The English Board of Education in its rules for Secondary Schools, published in 1904, has defined a sound general education as that which gives a reasonable degree of exercise and development to the whole of the human faculties, without neglecting any one of them or developing one at the expense of the other. This may be accepted as a satisfactory definition of the scope of all stages of general education, and it will serve as a text in discussing from the artistic standpoint a question which, in the last few years, has aroused almost as much interest in India as the partition of Bengal—the reform of Indian Universities. Were it not that educated Europeans, especially those who have graduated in European Universities, are accustomed to regard artistic thought and culture as outside the ordinary scope of general education, it would strike most educationists that the exclusion of art from the category of human faculties is an inexplicable anomaly in the curriculum of Indian Universities. But even in Europe it is only within the last twenty or thirty years that art, as a part of general education, has been taken seriously by educationists, or advanced beyond the “drawing, stretching and fainting in coils” which excited the admiration of Alice in Wonderland and is still as popular a form of amusement in English seminaries for young ladies as it is in Indian Hill Stations.
Although art, represented primarily by a sound system of teaching drawing and design, is year by year taking a more important part in the whole scheme of national education in Europe and in America, yet the oldest of the English Universities, which for several centuries has made the study of Greek culture and civilisation the basis of its teaching, persists in ignoring the fact that one of the first principles of Greek education was the cultivation of the æsthetic faculties. Ancient Egypt stood in much the same relation to the culture of ancient Greece as ancient Greece does to the culture of our so-called classical schools. But we do not find it recorded that Hellenic youth spent any considerable part of their time in composing odes and essays in the hieroglyphic or hieratic writings, the classic Egyptian languages in which the ancient wisdom lay buried. As soon as they could read and write their own language, the young Athenians learnt by heart their own great national epics, patriotic songs and religious hymns. Afterwards, the subjects which held the highest place in their curriculum were music and drawing. The mechanical book-work and equally mechanical lecture-work with which we produce most of our school-made culture were hardly known to the art-loving and nature-loving Greek. A cultivated Greek lived and died in an atmosphere of art, an art which permeated the whole national life and every branch of learning, not founded merely on the recollection of what former generations had said, thought or done, but expressing spontaneously the thoughts, habits and aspirations of the age in which he lived.
I do not wish to argue that the ancient Greek system is entirely applicable to the needs of the present day, but I think it is important for educationists, both in India and in Europe, to remember that when ancient Greece attained to that wonderful degree of culture which they profess to take for their model, the æsthetic sense was believed to hold one of the highest places among the intellectual faculties. Nor is Greece an isolated example. History shows that the period of the highest intellectual activity in nations has nearly always coincided with, or approximated to, the period of their greatest artistic development. And the reason for this is plain, for art represents the creative and originating faculties, as distinguished from the merely receptive ones. It is only since our modern European art parted from the main-stream of the national life and drifted into the backwaters of archæology and eclecticism, that it has lost all influence on national character and culture; so that ugliness and vulgarity in the surroundings of our daily lives are looked upon with equanimity as necessary accompaniments of modern civilisation.
Japan is a striking example of the influence of a really national art upon national character and intellect; an example, moreover which approaches nearer to the Greek ideal of culture than any other in modern times—the kind of culture which English education has nearly stamped out in India. It is surely worth the attention of educationists to note that the Japanese are the most artistic nation of the present day. Like the Greek, their art is born of a feeling which has its roots deep in the national character: it is not founded merely on an unthinking imitation or reproduction of a bygone culture, like the archæological art of modern Europe, but is strongly based on the realisation of their own place in the ceaseless procession of nations.
The quality inherent in all real and honest artistic effort, which makes some form of art training especially valuable for ordinary educational purposes, is the striving to do a thing as well as it can be done, and not merely as well as circumstances permit or the exigencies of the occasion demand. That is the compelling influence in all the best art in every country and in every age. When that ceases to be its aim, and art becomes merely ostentation and vanity, it is an infallible sign of the intellectual and moral deterioration which presage national decay.
It is the true inborn artistic spirit which has taught the Japanese as a nation to make their work as perfect as hand and mind can make it, just as nature does. It is this which has contributed, in no small degree, not only to the national happiness and to the courage with which they have met every difficulty and danger, but to that intellectual receptivity and largeness which have made the Japanese people eager to adopt everything useful to them in Western institutions, while preserving intact their own national culture.
It may be said in support of the total exclusion of art from the courses of Indian Universities that they are in that respect following the precedent of similar institutions in Europe. But though the education of European Universities differs widely from the Greek ideal of culture, there will be found in the best European Universities an artistic spirit which is conspicuously wanting in the Indian ones. There is no precedent in Europe for the squalid environment, the absence of all stimulus for the spiritual side of human nature, and the neglect of all that conduces to the brightness of school or college life such as we usually find about all Indian Universities. And there is a vast difference between the whole organisation of the Indian and European University systems, one of those fundamental differences which are too often ignored when we attempt to transfer Western institutions to the East. The English school system leading up to the University is only one branch, and hardly the most important or vital branch, of national education. In India, at least in popular estimation, it stands for the whole; so that whatever is not included in the University course is generally despised by the so-called educated classes. In Europe it is only a comparatively small fraction of the educated classes that ever enters a University. In India the University courses are generally believed to embrace all forms of higher education, and the term “educated” is applied only to those who have entered, or failed to enter, a University.
It is a well-known law of nature that when a species of plant is taken from its natural environment and transplanted into a foreign soil, unless it is carefully watched, it often revenges itself upon mankind by running wild and destroying the useful plants of indigenous growth with which it comes into contact. And this is just what has happened with the educational system which India has borrowed from the West. It has produced many plants of luxurious growth, but far too many have run to weed and crowded out the healthy, useful and beautiful plants which Indian soil has produced. The artificial culture of the West has destroyed the natural culture of the East. The want of a consistent artistic policy, which is painfully conspicuous in the whole administration of India, and the absence of all artistic considerations in the education of the youth of the country, have not only suppressed originality of thought and lowered the standard of culture, but they have brought about a state of things that neither Indian educationists nor statesmen can afford to ignore. Instead of widening the range of occupations, the present University system in India tends to narrow it. It has helped to turn the hereditary artists, of whom any country in the world might be proud, into hewers of wood and drawers of water, and driven them to swell the already overfilled ranks of competitors for Government clerkships. It has helped to bring about a depravity of public taste, even lower than the average European standard, so that the majority of Indian graduates honestly prefer the spurious and tawdry Western art for which India is the common dumping ground, to the real art of their own, country, The real artists of the country, as I know from long personal experience, are often reduced to earning a miserable pittance by working for the poor and “uneducated” classes, not, as is so frequently asserted, on account of the poverty of the country, but because the rich and educated Indians for the most part waste their substance on the by-products of Western commercialism which they fondly imagine to be Western art.
I do not propose that the Universities should become a training ground for artists and art-workmen; that would neither be for the advantage of Indian art nor for the benefit of the Universities. Bat I do maintain that true education must recognise that the cultivation of the artistic faculties, whether it be in schools and colleges, or in the greater university of the national life (like the teaching in Japan to-day and in all European countries in former times) tends to bring out and develop all the original powers of the mind. I would argue further that the students whose instincts lead them to study nature by the methods of the artist, rather than by the methods of the man of letters or of the man of science, instead of having those instincts suppressed, as they are in the Indian University system, should be given opportunities of developing them. Indian Universities can never become worthy of the name as long as their influence encourages or compels the sons of the men who inherit all the splendid traditions of Indian art to quit their father’s profession because the narrow and pedantic system of higher education leaves them neither honour nor profit in the pursuit of it.
The Calcutta University, as its late Vice-Chancellor proclaimed at the last Convocation, is the largest in the world. The population to which it professes to offer the highest of European culture and enlightenment is over one hundred millions. But from its foundation its ideal of culture has been a hybrid system of Western pedagogics, tempered by Western utilitarianism. Its influence in the past fifty years has been one of the most potent forces in hastening the ruin of national art and culture in India. It might have been expected that with the new organisation provided by Lord Curzon, it would have made some attempt to remove this reproach. The Faculty of Arts last January went so far as to accept, practically unanimously, an abstract resolution proposed by myself that “in the interests of general culture art should not be excluded from the Arts course of the University.” It even accepted as an alternative for elementary science in the Matriculation Examination an equivalent instalment of artistic nature-study, such as is practised with the best results in Japanese High Schools and in some of the Colleges in Madras. But before the scheme was ratified by the Senate, it was taken out of the hands of the University and referred to a small Committee sitting at Simla. This Committee revised the draft regulations so that the new Calcutta University maintains now precisely the same attitude towards art as it did twenty years ago. That is, though it recognises law, medicine, engineering and science as fit subjects for the honours and benefits which the University bestows, it shuts out art altogether.
The new scheme, as a scheme of pedagogics, is so far an improvement on the old that it aims at and probably will achieve a much better system of teaching English literature and science. But as a scheme of national culture it presents the same obvious defects as before, namely, that it imports into India all the narrowness and exclusiveness which University teaching in Europe derived from the middle ages. It insists that the intellectual organisation of educated India must conform to one of two types, either that of the man of letters or that of the man of science. The general course of the University will afford the literary student a choice of subjects which will help him in following his particular bent; it will attract the future engineer by teaching him mechanics and higher mathematics, subjects necessary in his profession; it will assist the future medical man, or any one about to enter a scientific career, by teaching him the rudiments of science; to the lawyer who will have to plead in English law courts, it gives a sound training in English. But to the art student the University simply says—come if you will, but we do not recognise art either as one of the higher studies or as useful in the intellectual development of a University student. We have a Faculty of Arts, but the art faculty is not one we think worth cultivating.
It is not only that the hereditary artistic castes of India, which have made Indian art famous among all the nations of the earth, are thus practically shut out of all University honours and of all prospects of employment in Government service. It is not only that Schools of Art become merely refuges and asylums for those who fail in the University course. And it is not only that the exclusiveness of the system which will cram all the brains of the country into a literary or scientific mould of modern European make keeps out of the service of the state some of the best intellect of the country. It is even more destructive to national art and culture in India that the great body of students who do enter the University are deprived of any opportunity of developing the artistic sense, except through the medium of English literature. It is hard for most European educationists, trained in the narrow groove of European university teaching, to understand that the artistic sense is a faculty as important to the literary man, to the engineer, to physicians and surgeons and to advocates and judges, as it is to painters, sculptors, architects or designers. They generally regard it as an archæological formulary or a dilettante accomplishment which is easily understood and acquired by every educated man who has learnt to play with Greek iambics or become expert in modern sciences. But even if it is not so, it matters, they think, very little. Yet to educationists who realise the deep-seated defects of Indian Universities it must be clear that these very defects are largely due to the want of development of the artistic faculties in Indian teachers and students. For those who will put aside all musty educational precedents which do not affect the problem to be solved in India, and regard education as the science of training and developing all that is best and highest in human nature, and those who will clear their minds from all the shams, deceptions and false ideals which hide the the meaning and purpose of art, must acknowledge that art and education are inseparable, whatever the governing bodies of Indian Universities may say.
The essence of real culture—not the artificial culture of the modern class-room, but the real culture which is conspicuous in all the greatest epochs of human progress—lies in the development of the powers of observation and of the powers of original thought. The greatest engineer is not the man who calculates strains and stresses best, but he who shows the greatest genius in original design. Design is the foundation and root of all art. The greatest surgeons and physicians are those in whom the powers of observation are developed to the highest point. The greatest advocates and judges are those who, through the full development of all their intellectual powers, see beyond the dry technicalities of the law, and with a fine sense of proportion separate the essential from the nonessential, just as the artist—the real artist—does in his interpretation of nature.
As, therefore, the ultimate aim of every teacher must be to develop in his students the powers of observation and the powers of original thought, it cannot be to his or their advantage to discard any useful means towards that end. The means employed must be adapted, as far as possible, to the natural bent of a student’s capacities, for methods which will bring out one student’s latent powers, will fail to evoke any response in others. It has, however, been recognised by the best educationists, both ancient and modern, that drawing and other forms of artistic expression are admirable means of developing the powers of observation, and the practice of design is an excellent method of developing the powers of original thought. In many ways artistic design is a much more valuable and practical Educational exercise than theoretical or experimental science, which is now accepted by Indian Universities as the panacea for all the defects in the intellectual training of young India. It brings directly into play the originating faculties, whereas science teaching, unless it is of a much higher order than what is generally found in an Indian class-room, only develops the receptive powers and very easily degenerates into common cramming. It is a kind of intellectual exercise especially suitable for Indian conditions, because designing is a universal language through which all students can express their ideas freely without being hampered by the linguistic difficulties which beset them in all their other work. Only Indian college teachers can realise what an impediment to real culture is the system of making a foreign language the medium of all instruction. True art influences every vocation in life and every aspect of intellectual culture. It cannot, therefore, be reasonable or in the interest of education to keep out of the university scheme some of the most obvious, direct and practical means of artistic expression. By the policy which the reformed Calcutta University pursues, it not only disparages and depreciates the whole art of the country, but it injures the University and the cause of education in denying to the whole body of students a means of culture for which it offers no sufficient substitute. We live in an age of scientific culture, and scientific experts have now a commanding voice in the direction of higher education in India. But when the scientist has said his last word, that instinct and desire for beauty, which he himself cannot fail to observe, ignore it though he may—for it runs through the whole range of creation—will still remain the better part of human nature, just as it has ever been in all countries and in all ages. Art, in truth, is one of those greater sciences which are at the root of all science. If the artistic spirit, which is the motive power of all the higher intellectualities, human and divine, is kept out of the newly reformed Indian Universities, they will only perpetuate all the evils of the old, although Indian graduates may learn their facts better and be better instructed in natural phenomena.
The Indian Government now devotes extreme care and large sums of money to the preservation and restoration of the great monuments of Indian art. But surely, it is of more vital importance to India to keep alive the artistic spirit and to maintain the living art preserved to the present day by the descendants of the great architects and artists who created these masterpieces. As long as the Schools of Art remain altogether out of the scheme of national education, they can exercise no real influence on Indian art; and when the largest University in the world, which has for its motto “for the advancement of learning,” has ordained that learning for Indian youth may be interpreted in a literary, legal, medical or scientific, but not in an artistic sense, there is little hope that anything will be done in this direction.—East and West, January, 1907.