A quintessential work that unfolds the origin and development of contemporary Indian art. Covering the last 150 years, the book focuses on the different artistic and stylistic genres and art movements which have enriched the Indian art scenario over the year. With nearly 300 colour and black and white visuals, along with valuable analysis and information, the book stands apart from other publication on the subject. Critics, students, lay readers and connoisseurs of art will find it extremely helpful.
Prof. Pran Nath Mago (b.1923), an eminent artist, educationist and art critic, was a Founder Member of the Delhi Silpi Chakra. He has had varied experience -as a Professor in Fine Art, College of Art, New Delhi; Advisor to the Govt. of Malta on setting up an Art and Crafts School; and Director, Design Development Centre, All India handicrafts Board, New Delhi. His works, exhibited in India and abroad since 1946, were critically acclaimed and are in prestigious national and private collections. He has been the recipient of a Food Foundation Grant, has been honoured as Eminent Artist by the Punjab Art Heritage and has been awarded an Emeritus fellowship by the Department of Culture, Govt of India. He has traveled extensively and delivered lectures in reputed universities and museums, in India and abroad. He has curated some important exhibitions for the Lalit Kala Akademi, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, British Council, New Delhi and The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. He has also written monographs on Amar Nath Sehgal and Gurcharan Singh, published by the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi.
Visual arts are a valuable and colourful expression of the creative genius of Man. In fact, till recently, before management of culture and cultural economics altered the vocabulary of discourse, art was singular and connoted the various expressions that now fall under the rubric of visual arts. It is in that anachronistic sense that the word 'art' is used by the author of this book and by me in this Foreword. The range and variety of form, symmetry, colour and expression give art a distinctiveness. More than any other form, art is avant-garde; in the domain of art, the practice of dissent and the assertion of the right to shock are very common. What contrasts 'modernity' and its successors from the classical era is extraordinary freedom, the denial of any limits or boundaries to experience and expression. Nothing is forbidden; all is to be explored. The search for higher human values, which is the essence of humanism, is intrinsic to artistic expression like the quality of mercy, art doubly blesseth. To quote Svetoslav Roerich "The great Humanism in these works of Art does not only lie in the subject matter or its handling, the real Humanism of these masterpieces lies in their exalted influence upon the onlooker who partakes of their glory and is made to feel the marvels of the power of thought. Thought which elevates him, inspires him and makes him a better man, a richer man whose inner chords begin to vibrate to a new experience awakened by the magic of the creator's touch." Art is humanistic in another sense. Behind the abrasive persona of the autonomous artist is a humanistic self. The Bible enjoins: "All things whatsoever ye would that men do to you, do ye even so to them. This is the law." The artists too have a similar law. Your right to dissent and shock is contingent on your letting others dissent from you and shock you.
As in every domain of culture, India has made rich contribution to Art over several millennia. Exhibitions of Contemporary Indian Art surprise lay visitors in the West but not the cognoscenti. The laity are prone, at best, to associate Indian art with antiquity, and, at the worst, to consider India as the land of snake charmers and the magic rope. But the cognoscenti are quite knowledgeable about the rich oeuvre of Contemporary Indian Art. For Art, in India, these are the best of times and the worst of times. Best of times indeed, for the 'market' for art has never been better; art galleries are mushrooming in metropolises; galleries like the National Gallery of Modern Art have come to be 'hot spots'; it is de rigueur for Corporate offices as well as houses of the old rich and, of course, the new 'rich to display a . canvas or a sculpture - the more the better. Fortune favours many more artists. And yet this is also the worst of times. Increasingly, the home ceases to be an institution for transmitting cultural heritage from one generation to another; education and culture are disarticulated. Consequently, the sensibility that is acquired is often the sensibility of the all-pervading and ineluctable market, politics and commercial cinema (and of course, its more intrusive cousin, the smaller screen). Ergo, the 'demand' for art is often not driven by discernment and understanding of what art and culture are about. There lurks the danger of the audience making the artist and of prevailing taste constraining artistic freedom and expression. Never before has there been a greater need for promoting appreciation of art, art qua art. Prof. Mago's book precisely meets this demand.
Prof. P.N. Mago is an eminent artist, art educationist and art critic and needs no introduction to artists, art historians and art lovers. As a student of Sir J.J. School of Art, Bombay, he was greatly influenced by Charles Gerrard, the then Director of the School and his teacher J.M. Ahivas. Prof. Mago has had a multi-faceted career-as a working artist and founder-member of Delhi Silpi Chakra, as a promoter of contemporary design in handicrafts as Director of the Regional Design Development Centre, All India Handicrafts Board, New Delhi, as a discerning teacher of art, and as Advisor on Arts and Crafts to the Government of Malta. He received several honours including the award of Eminent Artist from the Punjab Art Heritage, Jallandhar, and an Emeritus Fellowship from the Department of Culture, Ministry of Human Resource Development. For nearly six decades, he has been an expert eye-witness to the multifarious developments in the field of Contemporary Indian Art.
Contemporary Indian Art is the product of the cultural confrontation with the British. Writ large on it is the cumulative effect of two tendencies coupled together; one surging forward to project Indian identity, and the other an urge to assimilate features of the occidental culture. Prof. Mago's book is a magisterial narrative that spans the last 150 years. It vividly portrays the cultural dynamics as it surfaced through art at different periods in different regions of India and in different genres of artists. Here, among others, are crisply delineated the landmarks created by Raja Ravi Varma, the three Tagores, N andalal Bose, Jamini Roy, Amrita Sher-Gil and others; the formation of various progressive groups of artists; the various other stylistic developments period-wise; and the recent trends leading to the cult of 'personal' or 'self' expression, at times disregarding every constraint relating to the artistic or aesthetic norms. It is an Intellignet Layman's Guide to Contemporary Indian Art and also a handy reference to the experts. The author and the ational Book Trust, India (NBT) have to be congratulated for this informative publication which, I understand, is not only the first book on the subject but also the first of its kind to be published by the NBT.
The visual arts are integral to a civilization. They are the manifestation of quality by which a nation is judged and no society can afford to dispense with their humanitarian role. In India, certain recognition and encouragement has been provided to the visual arts but there is still a need to create more appropriate conditions in. which the great artistic tradition we have inherited can be resumed. Those concerned with improving the existing state of affairs know all too well the complexity of the problem.
Art production has increased tremendously and the future of artists appear bright and secure. But the value of art production can neither be assessed in terms of money, scale or volume nor can the influence of art on a community be measured by attendances at public galleries and exhibitions. It is true that if a great artistic tradition is to be formed and continued, the existing body of patronage must be extended, which in turn will make possible a greater quantity of art production. But the greatness of the tradition will ultimately depend on the discrimination and knowledge of the public and on the originality, skill and integrity of the artists.
It is, therefore, necessary to make qualitative assessments in relation to aesthetic standards. Those who have not considered the situation in depth might mistake this for prejudice - but it is, in fact, a fundamental part of the problems to be faced. There are complex problems involved; these have to be surveyed objectively and on a factual basis for considered observations on the whole field of visual arts. And, for an examination of their economic and administrative background, an attempt has to be made to define the place of visual arts in our national life, and to estimate their social importance and value in general education.
'Contemporary Art in India: A Perspective' attempts to trace the history that brought about an awareness of contemporaneity or modernity in art in our country, and the directions it has taken during the last 150 years or so. Historically speaking, we have been exposed to western influences since 1600, the year the British East India Company was set up. But we became very dependent on the' achievements in European art since 1900. The influence spread with increasing British political power, particularly when Schools of Art were established in Madras, Calcutta and Bombay during 1850s to impart training in western techniques in an organised manner.
The development of various trends and directions, from the mid- nineteenth century till recent times, has been covered in as concise a manner as possible; the landmarks created by Raja Ravi Varma, the three Tagores, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, Amrita Sher-Gil and others; the formation of various progressive groups of artists - almost as a movement against the Bengal School; various stylistic developments, very nearly decade-wise, and more recently, the trends leading to the cult of 'personal' or 'self' expression.
The parameters of the pioneers start with the revival of national artistic aspirations - represented in the works of Abinendranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose, followed by Jamini Roy and Amrita Sher-Gil, signifying, respectively, attempts at lending 'Indianness' or an indigenous flavour and synthesising the Indian and western approaches in their work. Their endeavours were to be national but their ambition was to be international. Rabindranath Tagore, the great poet, may have been untrained as a painter but he painted from his inner-self and gave meaning to his works through the vitality of this consciousness. He had strongly advised the younger artists of his time to "make daring experiments" and "to vehemently deny their obligation to produce carefully something that can be labelled as Indian art by conforming to Some old-world mannerism".
During this period, the Indian artist has, on the one hand, been eclectic, experimenting with varied mannerisms under the influence of Euro- American art movements, such as Cubism, Expressionism, Surrealism and Abstract. And, on the other, obsessed by a deep desire to search for roots. International movements like Fauvism, Futurism, Dadaism, Pop and the Op have not made a noticeable impact; Kinetic art has made none. However, there have been growing trends towards installation, happenings or conceptual art since the late 1980s. The presence of the 'past', nevertheless, is more visible in India than, perhaps, any other country - this is providing a growing importance to the traditional arts.
Although the influence of Picasso and Moore has been revolutionary and resulted in a more esoteric means of expression, the deliberately loud and attention-seeking works of the younger artists under the influence of Pop and Surrealism are as popular as the growing search for roots in the traditional folk and tribal arts. What seems to be going on at present is a dialogue between innovation and tradition.
Indian art today, one may say, is in the midst of a continuum of responses to cultural traditions initiated at the beginning of the 20th century. The artist also looked to earlier Indian art, especially of the 1920s and 1930s. It was, however, the deliberate eclecticism and almost mannerist opulence that contrasted with the purity and economy of previous generations and seemed so 'dangerously' all-embracing in its references. Perhaps it is precisely because of its rich cultural heritage that India led the revival in contemporary visual arts - painting, sculpture and graphics, just one symptom of a changed perception of the possibilities of art that has been emerging most notably in recent times.
There is a forceful reaction against the international style and there is much talk about a return to painting and sculpture in the traditional sense. The two trends, which at first seemed to contradict each other, are emerging as two aspects of the same problem of creativity. The present-day art scene is symptomatic of new cultural developments which also lie behind the return to order in art as much as in socio-political areas; they constitute an apparent abandonment of radical philosophical tradition in favour of a new conservative approach evidenced in the remarkable artistic production of this period. Although accepting internationalism, the Indian artist is becoming conscious of not merging with it.
The Indian artist today recognises a freedom - a freedom to look, inquire and create without the confusing limits of a commission. He has become a speculator, philosophically, aesthetically and economically. He is seeking a whole new horizon of freedom. A new series of values seems to be emerging.
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