The Visionaries – 7

In the last few posts we have discussed the contributions of some important pedagogues towards Indian art education. As we know many of them did not limit their engagement only to the sphere of arts and culture, they were significant political figures of modern India. For example Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, etc., have written a great deal on Indian education. They have also laid the foundations of many initiatives which has been the backbone of modern Indian society. Most of these endeavours centred around on reviving the Indian education system and its modernisation. These approaches to reform Indian education system were not uniform. These stalwarts offered unique models and solutions for these. For example Tagore’s cosmopolitanism was different from Gandhi’s emphasis on rootedness in tradition and Indian ethos. Nehru was a modern secular leader and his outlook towards India education and culture reflected that attitude too. There were many followers of these systems of thoughts. They were influenced by these ideas and used them in their practice and established institutions across India to spread these innovative visions to teach and influence young minds. Devi Prasad was one such figure who was influenced by Gandhian ideals and devoted his life to spread Mahatma’s thoughts in Indian education through pedagogic interventions. Despite being trained in Santiniketan, he wanted to identify himself as a potter and not as an artist to blur the binaries of arts and craft. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Visionaries” we look at the life and contributions of Devi Prasad who is known to many as Devibhai.

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Devi Prasad

Devi Prasad was born in 1921 at Dehra Dun, and joined Kala Bhavana as a student in 1938. Santiniketan at that was the perfect place to be in as it had the best art teachers of the country. Teachers like Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij, etc., had already influenced the students there through their own ways of teaching and individual art practice. This institution was at the forefront of the cultural resistance against the western hegemony and also collaborated closely with the Swadesi movement. Art historian and Curator, Naman P. Ahuja who had written a biographical sketch on the life and art of Devi Prasad titled The Making of a Modern Indian Artist-Craftsman: Devi Prasad writes, “Almost at once he [Devi Prasad] encountered the compassion and wisdom of the great artist and teacher and this instant demolition of conventional hierarchical assumptions is one of a number of formative encounters that Devi had with some towering figures of twentieth century Indian art and politics whose influence he consistently acknowledges. Tagore and Gandhi above all, but also Nandalal Bose, Benodebehari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij”.

During his student years Devi Prasad was involved in the nationalist movement and joined the Quit India movement in 1942. He went to Sevagram and gained first hand experience in the vision for a self-sufficient, experimental educational community. He joined Sevagram as an art teacher in 1944. But he also exapnded the horizon of his activities by developing new models for child education and art education. He also became the editor of Nai Talim, a journal discussing Gandhi’s ideas of basic education.

Gandhi believed that “The principal idea is to impart the whole education of the body, mind and soul through the handicraft that is taught to the children.” Nai Talim which means a new way of education which distanced itself from the European model of teaching. He found it as alienating the child from his or her ground realities. He also identified many negative outcomes of this system: that the young students will despise manual labour, and become elitist in their outlook. The three pillars of Gandhi’s pedagogy were its focus on the lifelong character of education, its social character and its form as a holistic process. At the centre of Gandhi’s education system was the practice of handicrafts. As you know handicrafts is different from arts as the former produces works which has a functional nature. His aim was to bring about a “radical restructuring of the sociology of school knowledge in India” in which the ‘literacies’ of the lower castes–“such as spinning, weaving, leatherwork, pottery, metal-work, basket-making and book-binding”—would be foregrounded. In the journal published by him titled Harijan, Gandhi laid out the objectives of this new pedagogy, “By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in child and man-body, mind and spirit. Literacy is not the end of education nor even the beginning. It is only one of the means by which man and woman can be educated. Literacy in itself is no education. I would therefore begin the child’s education by teaching it a useful handicraft and enabling it to produce from the moment it begins its training. Thus every school can be made self-supporting.”

By 1962 he decided to move out of Sevagram and started touring across India giving lectures on Indian art and architecture. Later he went to London to become the Secretary General of War Resisters’ International. In the early 1980s he returned to India and started writing extensively on art education and on studio pottery. Through these writings he challenged the hierarchy created between arts and crafts. In an essay titled Gandhi on Education for Truthful Living he writes in detail about Gandhi’s vision for a new education. He notes that, “The point that Gandhi makes is that real education should draw out the best from the child. It cannot be done “by packing ill-assorted and unwanted information into the heads of the pupils. It becomes a dead weight crushing all originality in them and turning them into mere automata.” And significantly, Gandhi states that if Indians had not been the victims of the British Indian education system, “we would long ago have realized the mischief wrought by the modern method of giving mass education, especially in the case like India’s.”

This is an important article which gives a chronological overview of the ways in which Gandhi approached Nai Talim. It can be accessed here http://www.satyagrahafoundation.org/gandhi-on-education-for-truthful-living/

He was strongly against the intellectualisation of art making which would disrupt the joy achieved by an artist while engaging in the creative pursuits. His experience was shaped by Santiniketan and Sevagram and through his life he remained a pacifist and humanitarian. He was also a prolific potter and a photographer who has documented the Congress sessions, monuments such as Ellora, and artworks of artists such as Ramkinkar Baij. Naman P. Ahuja had curated an exhibition based on his documentation of Baij’s works titled Ramkinkar Through the Eyes of Devi Prasad in School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU in 2007. The catalog of the exhibition can be read and downloaded from here https://www.academia.edu/7369380/Ram_Kinkar_Exhibition_Catalogue

Professor Ahuja had also curated an exhibition on Devi Prasad’s collection of pots and ceramic works at Lalit Kala Akademi. His essay on the exhibition can be accessed here https://www.academia.edu/11919556/On_Curating_the_Devi_Prasad_Exhibition

Your comments and views are our support. Please comment and share. Have a good day.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

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The Visionaries – 6

This series began as a tribute to the seminal figures who have done exceptional works in the development of the discipline of art history and aesthetics. Previously, we have seen how Indian art went through a nationalist revival as a response to British colonialism. This was not merely an aesthetic response. Art works from the past were mobilised too to prove the continuity of Indian art and its rich heritage. Newer discoveries of monuments, manuscripts, art treatises, etc. were gathered to build a repository of national visual culture. Ananda Coomaraswamy was its foremost theoretician, historian and connoiseur. One of the important contibutions he has made is to discover the stylistic difference between Rajput and Mughal paintings. He single-handedly collected many of the Rajput and Mughal paintings which were going to be in oblivion and gave them an academic foundation. Because of his pathbreaking research on Indian art the history of the Indian art can be divided into a period before and after Coomaraswamy.  His intellectual proximity to the Tagores made him an important cultural figure of Indian national movement. In today’s “The Visionaries” series by Art1st we will look at the pioneering work done by the seminal figure, Ananda Coomaraswamy.

 

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Ananda Coomaraswamy, Courtesy: Wikipedia

Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy was born in Colombo in the erstwhile Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. His father was a Ceylonese Tamil legislator and his mother was an English. After his father’s death he moved to London where he did his higher studies. He completed his graduation from University College of London. In 1902 he married the English photographer Ethel Mary Partridge and their marital and professional collaboration was quite resourceful for Indian and Ceylonese art world. Coomaraswamy completed his doctorate in Geology and established the Geological Survey of Ceylon. He was his first director. In Ceylon Coomaraswamy and Ethel collaborated on Mediaeval Sinhalese Art, to which he wrote the text and she provided the photographs.

He is considered as “the groundbreaking theorist who was largely responsible for introducing ancient Indian art to the West” because of his significant studies on South Asian art which are based on the philosophical foundations of the region. Renowned art historian and symbologist Heinrich Zimmer has called him as “That noble scholar upon whose shoulders we are still standing.” He took it as a mission to educate the West about Indian art and remove the misconceptions from their aesthetic views. He said, “The main difficulty so far seems to have been that Indian art has been studied so far only by archaeologists. It is not archaeologists, but artists … who are the best qualified to judge of the significance of works of art considered as art.” He knew this could be only done through both empirical and philosophical approach. He blended both at ease. He learnt Pali and Sanskrit languages which enabled him to read the ancient texts and made it possible to provide a textual reading of Indian art. The material remains were corroborated by the sacred texts. His studies and writins were sharp rebuttals to the condescending response of the West.

He was the Curator at the Boston Museum from 1917 onwards. Coomaraswamy performed an ardent task in classifying, cataloguing, and explaining thousands of items of oriental art. Through his extensive work, his writings, lectures, and personal relations Coomaraswamy left an indelible imprint on the work of many American galleries and museums. He also influenced a wide range of curators, art historians, orientalists, and critics—Stella Kramrisch, Walter Andrae, and Heinrich Zimmer to name a few of the more well-known.

His important books such as Medieval Sinhalese Art (1908), The Arts and Crafts of India and Ceylon (1913), and his earliest collection of essays, The Dance of Shiva (1918), confronted the misconceptions of the Orientalists. He revolutionized several specific fields of art history, and radically altered others. His research on Sinhalese arts and crafts, on Rajput painting, on Indian crafts, Hindu and Buddhist art, the origin of the Buddha image, etc, were remarkable entries into these worlds.

Ananda Coomaraswamy’s influence on South Asian art is still very dominant. Though later scholars have disagreeed with many of his findings, they all are of the same opinion about his seminal contribution in collecting, cataloguing and writing about a larger body of work.

Most of his writings can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/yb4ldyvm

Please share your thoughts about Coomarasway. Criticisms and suggestions are welcome.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

The Visionaries – 5

In the previous posts of Art1st’s ‘The Visionaries’ series we have seen the emergence of nationalist discourse on arts and aesthetics in the wake of colonisalism. What these nationalist forms of pedagogical constructions and rewriting of history did was it standardized the history and art practices of this country. To create a nationalist narrative of continuity and homogeneity certain schools, styles and artefacts of certain dynasties were included while others were excluded. One of the significant issues with the nationalist art history is that it overshadows or dominates the regional histories. Region acts as a marginal domain from which nation draws its inspiration. This existence of the region is never acknowledged properly and is always sidelined. Even in the art historical discources of nationalist period we see these exclusions in terms of history writing, the mapping of chronologies, and adaptation of a styles and schools from the past as authentic. The Bengal School and the nationalist aesthetic thought led by Ananda Coomaraswamy et al. did the same. Meanwhile a radical art movement which departed from the homogenization of art turned towards the west especially towards Europe. Progressive Artists Group which emerged in the late 1940s was a strong counter-movement against this trend. Its inspiration was European Modernism. While these movements originated in the anglicized cosmopolitan metros of Calcutta and Bombay, artists form the south were excluded from these movements. The history of the south, its past, and its artists from the modern period were not considered worthy to be placed either in the history of the nation or in its national-modern. In today’s issue of Art1st’s ‘The Visionaries’ series we will discuss the role of KCS Panicker in establishing a counter-movement against the nationalist hegemony and internationalism by foregrounding the region.

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KCS Panicker. Courtesy: Wikipedia 

 

KCS Panicker who was a renowned artist and pedagogue, and who later taught in the erstwhile Madras for decades, was a staunch opponent of both these hegemonic movements. He aimed for modernizing art but one which was rooted in the local, emphasizing on an alternative to the national-modern which many call as the regional modernism. The immediate tasks at his hand was to break away from the academic realism practiced in art institutions and also challenge what he saw as a sterile imitation of European modernism.

 

He joined the Madras School of Arts in 1936 for a three-year course under the eminent sculptor Roy Chowdhury, who was also the then Principal. Soon after Panicker emerged as a painter and later he joined the Madras School of Arts as a teacher. These two artists and teachers represented different strands of Indian art. Chowdhury believed in the mimetic qualities of art and emphasized on a realistic way of representing body. These sculptures evoked a masculine energy, while Panicker’s reflected a vulnerability. This difference between them can be articulated through an anecdote. Paniker used to write under the pen name Sunanda, combining the names of his daughter Sumitra and son Nandagopal. While Roy Choudhury was into wrestling and hunting. “Come on Paniker, try,” he once said, giving him a rifle to shoot at a bird. Paniker shot and it fell to the ground. Paniker determined, “I will never shoot again.” He never hid his emotions.

 

Panicker emphasized on the autonomy of the artist to choose his own visual idiom.

Panicker’s own visual style was slowly changing from realistic to abstraction. Though its conceptual roots lie in western art, Panicker drew his inspiration from the traditional visual forms of South. Panicker was critical about western art since 1950s. KG Subrahmanyan notes “His western excursion affected him like it affected most Indian artists of any artist of individuality; it threw him back on himself. It was as if across the seas a strange longing for his land caught him in the pit of his stomach. On his return he became committed indigenes, though not in a traditionalist sense.”

 

Panicker established Cholamandal Artists Village, near Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu with the objective of constructing a substitute to the artistic stimulation from the so called Western way. According to him;   “Life in India today seems to provoke her artists to begin to think more pertinently of their aesthetic requirements, and to evolve in their own minds a clearer picture of what they are looking for in the art of their time. They fairly accept that what passes for modern Indian art in many quarters here is, at best, an almost sterile Indian inspiration, which alone can ultimately fuse the apparent contradictions into an acceptable pattern…”

The name Cholamandalam was inspired from the historical Chola dynasty which was known for its political might and aesthetic achievements. It was the first residential colony of Indian artists. He conceptualised it as a place where artists live and work together.

 

Cholamandam was the first aesthetic approach in India to bridge the gap between high art and crafts. Here artists were asked to make craft objects and also sell them at a nominal rate. Several artists who were trained in Madras School of Art later explored the possibilities of Cholamandal. Some of them are P.S. Nandan, Haridasan, S. Nanda Gopal, Vasudev, K. Jayapala Panicker, Gopinath, Senathipathy, M.V. Devan and Richard Jesudas.

”You can describe their artistic ideas as metaphysical and poetic,” said Josef James, an Indian art critic who has followed the Cholamandal experiment from its beginning. ”They were consumed with the challenge of finding an Indian response to the sort of art that was coming out of the West. They were influenced first by Mark Rothko, then De Kooning and later Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns and Frank Stella.”

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

The Visionaries – 4

It would be unnecessary to introduce Rabindranath Tagore to all of you. It would be also futile to list his literary and artistic feats. I would like to use this space to introduce Tagore the pedagogue. The visionary who envisaged an institute way ahead of its time and laid the foundations for an education system which was designed to nurture the creative spirits of children and young minds of India. At a time when the colonial education was churning out students who were only good to serve the administrative tasks, Tagore envisaged an institute which would strive to produce critically thinking youngsters who would make significant contributions in the overall contribution of the nation. He saw his campus, Visva-Bharati, as an abode for the global family. He strongly believed in the global exchange of ideas. To achieve that he would invite renowned scholars form different fields to visit Visva-Bharati and engage with the students. He saw Viswa-Bharati as a collaborative space. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Visionaries” we will look at the vision of Rabindranath Tagore as a pedagogue and his views on education, especially art education.

 

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Rabindranath Tagore, Courtesy: Wikipedia

 

Tagore was one of the most profound thinkers of modern India and his vision for education was simply radical in nature. Tagore was heavily invested in the idea of using education to develop self-reliance in an individual. He understood that child should not be seen as an unfinished adult but rather as a complicated mind with his/her own curiosities and wonders. Their imaginations and dreams are different from the adults. This difference meant that both the child and adult required distinct set of educational tools. Tagore has made this very clear in his statement, “Our purpose wants to occupy all the mind’s attention for itself, obstructing the full view of most of the things around us (…) The child, because it has no conscious object of life beyond living, can see all things around it, can hear every sound with a perfect freedom of attention, not having to exercise choice in the collection of information.”

 

Children’s education was the significant concern for Tagore. He was highly critical of how adults structure children’s times and activities. It impinged on their freedom and restricted from their self-expression. He imagined an organic growth for children. He could find the resonance of this organic spirit only in nature. He called it as “method of nature”. According to him the discipline and strictness of modern education was, “…like forcing upon the flower the mission of the fruit. The flower has to wait for its chances. It has to keep its heart open to the sunlight and to the breeze, to wait its opportunity for some insect to come seeking honey. The flower lives in a world of surprises, but the fruit must close its heart in order to ripen its seed. It must take a different course altogether. For the flower the chance coming of an insect is a great event, but for the fruit its intrusion means an injury.”

For this natural growth to happen children had to be given the freedom they require. Discipline and rigidity which were part of the modern education system could only do more harm than benefits.

It is also important to note that such an important pedagogue like Tagore did not write a seminal compendium on education. Most of his writings one education, children and art education has to be understood through his various essays, speeches, and educational experiments at Visva Bharati in Santiniketan. It was the imagination of an education which was deeply rooted in its surroundings through pleasurable learning. The curriculum was not a strict doctrine to bend the minds but rather for him it was something which should evolve organically.

For Tagore the aesthetic development of the child was not separate from the intellectual development. Like most of our contemporary education system has rendered the learning of arts as useless, Tagore gave prominence to music, literature, art, dance and drama in the overall growth of the child. It was not forced upon the child but it was instinctive. He never instructed the students what to do or wrote to them. His method was to involve them in whatever creative activities he was doing. They had complete freedom to engage with him as equals. Young students were allowed access to the room where he read his new writings to teachers and critics. They were encouraged to read out their own writings in special literary evenings. Tagore had given an equal role to art and food in his scheme of things. He understood both as vital for a human being’s growth. In Santiniketan, he created an atmosphere of cultural activities that encouraged his students and kindled their interests in music and other arts forms unconsciously. He introduced formal lessons only to those who felt inclined to take them. Art classes were conducted not to make copies but to create original works. Santiniketan’s classrooms were also a collaborative space where children were also encouraged to work together as groups.

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Kala Bhavan, Visva-Bharati

On the first anniversary of Sriniketan, he remarked, “[O]ur conscious relationship with the Infinite (…) can on[l]y be made possible by making provision for students to live in infinite touch with nature, daily to grow in an atmosphere of service offered to all creatures, tending trees, feedings birds and animals, learning to feel the immense mystery of the soil and water and air. Along with this, there should be some common sharing of life with the tillers of the soil and the humble workers in the neighbouring villages; studying their crafts, inviting them to the feasts, joining them in works of co-operation for communal welfare; and in our intercourse we should be guided, not by moral maxims or the condescension of social superiority, but by natural sympathy of life for life, and by the sheer necessity of love’s sacrifice for its own sake. In such an atmosphere students would learn to understand that humanity is a divine harp of many strings, waiting for its one grand music.”

Tagore’s pioneering efforts in understanding the complexities of children’s mind and granting it an autonomy was a radical act. His vision for children’s education was rooted in freedom, self-reliance, love for humanity, intellectual and social development. He believed that “they must be trained, not to be soldiers, not to be clerks in a bank, not to be merchants, but to be the makers of their own world and their own destiny. And for that they must have all their faculties fully developed in the atmosphere of freedom.”

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

 

 

 

 

 

The Visionaries -3

In the last issue on pedagogues we discussed the contributions of E. B. Havell. If Havell provided the theoretical impetus for the revivalism of Indian art in the wake of a European cultural hegemony, Abanindranath Tagore provided its artistic foundations. We also understood the context in which Havell and Abanindranath were devising such responses. It also led to the emergence of what we now know as “Bengal School” and the “Revivalism”. The revivalism was not simply a revival of traditional Indian art practices. As many have noted Abanindranath brilliantly re-interpreted and mutated these practices and developed a new visual language as an antinomy to European Academic Realism. More than a visual style it was an ideologically charged movement inspired by Swadesi which also clearly identified its artistic medium. It referred to past traditions as an influence. Its impact was so huge that artists across Bengal and other provinces started following the style.

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Abanindranath Tagore, Courtesy: Wikipedia

In her monograph ‘Abanindranath Tagore and the Art of His Times’ (1968), Jaya Appaswamy notes that: “The Bengal School, while it originated in Bengal with the work of Abanindranath Tagore, nevertheless soon became national… in the second generation the activity of his followers spread over the country and their students (the third generation) were from many parts of India. Local artists who had no connection with the master or his disciples also adopted the style, which finally lost itself in remote, attenuated and weak variations.’ Abanindranath’s intervention enabled Indians in developing better understanding of their history and traditional art forms. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Visionaries” we will take a look at the contributions of Abanindranath Tagore.

 

Abanindranath was born on 7th August, 1871 in the Tagore family residence at Jorsanko. He was educated at Sanskrit College, Calcutta and took his painting lessons from British and Italian instructors on a private basis. At a young age, he came under the influence of Signor O. Gilhardi, Principal of the Calcutta school of Art and another acclaimed artist, Charles Palmer. His visit to Monghyr is believed to have had a significant impact in his career. He returned as a changed man who abandoned oil painting and decided to work on watercolours. Very soon he chanced upon an old illuminated Indo-Persian manuscript which impacted him so much that he decided to adapt the visual style for a new set of paintings based on the life of Krishna. This was titled as “Krishna Lila”. This was his first artistic step towards embracing the visual tradition of India by rejecting the European conventions. This was accentuated by his collaboration with Havell ten years later. He worked closely with Havell at the Calcutta School of art. Their attempts to revive Indian art and use this revival to infuse in a new art practice and teaching was also supported by Gaganendranath Tagore. This culminated in the establishment of Indian Society of Oriental Art. This was a path breaking step towards not only establishing an institution but also a new way of teaching and learning art.

 

Abanindranath moved away from the Western materiality and sought a spiritual abode in Indian art and philosophy. Rabindranath Tagore also played an important role in introducing him to important Asian cultural figures such as the Japanese art historian Okakura Kakuzō and the Japanese painter Yokoyama Taikan. This inspired him to adapt elements of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy and style in his art. He was leading an Indian renaissance. His friendships with European thinkers and scholars such as Sir William Rothenstein, H. Ponten-Moller, Norman Blunt, Sir John G. Woodroffe gave a currency to his ideas in the European art circles.

 

The University of Calcutta honored his efforts by appointing him a few years ago as the Bageswari Professor of Oriental Art. The series of lectures he then delivered are considered as authoritative and inspiring utterances on art. It is great to know that these lectures have recently been published in a book form to the delight of all lovers of art. His ideas and style were circulated through his equally talented students such as Nandalal Bose, Samarendranath Gupta, Kshitindranath Majumdar, Surendranath Ganguly, Asit Kumar Haldar, Sarada Ukil, Kalipada Ghoshal, Manishi Dey, Mukul Dey, K. Venkatappa and Ranada Ukil.

 

Abanindranath knew the impact of art education in young minds and he constantly engaged with young minds. Unlike many modern artists he illustrated for and wrote children’s’ books. He also wrote poems and articles. He was popularly known as ‘Aban Thakur’. His important books are Rajkahini, Budo Angla, Nalak, and Khirer Putul are landmarks in Bengali language children’s literature.

 

His interventions in restoring the pride of Indian art and architecture was not limited in creating a new movement. He also made radical decisions during his tenure in Government College of Art, Calcutta between 1505 and 1515. He replaced the European paintings on the school walls with Mogul and Rajput paintings. He made arts like stencil cutting and origami compulsory for all students. The school also invited miniature painters to teach the students through a modern outlook.

Here is the link to Abanindranath’s autobiographical book “Apon Katha” https://archive.org/details/Apon-Katha-Abanindranath-Tagore

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

 

 

Mr. Lincoln’s Way by Patricia Polacco

 

 

 

Mr. Lincoln’s Way by Patricia Polacco is a sensitive book that talks about the importance of the role a teacher plays in a child’s life. How being a good teacher does not only entail having the knowledge of once subject but the ability to guide and unfold the abilities of a child rather than trying to mould her/him.

This is an excellent book about an elementary school principal who takes the time to help a troubled child. It addresses racism, bullying and teasing, and it’s also great for bird lovers.Though the story touches upon the issues of  bullying and the harm that it does, but it  highlights another very important factor, the conditions that cause a child to become a bully in the first place. Mr. Lincoln’s Way draws the connection between what a child learns at home and what he does at school. The story encourages us to ask whether it is really the child’s fault that he is a bully.

Polacco’s illustrations add to the story as she has meticulously detailed her story with people of all ethnicities, which makes the story relatable to all. She has marvelously captured different emotions, moods and gestures through her watercolour and pencil illustrations.

Read the book to find out how Mr. Lincoln helps “Mean Gene” become his true self “Eugene Esterhause”.

 

Gopa

Artist Mentor

The Visionaries – 2

When we look at the historiography of Indian art and architecture the contributions of European administrators, collectors, and the self-styled archaeologists are valuable. But many of us are also unaware of the fact that the early European reaction to Indian art was fraught with a distasteful response to Indian art. In his seminal book “Much Maligned Monsters” art historian Partha Mitter talks about how the European travellers who encountered the sculptures of Indian gods and goddesses for the first time mistook them as the depiction of monsters and demons. They were also poorly judged for its lack of naturalism. Indian art was regarded as inferior to its western counterpart. He marks 1910 as “the great watershed” when Indian art became the object of respectful inquiries and studies “with its rehabilitation complete with the powerful affirmation of its aesthetic and not merely archaeological significance”. According to Mitter: “If one were to search for a name to give the credit for this extraordinary transformation, it would no doubt be that of Havell. It was his dedicated work which was in a large measure responsible for generating wide interest in learned circles.” E. B. Havell’s contribution in creating a counterpoint to the hegemony of western art and pedagogy is incredible though it came to much criticism later from the Indian circles itself. Nevertheless, Havell built strong foundations for Indian art education which foregrounded Indian art practices and enabled it to stand at par with the European art. His contributions in setting up institutions, revising curriculums and most importantly reviving the traditional Indian art forms was crucial in creating a nationalist response to the prejudiced sensibilities of the Europe. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Visionaries,” we introduce you to E.B Havell and his contributions to Indian art and education.

 

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E. B. Havell

Ernest Binfield Havell was an artist-educationist-reformist who played a significant role in repositioning Indian art in the history of world art. Havell came to India in 1884 to work as superintendent of School of Art, Madras. It was in Madras Havell began his career as an educationist and also turned into an ideologue and art historian. He reworked the curriculum of the school and introduced the study of Indian designs and decorative patterns into the course of study. In 1896, he was appointed as the Principal of Calcutta Art School, where he inspired his Indian students to get back to painting in their own style and tradition. Havell was making such assertions at a time when newer discoveries and studies on Indian paintings were made. New bodies of artworks, collections, and manuscripts were found through extensive field works by many pioneers. The nationalist movement was also slowly picking up the pace and was invested in an indigenous turn. Havell too came close to the Swadeshi ideas of art and culture.

 

After joining the Calcutta Art School he removed the European academic way of teaching. He remarked that ‘in India, painting must be Indian in attitude and spirit.’ Havell included Oriental art in the curriculum, which, according to him, should be the basis of all art instructions. He also introduced several new craft techniques such as fresco, stained glass windows, lacquer work, and stencils, so as to open a wide range of opportunities for which would allow students to earn a living. His aesthetic sense was strongly shaped by Indian philosophy and ideals of art. In his opinion, Indian sculptures, which are highly original and creative, could be ranked with the noblest creations of the West. It was these ideals and attitudes that had worked behind his reformative methods, which he introduced in the curriculum of art teaching.

His interactions and close connection with Abanindranath Tagore led to another significant chapter in the history of Indian art. The together pioneered a new visual style which was later on termed as the “Bengal Revivalism” steeped in Indian tradition. Ajanta paintings and Mughal miniatures were its inspiration, gouache was its predominant technique, Abanindranath its practitioner and Havell the foremost defender and ideologue. Havell wrote numerous books on Indian art and architecture emphasising the spiritual nature of Indian traditional art. In a report he submitted to the government, he stated that art appreciation has to be seen as a duty of every individual and not as mere pleasure. His recommendations were faced with strong opposition from the British regime. Despite this, he continued his crusade for pushing the ideals of Indian art. Eventually, Havell succeeded in convincing them of the importance of reviving the Indian craft tradition. Some of his important books are ‘Indian Sculpture and Paintings'(1908), ‘Ideals of Indian Art (1911), The Basis for Artistic and Industrial Revival in India (1912), The Ancient and Medieval Architecture of India: a study of Indo-Aryan civilization (1915), etc.

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Havell left India in 1905, on sick leave, and was later declared ‘unfit for service in India’ by the British regime. Havell’s removal from policy decisions did not deter him from voicing his vision for Indian art. He continued his campaign against the ignorance, philistinism and the arrogant cultural superiority of British administration in India.

Please read, share and discuss. Your opinion means a lot to us, so let us know what you think of this issue.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

 

 

The Visionaries – 1

S. Radhakrishnan

 

Photograph_of_Sarvepalli_Radhakrishnan_presented_to_First_Lady_Jacqueline_Kennedy_in_1962

S. Radhakrishnan, image courtesy: Wikimedia commons

Recently I came across a quote by the former US President John Kennedy written in honour of the great poet Robert Frost. Kennedy wrote, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”
The times we are living in are crucial to remember the generation which laid the progressive foundations of this nation. An inadequacy we have to urgently address is to honour and remember the luminaries who have built the cultural foundations of this nation. Like a wise man has said, nations are not built by politicians but by poets and artists. We have to honour the great endeavours of a generation which has laid the spirit of debate, discussion, research and thinking as an active pursuit.

In our attempt to remember and honour these stalwarts, Art1st presents a new series on important pedagogues of Indian arts and aesthetics, titled “The Visionaries.”

In our first issue we introduce you to the great thinker, teacher, philosopher, statesman and former President of India Sarvepally Radhakrishnan. Our country honours his birthday by celebrating it as Teacher’s Day. Emphasising on the role of teacher’s in the progress of a nation and mentoring the young minds, S. Radhakrishnan had remarked, “Teachers should be the best minds in the country.” This statement came at a time when his friends and students were seeking his permission to commemorate his birthday as an important day. He said, “Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if 5 September is observed as Teachers’ Day.”

S. Radhakrishnan was born in small village in the border of present day Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states. He was a bright student and recieved scholarships consistently in his academic career. After completing his Masters in Philosophy, Radhakrishnan went on to teach at various universities in India. He was knighted in 1932 by George V for his services to education. He was elected as the first Vice President of India and later on he became the second President of India.

His remarkable contributions in Indian philosophy and comparitive religions is seminal. Radhakrishnan was writing at a time when Indian philosophy and aesthetics were used by the Western scholars to project the inferiority of India. His studies on Indian philosophy were a post-colonial response to this misunderstanding of Indology and Indian intellectual tradition.His significant publications include “The Hindu View of Life”, “The Dhammapada,” “The Bhagavadgita: with an introductory essay,” “A Source Book on Indian Philosophy.” He was one of the most sophisticated thinkers of modern India.

– Premjish, Director, Outreach