IN the days of Mr. Terry, Examinations were not apparently the important feature in the School of Art, which they since became.—Mr. Terry trained his students in Freehand Drawing from copies, Outline from Foliage, Outline from the cast, Light and Shade from Ornament, and from the Round, Perspective and Geometry. He transferred capable students who had successfully gone through their courses to the more advanced work of painting a head from the Life or a draped figure. The principal feature of his teaching (apart from the Pottery) was wood-engraving. Some very clever engravers were produced in the School. The story is still delightedly told that a certain Governor-General of India offered a prize for the engraving of a Rupee—actual size, which resulted in such an excellent copy of the original, that the prize-winner was gravely warned by His Excellency to eschew the art of copying rupees for the future.
Mr. Griffiths had taken over charge of the School in 1880 and had instituted a regular course of Drawing on the model of South Kensington. With the assistance of his Vice-Principal, Mr. Greenwood, a system of School of Art Examinations was introduced, First, Second and Third Grade, Candidates who had passed these educational tests, were transferred to the plane of Higher Art and allowed to study Painting, Modelling and Architecture, besides being eligible for the posts of Drawing Teachers in the Government and Aided High Schools. Drawing Classes now began to be opened in the Secondary and Private Schools throughout the Presidency.
The Drawing Classes kept up by these Schools, submitted every year an increasing number of candidates for the Grade Examinations. But the Third Grade Examination was retained as open only to School of Art Students who had studied for it. It was apparently Mr. Griffith’s opinion that the principles of Light and Shade, the advanced study of, Outline (from the cast and from Nature), advanced Perspective, and Solid Geometry, could be taught adequately only by the School of Art staff under the direction of the Principal.
In the scheme of work as organised by him, the Vice-Principal was responsible for the whole management of the School, including the Painting and Modelling Classes, the Principal being the authority for the general work. He allowed students (who had passed their Grade Tests) to take up the study of Painting, Modelling, and Architecture simultaneously; and they could also enter the Class for Drawing Teachers.
It is of great interest to students of the subject of Art Education to trace these developments and to consider the working of the policy of concentrating in the person of the Principal (under the Director of Public Instruction) the chief authority for Art Education throughout the Presidency. The Principal of the School of Art was, as we have seen from the early period when the Departments were united under one head, responsible for the training in the School of Art and for what is sometimes termed “Educationist” art as well throughout the Presidency. His position has always been that of Controller of whatever Art examinations the Bombay Government were holding.
This maintenance by the Government of Bombay of unity in Art Direction was based upon the qualifications of the Head of the Bombay School of Art as a practising Artist, the recognition of the local needs of both the artists and the drawing masters, and the ideal that the School of Art should be a genuine one, and exist primarily for the training of artists, but also for the training of the drawing masters. Owing to the lapse of public patronage for indigenous Indian Art, the young Indian Art student is faced with chances so doubtful that he is compelled to be a drawing master, even when he has attained by talent and training to the status of an artist. We find therefore all the best artists at one time or another among the ranks of the Drawing Masters. It is a pity that qualified and really able artists should be dependent upon teacher’s posts of one hundred rupees a month,1 but it is better than nothing; and had it not been for the preservation by Government of the central ideal—i.e., that the directing authority in the whole field of Art Education should himself be the Principal of the School of Art, it is certain that the Artists would have been squeezed out of the Bombay Presidency long before this. The School of Art would have declined to the level of the Drawing Masters—instead of raising the Drawing Masters to the level of Artists. For the basic foundations of the system are immutably fixed by the unrelenting logic of local conditions. The lack of continuity in the system of Instruction implied by the broad and simple eclecticism of the School of Art has been and will be found to be a factor for good. No two Artist-Principals are likely to teach in exactly the same way, or to stress the importance of exactly the same routine.
Thus Mr. Lockwood Kipling was as we have seen a Modeller; Mr. Terry an enthusiast for Pottery, and Wood-Engraving; Mr. Griffiths a painter, with strong Archaic tendencies, while of the succeeding Principals, Mr. Greenwood was a fine organiser of the Kensingtonian persuasion, and Mr. Cecil Burns a painter greatly interested in the Architectural and “Educationist” side of the training. But the mutations necessarily endured by the School of Art by reason of the changes in its directing chiefs are extremely instructive, and furnish data from which vital conclusions may be drawn. One is that this very mutability is the greatest safeguard of the School. No Principal is likely to live long enough to damage the school of Art irreparably but a cut-and-dried system can. This may seem a very negative form of praise! But let us compare Bombay with the Royal Academy of London, in whose Schools the Visiting Professor who teaches the higher classes is changed every month. The Academy student having strained every nerve under one Professor to grasp the method of painting with solid lights and thin shadows, is perhaps asked under the next almost to reverse the process—or at least to aim at an equal consistency throughout. By one “Visitor” emerald green is anathemetised, and banished as abhorrent from his palette; while by another he is informed of the unrivalled powers of this one colour for the rendering of essential service. One master exhorts him to the study of anatomy and to reliance upon his knowledge to correct the defects of the model; and another forbids all idealisation and insists on the literal presentment of only that which the eye detects and no more.
To many this system of teaching, as in other matters of Art instruction when reviewed purely as theory may seem to tend towards bewilderment and chaos, but in practice as a matter of fact it works very well in many cases and frequently results in the absorption by the student of the best knowledge of many masters, without the danger of adopting the fads of any. Out of differing, and in some instances opposing methods, the student can extract what he needs and can lay the solid foundation of “Knowledge” on which to build the fascinating structure of “Style.” Pasing through the hands of many able Artists, any tendency to precocious mannerisms is likely to be effectively checked.
If it errs at all, the method in vogue at the Academy Schools only errs in the shortness of the period allowed (for the time being) to each “Maestro.”2
The Principal in the Bombay School of Art gets his chance; and the public are enabled to test within his span of service the fruitfulness or fallacy of his methods.
But these methods can only be applied, and his reliability tested, so long as he is maintained by Government in that position of authority for the time being which he has hitherto always enjoyed. The bisection of Art Education under two Heads into two arbitary fields of “Higher” and “Educationist” art must curtail art production, devitalise the School of Art, and decimate the Artists because there exists no line of demarcation; the two being one, and indivisible. For, probing to the roots of all difficulties in Indian Art Education, we shall come upon the stark realisation of one outstanding factor,—the poverty of the Indian Artist. There is a student—one of the best in the School of Art to-day—who is dependent upon thirty rupees a month as the winner of one of the art-salving scholarships with which Sir George Lloyd’s Government endowed the School. Think of it! On the strength of so small a sum rests the stability of a brilliant, cut from the gem which the School of Art is seeking to polish and which surely in the near future will prove to be among the brightest of India’s cultural jewels.
Of this student’s work for the British Empire Exhibition a sympathetic observer has written:—
“Luckily—for the Sir J. J. School of Arts has not always had the backing which it has received from the departing Governor the infinite capacity of the artist is inspired by an almost unquenchable flame. No mote arresting example of this heroic fortitude could be found than the case of a young student who makes a conspicuous contribution to the decoration of the Bombay Room. He came to the school as a mere boy; employed as a menial in a certain temple. He devoted all the time he could snatch from his humble duties to work in the Art School; and afterwards he would return to his lodging on the temple steps. Food was his only pay. And by the stuff that was in him and the sure impulse of his art, he eventually obtained a scholarship from which he derives thirty rupees a month. On Saturday evening this youth, Mr. N. L. Joshi, received from His Excellency the Silver Medal.3”
There is infinite hope as well as pathos in this story. For it could surely only have been written of a denizen of one of the greatest Art-Producing Nations of the World.
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It is not needful or useful within the scope of this little work to do more than sketch the School’s history subsequent to the period of Mr. Griffith’s work. Mr. Greenwood who succeeded him in 1895, retired owing to ill-health in 1898 and was succeeded by Mr. Cecil Burns. Among the more important of Mr. Burn’s developments were the founding of the Architectural School in 1910, the extensive consolidation of the system of Government Art Examinations, and the establishment of an Inspector of Drawing and Craftwork as subordinate to the Principal of the School of Art, to assist the latter by organising the Art Examinations and inspecting the primary and secondary schools.
- 1. About 1903 the starting fees of the Drawing Masters fell to Rs. 30 per mensem!
- 2. The writer recalls with gratitude and admiration the free merits of the Royal Academy system of training OB he knew it.
- 3. “Times of India” 3rd December 1923. See the description of the Mural Pand. entitled “Piety,” Chapter 4.