that art further and further. A nation’s art can mirror its social life, beliefs, aspirations etc. This I feel is best achieved only through ‘figurative art’. One can be modern but this must be with one's roots deeply in the soil of one’s birth.”
-----J. Sultan Ali
The emergence of non-figurative art and its phenomenal advance is said to be historically inevitable. Perhaps, it is a result of the relationship of man with the complex, mystery-ridden modern predicament. But, purely from the aesthetic point of view, the lessions learned from abstract art are manifold and undeniably valid, despite the part degeneration and shock tactics.
“The inevitability, even the significant need, for non-figurative art seems to be clear from the events in European art history that led up to the first decades of this century. It seems at least in the retrospect that the unfolding of events demanded that art become abstracted, then entirely abstract. The new relationship of man, to the unexplored, unchartered and more ambiguous realms that found expression as it was, 'abstract visuals'.”
“After about 50 years of abstract art we may be on the fringes again and scenting new pastures. Every art movement loses its force gradually and new desires begin from within. After an original search into the domain of abstract by some of the most significant 20th century artists, there seems to be exhaustion, leaving a residue of mannerism. Yet it would be naive to declare any art form ‘dead’. The chapters are never really closed: they accumulate in layers generating directions into the future. Thus if we say abstract art has lost its vitality, it is an anticipator statement, and it refers only to that aspect of it that is the content of 'art History’ at this moment. In so far as art is always related to the needs and inspirations of living creative artists, a demand by him to his means (the elements) different from that which has been previously made can yield revolutionary results. An 'organisational' aspect of art, degenerating into the decorative, has been pursued in recent years, due to a series of external and internal reasons. But if the intention and the elements could be apprehended freshly and perhaps if subterranean sources of inspiration could be tapped from different cultures, of different time’s new windows on abstraction could be opened.”
“To talk of a 'return' to the figure is false because it is almost a truism-there is never a 'return'. Moreover alongside the mainstream of abstract art, figurative art has retained its place. The question then is, can the emphasis shift to the figure; if it does, what kind of figurative art is it likely to be? The answer to the first part of the question is, quite simply, yes. The very 'sophistication' of recent abstract art makes alternative direction natural, even as early in this century, its reverse was true. Even factually this is so: in the last decade there is almost a vengeful swing of the pendulum by the neo-realists (pop-imagists) who have used clearly defined figures in their work.”
“There have been several types of figurative expression in the last decade largely with a satirical bias. For example figures have been juxtaposed in equation with commercial objects, implying sometimes a glorification and sometimes a malignment of Western object-ridden society. These and other motivations have also prompted artists to pick up the threads of Dadaism and Surrealism and to paint with meticulous care, the strange and grotesque images ofcontemporaryman, trappedin the meshof his own civilisation. There are also painters, who have derived the fundamentals of the attitude of Abstracts Expressionism, with them the emotive implications of the figure are synthesised with the 'painter's demands of the work. The less revolutionary for the time, though often the most significant figurative expression continues; it include the genius of Picasso mercilessly attacking the human figure as well as other expressionists and Surrealists persistent and qualitative in their statements.”
“The factors on which speculations about figurative art depend have to include extra-aesthetic considerations also. For figurative art inevitably involves the artists in several dimensions outside the self-contained picture. This I would state in the face of vociferous denials by abstract as well as figurative artists, many of whom would equate all categories saying that creative activity equally embraces either attitudes, that there is essentially no difference in motivation. Whereas one knows that a non-figurative and figurative image may be equally changed and evocative, it is difficult to accept that the attitudes do not differ with the two kinds of content. The role of the figure in art is more inextricably linked with the human situation as it unfolds-whether it is heroic, fragmented, emaciated or commercialised.”
“However the significance of a re-emphasis of the figure will only be, if it is infused and made potent with vaster 'issues' involving the whole complex of life. Otherwise, it will remain as much a victim of narrow demands-yielding only marginal statements-as a large part of recent abstract art has been.”
“It does not seem likely that there will be a return to the "figure" in the near future and if it is likely, it may not be as we have known it in the past. Our knowledge of the non-objective art forms will have brought new solutions and concepts. One might hope there will be less art of the decorative nature and more of a movement towards greater meaning-not in terms of recognisable images, but in feeling and a new mode of communication.”
Compiled and presented by S. A. Krishnan