About the Book:
Artists have faced various charges in recent times-being out of touch with social reality, reflecting only the sordid aspects of it, or, on quite a different tack, looking back to the past. In this volume these and many other related matters are discussed by some of India's leading artists and critics. En route they consider the relation between art and environment, the religious motif and the role of the establishment. What has happened on the art scene since Independence is surveyed, and what is more, there is mention of what we may expect in the future. This hard-hitting, well-illustrated, but unusual book will fascinate all who are concerned with the quality of life in India today and how art can enhance it.
The seminar on Indian Aesthetics and Art Activity organized by Dr. Niharranjan Ray in 1967 focussed on the relation, if any, between theory and practice, in the field of art. Our focus in this volumes is on the relation between art and life. We are still engaged in reflection on what is, quite obviously, an activity. I do not think our present focus is as hackneyed as it might at first sight seem. Artists, and now I speak of all the arts, have often been accused of moving away from life. This charge, in certain quarters, has been levelled against those who go in for abstraction. An unjust charge in my opinion, for as soon as we embark on language of any kind, whether in words or in any other medium, we are, willy nilly, selecting, that is abstracting. The opposite charge has also surfaced from time to time, that certain art forms have come too close to life. This lobby would like the artist to divert our attention, to entertain, or, Heaven forgive the presumption, to elevate. The relation between art and life, in short, is a live issue, and the people who are in the best opinion to discuss this are artists themselves.
Art and habitat is a basic theme with which to begin. Ugly dwellings, ugly school buildings, uninspired institutional complexes, seem to be the order of the day. Must this necessarily be so? Are things any better in the villages? There are villages and villages. Must the culture of cities always be accompanied by squalor? This question needs to be faced squarely. We also need to ask ourselves why the tribal people do not experience the gap between art and life which we seem to experience. Their art works do not have a frame round them. The wall of the mud hut is beautifully decorated, and objects of daily use are not the eyesore that so many of the things we use daily are. But let us not romanticize. Our villagers want nylon saries, plastic buckets, transistors and all the rest. The pace of change, slow thought it sometimes seems to be, is actually not slow at all. There is a fine line between backwardness and preserving what is worth preserving. There are some hard questions here and they are challenging ones.
The consideration of domestic environment is important because it seems to me that the condition of the arts is to be judged no less by how we organize our environment-i.e., the shape of our buildings, how we deal with garbage, our tolerance of ugly hoardings and all the rest-as by what is to be found inside the buildings in which people live. The centrality of the fan in the so-called drawing room dictates a certain arrangement of furniture, usually a central table surrounded by chairs of different kinds. But what abut the walls? What takes pride of place, the calendar with a mythological theme, family portraits, pin-ups from magazines? Have the rich invested in a Jamini Roy or have they employed an interior decorator who makes sure that the pictures match the carpet? Ideally we also ought to be taking about furniture design, ostentatious jewellery and dress and a whole host of other things which reflect whether we have taste or not.
Any traveller further east, especially to Japan, comes away with a sense of the innate artistry of the people, with an impression of a cultivated taste which seems to be inherited over generations. But we have no less great a heritage. What then has happened? Was it the Buddhist influence which gave so many peoples in South-East Asia this uncanny sense of how to organize their environment in an aesthetically pleasing manner? I suggest we reflect on questions like these, for we, no less than the Japanese or Indonesians, belong to Asia.
The contributions in this volume grew from a seminar held on Art and Life in India since Independence at the Indian Institute Of Advanced Study, Shimla from 4 to 8 June 1988. On that occasion an exhibition and slides shown by the artists enlivened the presentations. The reader will need to visit the gallery and studio in order to acquaint himself with what is happening in the field of art in India today.
My own feeling is that are has to move out of the gilt frame and be part of our everyday existence. All this involves whole ways of life, whole cultural patterns. The artist may not have a greater responsibility than the politician or the voter. We are all, in one way or the other, responsible for enhancing the quality of life of the humblest citizen.
We are grateful to Professor Niren Sen Gupta, College of Art, Delhi, for the jacket illustration and design.
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