Art may be known in two ways; the one way is that of the artist, the other is that of the spectator. The enjoyment of the spectator proceeds from merely seeing, the artist enjoys in creating. The difference between the giver and the recipient which exists in ordinary life is also present in respect of these two kinds of men, the artist and the spectator. This difference has wholly vanished in modern times, specially in our country. This is the most serious problem of Indian contemporary art.
In every age, only a very few persons possess creative genius. Artists are at all times a minority as compared with the number of spectators. But, for this very reason, in matters concerning art it is always the artist’s opinion which should be respected, because art or creation of beauty is the highest and most difficult activity in life and not all are capable of such kind of work.
The function of the artist is to endow life with a new form, to transform his fellow men, to put before this world full of conflict and contention a signal of release, to proclaim to it a message of assurance and joy: to present to it the beautiful pattern of life, strong and enduring, fierce and serene.
One who is merely a spectator and derives his highest joy in beholding the beauty of the work produced by an artist, who knows nothing of the how and why of the creation of beauty, who never felt impelled to artistic activity by any kind of original impulse, whose only reaction to art is a passive sensation of pleasure - if the taste of such a man prevail in art then we must think that art has fallen on evil days. In the present-day art of our country it is the taste of the spectator that is prevailing.
That is the reason why a kind of spurious art has become current today; sheer fashionableness is being practised in the name of art. Through the tyranny and hackneyed taste of these commonplace so-called lovers of art, art is degenerating into an article of drawing room furniture. We see that modern artists are lost in a maze of views and opinions; this is the most serious disaster in the sphere of art. Modern artists, estranged from the traditions of India, in their efforts to conceal the gaps in their training and the imperfections in their education are running after the crowd who have even less sense of beauty and feeling; they are eager to establish themselves by advertisements and by a loud appeal to the vexed, dispossessed, self-deceived mass of this age with their vulgar and undeveloped instincts; that is why a kind of superior affectation and showy style are so prominent in modern Indian art.
It is because art is judged from the spectator’s point of view that the aim of philosophy, of religion, of nationalism, of history and of science - all this has passed for the aim of art. Artists nowadays in India are gratifying the absurd whims of so-called scholars, and readers of ancient history and poetry. In short, one of the many reasons which have romanticised the art of today in our country is the practice of appreciating art from the view-point of the spectator.
Like the human body, civilisation has its health and disorders as well. The highest skill and strength of a people, the nobler tendencies of its art come to an expression when its life has not weakened being subject to unnatural conditions. It is then that a sense of vigour, naturalness and certitude born from an accepted scale of values by the people and by the artist become manifest in art.
There was a time in our country when the highest skill and ability of our people were represented in art. The Vedas, ancient Indian paintings, architecture and sculpture, the Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries - all are examples of a consistent and noble art. To realize the divinity in life and transforming power, this is the fundamental aspiration and knowledge of the artist. The non-existence of this kind of knowledge and aspiration is the remarkable feature of modern art in this country.
The kind of romantic art or the representation of sentimentalism current as they are today in India are symptoms of disorder. In certain pathological states the present appears to be extremely painful; the mind does not feel contented with that which is and so creates in its afflicted fantasy the unreal or the remote. By this kind of romantic art or representation of sentimentalism we mean the illusion created by an emphasis on false realities charged with emotions in disorder. Such imagination or creative impulse does not indicate health; it rather suggests poverty of feeling and resentment at being deprived of the abundance of life.
We had deviated from the tradition and current of the higher forms of our art and had been obliged to live in the dark for quite a long period of time. The advent of Abanindranath Tagore in the first decade of the twentieth century and the revival he brought about of Indian arts and crafts marks the dawn of a new beginning. This event may also be regarded as a clear sign of our desire to regain our integrity. In this first decade of the history of the art of ‘young India’ , in this twilight of a new morning, we find in the works of our artists a desire of exploration, but also a mistiness spread over scenes drawn from nature, and one can see signs of groping in uncertainty in their execution of shapes and forms. It is like the slow, dragging walk of a convalescent depending on his stick, or like the first attempt at walking of a baby, its swaying movements, its uncertain footsteps. A sense of want of ease due to lack of habit is also evident. For this reason the first chapter of modern Indian art is emotional or romantic. Due to the predominance of this groping character and incertitude, this kind of art is not self-contained; it also has a strong literary flavour.
The function of one kind of art have been imposed on art of another kind. There is nothing surprising in this as it was an age of self-exploration. In the case of Abanindranath who had been reared in the midst of plenty and was endowed with an extremely sensitive luxurious mind, it is but natural that his art should be influenced by the desires and passions, manners and customs of men of a past culture, specially because at that time there was no current standard of great art in our country. Unnaturalness, imitation and vulgarity were the prevailing forces in his social surroundings. For this reason he had to forsake the present and turn toward the past. He had to enter through the help of books into a very remote, prehistoric or mythological world and take his joy there. If for once, by means of literature, entrance into this world is achieved one believes that one can paint with new colours, dream of an even more remote world and one can also disregard, as some of his pupils did, the fullness and beauty of life on the pretext of good taste
The paintings of Abanindranath in the first and middle periods of his careerarere-creationsofadream-picture of Moghul and Rajput life derived from books, illustrations of the Arabian Nights or Omar Khaiyyam. Influences of ancient and mediaeval literature, novels, lyrics, mythology, history, etc., are evident in them. The wondrous beauty that is in the form of men and women around us today as ever, this we scarcely come across in the paintings of the school of Abanindranath Tagore.
It is the nature of romantic art to represent a beauty which is exotic and remote as conceive by a mind nourished upon the study of literature or other modes of expression. In the classification of art, Abanindranath, the founder of the art of ‘young India’ will be recognised as a romantic artist.
If we regard the advent of Abanindranath as the sprouting of the seed of modern Indian art, then the great responsibility of nurturing the seedling and rearing it into a great tree must rest on the artists who succeeded him. To discharge this responsibility, contemporary artists must forsake at the outset the current fashion of regarding art from the spectator’s stand-point. Artists would have to remember that art is a means of the realisation of the ultimate Self; it is the form of our approach. Like hermits, they must be preoccupied in purifying their selves. They must do what artists had been doing for all these ages, i.e., achieving perfection in some technique of art and mastering it fully.
To artists the staple of art is body, form and shape. Beauty is not perceptible to the eye without a body, a form and a shape. Until the vision of a thinker and an artist attains a definite, limited and beautiful form or body, it cannot be regarded as art. On the other hand, a copy of forms and shapes of ordinary or natural life cannot be called art. Art is that presentation of life and the world which is begotten of a happy union of the mind of the artist with that of nature and the entire universe. His extra-ordinariness remains in his execution, his skill and technique. Upon the just combination of technique or skill and the clarity of mind depends the expression of the uniqueness and beauty of form of all works of art, architecture, sculpture, music, painting, etc. Hence in order to understand art fully we will have to judge three principal factors: (1) the artists, (2) the world and life composed of the five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth and endowed with a visible form, and (3) the warm union of the two and the resulting internal and external reactions of the artist.
However much we may ask as to who is the creator of the world, we receive one answer: the creator is non-existent to the physical eye or invisible. The same is the answer with regard to our body - there is no artist who made and who could be named. Yet art is manifest in it. But from the representation of art we can very easily conclude that some one called an artist must exist. In solving any problem of art our chief concern is the primordial Being which constitutes the artist in his art; we must then consider what type of man the artist is and how many types of artist there are in this heterogeneous multitude of human beings and also in what proportion is the form and quality of art dependent on the growth and make-up of the mind and body of the artist.
We call a man an artist who possesses great skill and ability, who is calm and tranquil and fearless and able to solve all kinds of complex problems; who with excellent skill can present a simple, beatific and charming form before a vexed and terrified humanity shackled with the fetters of life and death. In short, religion, philosophy, literature, science, ethics are all one and the same voice of assurance for man and express the artistic impulse, the impulse of the acceptance of life. That is to say the artist has a transparent personality so that one can easily see through him. The artist has a distinctive point of view from which vantage-ground all the forces and fundamental elements, all the pristine impulses of nature may be observed as well as the variety of religions, philosophies and ethics may be studied and their real nature comprehended.
The artist is an exponent of abundant, expansive power (shakti). He feels an inundation of energy in his mind and just as to a child play is good, so to the artist the superfluous and the playful are good. This play of the artist is as it were the child-likeness on the part of the creator.
Whatever object of the world the artist lays his hand upon becomes beautiful.
To call an object beautiful or non-beautiful is to approve or disapprove of it, to ascribe one’s sense of values to it, to project upon it the fullness and love of life in one’s own mind.
The artist’s outlook on life is normal, so too are the activities of his mind and body; his personal notion of good and evil is also normal. Normality means living and acting in conformity with the laws of the universe. To understand the import of the term ‘artist’ we must realise his difference from the common or sub-normal human. This difference is included in the term ‘rupabheda’ or distinctive form used in the aesthetics of our country.
The majority of the people in the world constitute an average type; they are bound by social and temporal conditions; owing to their ignorance and lack of realisation they are accustomed to accept the modes of life derived from others to be divinely ordained; they are more in favour of preservation, than of the knowledge of life. Their common outlook is crude, opaque, roughly suited for working purposes; it has not at all any sense of certitude; it is wholly deficient in a concept of good and evil. The common mass are victims of conflicting impulses and qualities of their character; their will-power and passion being weak they are not strong enough to influence others; it is their nature to be led by others. To them the artist appears to be a citizen of a topsy-turvy world, so that in order to judge of the good and the bad in art, it is incumbent upon us to have a clear knowledge of our work and our inner and outer activities.
The primary element in art is Rasa. It is difficult to explain or describe Rasa. Its function is to arouse an ideal feeling of energy in our mind. This impulse of inspiration first appears in the mind of the artist at an auspicious moment and carries him away and makes him play whether he be willing or not, and either obliges him to dream or intoxicates him with an overflow of emotion. For this reason, there is two-fold expression of art: the one as if dreaming, a vision of subtle splendour; and the other a dancing rhythmic expression. The nature of this world composed of five elements has rhythmic and dancing qualities. The primordial and original impulse (hladini shakti) is called the energy of the joy of inspiration which appearing in the mind of the artist changes his nerves and his senses with a kind of activity never felt heretofore, and endows all hisfunctionswithRasaandrhythm.
But though there is certain difference between a state of dream and a state of fine frenzy, both of them release the various creative forces in our mind. The splendour of vision gives us imagination, the power of inventing similes and metaphors, the power of producing poetry; frenzy begets out of our passion music and dance. The primal sexual impulse of the average man belongs to the category of wild dance; yet even in his visions or dreams there is no lack of sexual impulse. The difference between these two states is one of degree only. There are certain states of frenzy in which there is a kind of peaceful tranquillity, there is felt an alteration of the sense of time and space. In all the great works of art in the world are found the qualities of serenity and simplicity due to concentration and the highest awareness of causality and there come into play in an ordered manner the noblest faculties of the mind and its inspirational energy. Such art is potent with calm activity and has a consciousness of the Real and knows no weariness.
The state of fine frenzy and the strongest resurgence of this energy are felt in the spring. In such an eternal spring the artist has his being. Beauty, adornment and grace are the realisation of a vow performed, an integration of the inner consciousness, a coordination of the strongest instincts, a stable equilibrium - the simplification of logic and geometry is also a resultant of this energy. On the other hand, the mere sight of this simplification and strength is apt to give rise to in the spectator’s mind of a sense of enhanced energy.
Ugliness means lack of this feeling; it indicates infirmity attaching to a creative act, opposition or a false co-ordination of impulses, feeble will, i.e., a lack of the power of integration.
That state of delight which we have designated as frenzy is the realisation of inspired energy, a state of consciousness when the sense of space and time undergoes a change; when an impossible distance can be traversed by the eye and it is only at this time that very remote objects come within the range of sight; one’s vision is spread out over a large field; the sense which perceives the minutest can penetrate the heart of illusion; the power to fathom the depth by means of a small indication, the faculty of understanding, become awake and the latent divine energy is aroused. The onset of this inspirational energy makes itself felt in the quickening of nerves, in changeableness and love of change, in delight of self and in love of a perilous adventure without any fear.
Every genuine artist is a man of strong and sublimated desires, with abundant energy, virile and passionate. Our presiding god of beauty, Pashupati, Shiva, Lord of the ‘animals’, the souls in bondage, appears seated on a bull.
The creation of poetry or painting, music or any other sort of achievement of man’s effort is in a way allied to procreation. Chastity is a consideration of the artist or the religious aspirant because all creative impulse suffers diminution through an excessive procreative activity.
It is not the function of the artist to portray a thing as it actually is nature; he should paint it stronger, simpler and fuller that it is for a kind of youthfulness, and abiding intoxication are distinctive characteristics of his life. In them it has simplicity and steadiness.
If in the future we would like to surpass the whirl of passions, vulgarity and sentimentalism, if life and art are to attain nobler qualities, then we must realise that a peaceful tranquillity, simplicity and severity are indissolubly associated with noble taste. The prime conditions of the ideal expressions of art is that there must be purity, animation of the rational faculties, equilibrium of the three inner qualities (guna), concentration, and an aversion to all kinds of sentimentality, evasion, excessive decoration, external prettiness and showiness. Artists must have a life which would reflect the the sublime forms created by art. Like the simplification of logic the beauty of great art is associated with strength which is the blending of the sublimity of the deity with the magnitude of the demon; this is severely simple. Such art abjures all exaggerations of details, complexity and indistinctness.
Published in the Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, Vol XI, 1943