THE system of tuition that is being employed in the School of Art; will interest all who believe that the future of a country is with its youth; and that a slovenly training can never turn out good artists. The necessity of good Schools of Art is admitted except by those who hold the view so damaging to the artist that artistic excellence depends solely on something beyond our control.
Art History the World over inculcates the necessity of assiduous study and most careful training in the Fine Arts before proficiency can be obtained; and the greatest of geniuses have ever been the most bumble and diligent of students. The necessity for a School of Art having been once admitted, the question of its curriculum becomes all important.
Certain critics have been known to express the opinion that the work of the School of Art is not Indian. It is important that this criticism should be considered because it bears directly upon the School’s present productions and future opportunities. The work of the students is advancing by leaps and bounds; the continued progress in painting which they are making is indeed not an entirely isolated phenomenon but part of a general movement, of advance in contemporary Indian Art; to those who enter the School and look at the classes for themselves, there exists the ocular evidence of the vigorous work it can produce. But is the work Indian or is it an overseas importation a plant which cannot strike permanent root in an alien soil; and which even if it could, is not a desirable plant?
The young students of the School learn to see by drawing casts of heads, hands, or feet. They also draw Indian ornaments from casts, acquiring some knowledge of the principles of light and shade.
In the second year the student draws from the antique and feels himself strong enough to try to draw a head from the life. It should be remembered that the full course at the School of Art is only five years and that the students have not had that preliminary two or three years at least in an Art School, which students of the Royal Academy Schools, London, have usually completed before they enter the Academy Schools.To qualify for the Bombay School of Art, a student must have passed the Elementary and Intermediate examinations in Drawing. The second year student has also to draw a set subject out of his head in black and white, and in water-colour, so as to get some notion of the principles of pictorial composition, and decorative design.
In the Third year Class, the School of Art student finds himself set to study a draped figure from the life and a figure from the antique, in black-and-white, monochrome or colour. He has also to paint a head from the life. By the time he has finished his year in this class, he is expected to understand a good deal about proportion, tone values, and pictorial and decorative composition; all of which subjects become exceedingly important in the Fourth and Fifth Year Classes, where the head and the undraped figure are painted from life in oil-colours, or drawn in cont crayon arid charcoal, and where pictorial composition is of course studied in its more advanced phases.
It is from the Fifth Year Class that students are selected for promotion to the Class1 of Mural Painting as it is popularly known. It will thus be seen that a student entering this class (which is a small one, all the members holding scholarships) must have a good knowledge of the principles upon which his art is based. He must be able to draw and to paint; to delineate any natural object that is put before him; and to illustrate any subject whether Historical, Decorative, or Idealistic.
In the Class of Mural Painting, he ceases to be a young student within the accepted meaning of the term, and can produce as opportunity offers the more finished work of post-graduate courses. There has during the last four years generally been some Wall-Painting to be done, whether for Government House, Bombay, for the decoration of the School of Art, or for the Indian Room of the British Empire Exhibition. It is hoped that the citizens of Bombay will see to it that there always is mural painting to be done somewhere or other. It is in these paintings, done in this class, that the School of Art students are urged to apply in their own way the knowledge of Art that they have acquired, and of course it is in the application of that knowledge that we shall see the strongly marked characteristics that are so clearly non-European. The works themselves will prove that the School of Art is certainly Indian in the broadest and truest sense.
Some of the Head and Figure Studies might almost have been painted by French or British students; but these represent but the grammar of the universal language of Art. It is the message which the students have to deliver when they have acquired that language that differs from that of their comrades in the West, and in the imaginative work of the School of Art this message appears. It is a National message and not the less so, because as the work of the School improves it is being delivered with more and more sureness, with fewer and fewer grammatical errors.
It would seem that there are two courses open in Art Education in India to-day and only two. Are Indian students to be given the fullest possible facilities for acquiring that necessary training in the technique of Art which is essential before they can fulfil their destiny as Artists, or are they to be stopped on the threshold, turned back and told to return to the flat and archaic convention of some past phase of Art? It has been said the Indian Artists are not interested in light and shade, that they see form flat not round, and that therefore the students ought not to be taught light and shade. But apart from the erroneousness of this belief, the Bombay School of Art holds simply the faith that it is well that its students be taught everything necessary to their calling. After that they will be in a stronger position for working out their own salvation.
The Mural Paintings which the School is now painting could not have been designed by anyone except Indians, and this evident fact is their most striking characteristic. A distinguishing point of view is uppermost in all these works, and it is the Indian point of view.
But the Class work of the students of Painting is not the only method of training [a]dopted by the School of Art. The Annual School Excursion has lately, thanks to the increase of the Grant allotted for the purpose by Government, assumed a very important place as an educative factor. Places in the limited number of selected students are eagerly competed for, and a party under the direction of the Principal has during the last few years paid sketching visits to Ajanta, Bijapur, Delhi, Agra and Benares. In spite of climatic disabilities for the Artist, India is an ideal sketcher’s country once the conditions are understood. There are few of her picturesque localities that cannot be painted during certain months of the year either in the morning or late afternoon.
After the depression and sickness which are the scourge of the worker in Bombay during the Monsoon, the Excursion comes as a means of physical and artistic liberation. The student whose faculties are fuddled and whose hand has grown inert on account of repeated attacks of fever,2 is transferred in a few hours to enjoy the sharp physical tonic of the cold weather at Delhi, or the mental stimulus and revelation of Benares. The latter,—the Sacred City of the Hindus,—was the goal of a very recent excursion party, a little jaded in body (and suffering that reaction of mind which even the ubiquitous spirit of Youth must occasionally feel) after the long-sustained work of preparing the Indian Room. Then did there fall gratefully on wearied fancies vistas of sun-flushed skies over serenely duplicating waters; of gilded fanes, and high-banked stairways towering above the busy “ghats” and their flower-sprinkled shrines; of serpentine streets crowded with uncouth far-venturing pilgrims; of patient burdened camels, and sacred bulls; of worshippers and Devotees; of Yogis; and ash-covered ascetics; of crowded river boats gliding by the portals of noble palaces; of uncounted thousands of bathers assoiled at last from soul-polluting sin beneath the holy wave of Ganga.
Then did eager hand arid eye respond to the summons, as every student again took up with enthusiasm the delightful burden of his calling.
It will thus be seen that the School of Art claims the work being done by its Indian students as Indian.3 It would be very easy, of course, to abolish the study of life which forms the basis of all art, and to resort to the copying of old pictures, or to painting in an archaic style without the knowledge which the originators of that style had acquired by the close and devoted study of Nature. But we do not wish to see Indian Art repeating with the weakened iteration of the copy but one or two phases of its past History. We believe Indian Art to be capable of a range of expression certainly not less wide—though manifesting itself in different ways perhaps—than that of the widest National Art in existence.
But though the Indian School of Art student is working, many are still too prone to speak of India as though it were a great Museum. It would be more accurate to regard India as one vast School of Art.
- 1. The class of Indian Decorative Painting, founded in December 1919 under the personal patronage of H. E. Sir George Lloyd, Government allotted eight scholarships of Rs. 30 per mensem to this class. This is all that some of its ablest members have to live upon.
- 2. The climate of Bombay is the particular enemy of the Indian Artist. But some of the best work in the School of Art has been produced in October though the number of the staff and students have been temporarily much depleted by sickness. The students have no Hostel and are exposed to all the unhealthy conditions of poverty.
- 3. A view which is accepted by the Indian Public and supported by the Nationalist Press in Bombay. Surely Indians are the best judges of what is Indian.