IN a paper read before the Indian section of the Royal Society of Arts a short time ago, Mr. Cecil Burns, Principal of the Bombay School of Art, expounds and defends his views of the right policy for Schools of Art in India, and these views represent fairly accurately the official policy in art administration for the last fifty years. Mr. Burns begins by affirming that “up to the year 1850, India, from an artistic standpoint, was almost entirely isolated from the rest of the world”. This isolation, he argues, protected Indian craftsmen from the competition of the rest of the world, and gave them a practical monopoly in the local markets. On account of this isolation and monopoly, the workmen became unambitious; they made no attempt to devise new patterns or to improve their methods, and thus “they lost whatever power of original thinking they may have formerly possessed”. The construction of the Suez Canal opened the floodgates of European art upon them when they were thus unprepared and lethargic, and “India from, an artistic point of view quickly became and has since remained, a suburb of Paris and London, as she is from an industrial point of view the suburb of Manchester and Birmingham. …The ancient craftwork of India is as dead as the art of the Greeks or as that of the Renaissance in Europe.”
Just as many Europeans, when they talk of the civilisation of the world, mean the civilisation of the particular corner of Europe with which they are most familiar, so Mr. Burns writes of ‘Indian art ‘ when he means so much of it as has come under his observation. None of the illustrations he gave of the incapacity of modern Indian craftsmen of ornamental jars that will not hold water, incongruous teapots, wedding presents, etc. belong to true Indian art, but to the insignificant and unworthy part of it which enters into Anglo-Indian life, or into the social life of the small section of the Indian people who substitute Anglo-Indian fashions for art. But Bombay is not India, and Anglo-Indian fashions do not as yet dominate all Indian art, or even the most important part of it. If India is now artistically a suburb of Paris and London, then Indian art is dead, and all I have been writing about the living art of India is nonsense. If Indian art is dead, then Indian religion is dead; for Indian art has always been religious art, and when it is no longer so, it will cease to be Indian art. If Indian art is dead, then Indian civilisation is dead, and India itself is a mere geographical expression. Those high ideals which Indians are now striving after are limited by the intellectual horizon of suburban London and Paris.
But Indian art is not dead. Before I went out to India, twenty-five years ago, one of my official predecessors at the Madras School of Arts told me exactly the same thing of Madras as Mr. Burns is now telling of Bombay that Madras was “artistically a desert”. Yet when I came there and began to organise the School of Arts as a craft-school I had no difficulty in finding in a very short time three exceedingly fine Madrasi craftsmen to place in charge of the three departments of craft teaching which I wished to develop. One was a skilled wood carver from Ramnad; another a temple metal worker, a stapathi, from Kumbakonam; and the third a goldsmith from the Vizagapatam district. All three were not only very fine craftsmen and designers, who would have commanded very high wages in London or Paris, but they were excellent teachers, knowing their Silpa-Sastras, and artists who were perfectly well able to adapt their designs to any new idea I suggested to them. It was a real artistic delight to work with such craftsmen as these. But when I left Madras it was thought desirable to convert the school into a manufactory for aluminium cooking pots, and Indian art again became invisible to official eyes. I have had the same experience many times since. I have been repeatedly told by official experts that Indian art is dead, and have always found it very much alive in the places where they declared it to be non-existent.
Mr. Burns, as a good man struggling with adversity, deserves commiseration in his attempt to explain to official satisfaction the decadence of Indian art, and no doubt he will get his due meed of sympathy from the gods on Olympus, but I fear that Indian art will not gain much from his present ideas of the functions of Schools of Art in India. The Suez Canal has been used many times before as a convenient explanation for departmental shortcomings in art administration, and it is really surprising that it is not more frequently blocked in consequence of the things which are thus dumped into it. Indian craftsmen were not more isolated from the rest of the world before the opening of the Suez Canal than were their fellow-workers in Europe before the introduction of railways and steamships. Craftsmanship in Europe has not been improved by the greater facilities of communication and by the application of steam and electric power; it has enormously deteriorated, and the institution of schools of art and craft in Europe was the official recognition of the fact which was forcibly impressed upon the English Government by the Report of the Great Exhibition of 1857 in London. Before the opening of the Suez Canal, Indian craftsmanship had not deteriorated to anything like the same extent as had craftsmanship in Great Britain; so when the Government opened. Schools of Art in India fifty years ago, and placed them under European supervision, they were trying to teach things which the best Indian craftsman knew better than the European. If in the last fifty years Indian craftsmanship has become “as dead as the art of the Greeks,” that fact alone is the most damning evidence of the inefficiency of our art administration in India that could be brought forward.
What Indian craftsmanship has suffered from is not the competition of European art, because, as every artist knows, the best European art is never seen in India; it is, that, through the Anglo-Indian educational system, public taste in India has enormously deteriorated, and the high artistic standard of Indian public works in times anterior to British rule has been lowered to the level of suburban London and Paris, through the entire absence of artistic training in Public Works officers of all grades. The Public Works officers have not been able to make proper use of Indian art, because, except as it were by accident, they do not know any art; and English-educated Indians have tried to reproduce suburban England in India because they too, being ignorant of art, have no artistic discrimination and only wish to follow official fashions. It requires great artistic knowledge to be able to adapt the religious art and architecture of India to secular purposes. Moguls succeeded in doing this admirably, because they brought with them trained craftsmen who were willing to learn from the splendid Hindu craftsmen whom they employed in their public works. The Moguls allowed the Hindu craftsmen, who were more skilled than themselves, to carry out their artistic ideas for them, and thus Indian art, stimulated by the new ideas, expanded and developed under the Mogul system. Our Public Works administration has never been willing to learn from Indian craftsmen. It insists upon lowering the standard of public taste in India to the level of its own artistic inefficiency by forcing upon the craftsmen, not English art, but English suburbanism.
Mr. Burns rightly points out that the task given to the Schools of Art has been, in the position in which they are placed, an utterly impossible one. “They have had to struggle through periods of alternate neglect and encouragement, according to the individual tastes of succeeding Governors and Lieutenant-Governors, not to mention Directors “of Public Instruction, which made continuous development impossible.” But he avoids the root of the matter by omitting to add that the work of Schools of Art will always be futile so long as the principles they are supposed to teach are utterly disregarded by the Education Department, the Public Works Department and every other department of the State, as they are now.
Mr. Burns, in reply to my comments, objects to my regarding as the keynote of his lecture the sentence “that although the artistic capacity of the Indian people is still present, the ancient craftwork of India is as dead as that of the Greeks, or of the Renaissance in Europe”. I will, therefore, amend my statement and take Mr. Burns’ own version of his text which is “that we have in the past attempted to carry out our theories of what Indian art might be, regardless of the changed conditions of the country, instead of making those conditions the basis of our theories”.
In that case everything depends upon the correct diagnosis of those conditions, and here Mr. Burns and myself hold diametrically opposite views. Mr. Burns believes that Indian craftsmanship is dead, and that India is artistically a suburb of London and Paris. I agree entirely with Sir George Birdwood, who took part in the discussion, when he said:
Indian craftsmen are to this day, intrinsically, in every respect, capable of sustaining their reputation of the past in its greatest periods j any default in their traditionary inspiration and manipulative sleights being observable only where the opportunities for their free and untrammelled exercise are closed to them by the overwhelming competitions of Europe and America; and in an insignificant and utterly negligible proportion, our Schools of Art, where these have been, from time to time, degraded from their higher objects, and debased to the status of commercial factories, for the purpose of providing an income out of the penurious pocket of the personally conducted ‘globe-trotter/ in part repayment of the costs of their maintenance by the State.
Sir George Birdwood has not been in India for thirty years, but I am able from my recent experience on the spot to endorse every word of this, though I will not go so far as Sir George in saying that the sumptuary industries “such as embroidery in gold and silver and jewellery, still flourish as healthfully and serenely, and in as superb and supreme beauty and glory, as ever under the greatest of the Mogul Emperors of Delhi”. It is not, unfortunately, true that they show no signs of decay in their technique or their artistry; but the vital strength of Indian handicraft is still so great that with a better understanding of art on the part of educated Indians, and better administrative methods on the part of Government there is every reason to believe that it would soon recover all that it has lost.
If, as Mr. Cecil Burns affirms, Indian craftsmanship is dead, it is certainly strange that during the last twenty or thirty years European manufacturers have devoted a great deal of attention to investigating the methods of the Indian craftsman, and in many cases applied these methods to the improvement of European industry. In a previous chapter I gave an instance of a purely Indian handicraft being introduced into Holland, Germany and Italy, in which the traditional technique of the Indian craftsman was applied to European industry, without any modification or improvement, in order to produce more valuable and more artistic work than can be produced by the usual modern European commercial processes. This has been the principle on which the best European manufacturers have worked in their exploitation of the Indian craftsman’s traditional technique, and it is a thoroughly sound principle both artistically and commercially. It is a thoroughly unsound principle, which is being adopted in India, to reverse this principle and tell the Indian craftsman to adopt the inferior commercial European processes, only for the purpose of competing with the lower class of European manufacturers.
If Mr. Burns has, as he says, faith in the power of the Indian people to take the high place they formerly held in the world of art, and to make that place a reflection of Indian ideals and character, he must not accept as inevitable and permanent the degradation of Indian ideals to the level of commercial Europe. The ideals of suburban London will not restore Indian art to its former greatness. It is, unfortunately, true, as Dr. Coomaraswamy says, that the majority of English-educated Indians who call themselves nationalists do not really love India they love suburban England, and the comfortable bourgeois prosperity that they hope will one day be established, when India has learned enough science and forgotten enough art to successfully compete with Europe in a commercial war conducted on European lines but India, at heart, still remains true to herself, and England’s highest ideals are not the ideals of suburban London. There are already unmistakable signs in India of a reaction against the tendency which Mr. Burns would regard as a permanent condition of Indian life instead of a passing phase, a turn in the upward spiral of India’s progress. In all stages of human progress it is not the ideals of the majority, but the ideals of the few, which lead the way; and there are a few Indians who are now showing the way in art. But Mr. Burns will have nothing to do with ‘ theorists ‘ and ‘ idealists; ‘ he says we must be practical follow the crowd, not lead it we must recognise the present condition of things as inevitable and permanent and adapt our administrative policy to these conditions. In other words we must let the degraded artistic standard of modern Indian life govern our artistic policy, accept the preference of the majority of educated Indians for the art of suburban London and Paris as the dominating factor, and throw over Indian artistic traditions as worn out and useless. We must teach Indian students, he says, sound principles in design by taking them back to nature, “and then make them thorough and expert craftsmen and so arm them for the battle of life”. The suggestion that Indian art and craft are only suffering from ignorance of the principles of design and neglect of the study of nature, is to me an amazing one, and shows that Mr. Burns has yet a great deal to learn of Indian art outside the environment of Anglo-Indian life.
I have never disputed that the ancient craftwork of India is exhibiting signs of decay, but I do dispute most emphatically the efficacy of Mr. Burns’ prescriptions. Indian craftsmanship has deteriorated, but why? Not from the craftsman’s neglect of principles of design, nor from ignorance of nature, but because the good Indian craftsman is unable to find remunerative employment. And why has the demand for his best work diminished? Because the national artistic standard of India has been lowered. The wise physician will surely try to devise means for restoring the artistic standard, and thus drive out the disease; and the best way of doing this, as far as Government is concerned, is by restoring to the good Indian craftsman the opportunities for employment in Government service which are now denied to him. It is only adding insult to injury to preach to him principles of art (which no one knows better than he how to practise) so long as our educational and public works systems continue to dishonour all Indian artists and craftsmen and to keep them out of employment by neglecting the very principles which we preach in Schools of Art.
Mr. Burns’ further charge against the Indian craftsman that he is illiterate was sufficiently answered by Sir George Birdwood.
They are as found in the village communities of western India, the most literary peasantry in the world, not excepting those of France and Scotland (which received most of its ‘ culture ‘ from France and Switzerland) and spend all their evenings in the rapt enjoyment of recitations from their great national epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata and the religious and patriotic poems of Tukaram. It is as if our agriculturists and artisans spent their evenings around our parish churches and on our village greens, in popular readings from Shakespeare, Milton and Swinburne.
What India wants is less ‘ literacy* of the European kind, and more art. Heaven preserve Indian artists and craftsmen from the literacy of our Anglo-Indian schools and colleges.
I will deal now with the methods of teaching followed in the Bombay school. First, with regard to the teaching of drawing and design, Mr. Burns obviously puts into practice his theory that Indian craftsmanship is dead and buried. Works executed by students in the design classes of the Bombay School of Art, and drawing classes of the High Schools of Bombay were exhibited in the lecture room works which, as Mr. Burns pointed out, showed extraordinary facility when compared with the same kind of work done by European boys of similar age. The great aptitude of Indian students for ornamental design is familiar to anyone with experience of art teaching in India. But the great fault of these drawings and designs, to my mind, was that, if they had not been labelled ‘ Bombay School of Art/ no one could have suspected that they were the work of Indian students. They were of exactly the same character, the same treatment of nature, the same method of design, as the drawings and designs from English Schools of Art which for several weeks past have come under my observation as an Art Examiner for the Board of Education in London. The designs were in no sense Indian designs, for Indian ideas of art did not enter into them; they were all clever adaptations, or translations, of modern English ideas. Now the great value of art in general education is that it helps to develop the imaginative faculties, the inborn and intuitive powers of thinking. But in a system by which Indian students are taken away from their national intellectual environment and placed in an artificial one created by a foreign teacher, they are only exercising their original powers of thinking to a very limited extent; they are for the most part assimilating the thought of the teacher. Their brains are becoming not creative, but mechanical. Their art, so far as it is art, is only imitative. India by this process of teaching is becoming a suburb of London and Paris.
Mr. Burns seems to make the mistake, which so many European artists have made in India, of introducing a modern European formula of art teaching, in the belief that it represents fundamental principles governing all art creation. Nature, indeed, is as he maintains, the fountain-head of art: but he is mistaken in supposing that the Indian craftsman in following his tradition has lost touch with nature. Mr. Burns has not yet realised that the Indian craftsman looks at nature with different eyes from his; that Indian art gives a different interpretation of nature from that of modern Europe, and that Indian Schools of Art which substitute the modern European philosophy or grammar of art for that of India are, by a subtle and insidious process, destroying Indian art root and branch. Let Indian artists and craftsmen by all means always go to nature for fresh inspiration; but once they are taught to look at nature through European spectacles, and not in the light of Indian tradition, they cease to be Indian artists and craftsmen. For Indians to found their art upon tradition does not necessarily mean, as Mr. Burns argued, that “they let their ancestors do their thinking for them”. Mr. Lewis F. Day stated the case correctly when he said that tradition was really the sum of all experience. It was tradition that had brought Indian art to the perfection it had once reached, and all advancement in art started from it. Even if Indian art were as debased as Mr. Burns said it was, the starting point should still be tradition. I will come now to Mr. Burns’ proposals for extending the practical work of Schools of Art. These were that Government should establish a drawing office and studio, with a certain number of workshops, in which the best decorative work to be placed in public buildings should be designed and made. He suggested that the whole establishment should be under the control of a small Board consisting of the Consulting Architect to Government, an Engineer or Accounts Officer of the Public Works Department, and the Principal of the School of Art, and that it should be run on purely business lines. It is difficult to see in this proposition where Indian art comes in. The principle of using the Schools of Art to co-operate in the design, and decoration of Public Works in India is one which I have consistently advocated for the last twenty-five years, but Mr. Burns hardly alludes to the difficulties which in present circumstances, make such co-operation totally ineffective for the good of Indian art.
The chief one is that the Public Works Department has, with rare exceptions, ever since it was instituted, adopted European, or Qasi-European styles of architecture for the design of all public buildings in India. Mr. Burns was constrained to admit the force of what I have always contended that, as all the principal decorative arts have originated from and are dependent upon architectural style, this policy must govern the whole situation with regard to official artistic influence in India but nevertheless he was willing to accept the Public Works policy, which is necessarily extremely detrimental to Indian art and craft, as another inevitable sequence of the opening of the Suez Canal, and contented himself with the observation that “the arguments for and against the adoption of European styles in modern Indian buildings were ably stated in a paper read before this Society by Mr. T. R. Smith in 1873, and the question has since been fully considered in connection with the erection of the Queen Victoria Memorial building in Calcutta”.
I must confess that this was entirely new information for me. I have been arguing this point for many years past, but I have remained all this time in ignorance of Mr. Roger Smith’s views, and, though I was the senior official art advisor to Government when the scheme for the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta originated, I did not know before that the question had been fully considered in connection with that somewhat unfortunate project. So I hastened to dig up Mr. Roger Smith’s paper from the archives of the Royal Society of Arts and I found in it the following:
The second reason for employing the styles of the country, viz., that the natives can design and build in them, is answered by the fact that the natives will not be employed. (The italics are mine.) The buildings which are built for European use and with European funds in India have been invariably built under European superintendence, and from European designs and always will be and though the artificers may be natives, that does not make the buildings native works, any more than the printing in Calcutta of an English book by Hindu compositors and pressmen makes it a Hindu book.
If Mr. Roger Smith is to settle this question for us, we really ought to ask him how he intends to deal with buildings in India which are not made exclusively for European use and not built exclusively with European funds? Must they, too, always be designed under European superintendence, and must we always consider Indians as rendered permanently unfit for this work by the opening of the Suez Canal? The point seems to me an important one, because I do not know of any public building in India constructed exclusively for European use and built exclusively with European funds. Certainly the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta does not come within this category. Surely Mr. Burns should have left arguments of this kind to moulder peacefully on the bookshelves of the Royal Society of Arts, for they are long since out of date and never represented the best traditions of British administration in India.
However, Mr. Roger Smith admits the possibility of an alternative.
The designs of these buildings may, it is said, be furnished in the native style (sic) by European architects of skill; but I beg very respectfully, but most decidedly, to express my doubt as to the possibility of such a feat being often accomplished satisfactorily.
Why the feat of adapting living Indian styles to public buildings in India should also be left entirely to European architects, Mr. Roger Smith does not attempt to explain; but he certainly estimates the capacity of European architects unnecessarily low, for the feat has been accomplished a good many times since 1873, with results quite as satisfactory as those which have followed the attempts to adapt the archaeological styles of Europe to modern requirements in India.
Mr. Roger Smith proceeded to argue that if we had a distinctive, living, national style of architecture in England, we ought unquestionably to use it in our colonies (meaning India) as Rome did in hers, with such changes as local circumstances made necessary. Yes, if we had a living English traditional art to graft on to the living Indian art, a new living art would be developed in which the best elements of both would be united, just as has repeatedly occurred in the art history of nations. But as we have no living traditions to plant in India, Mr. Roger Smith argued in this way:
There are in existence familiar European styles (archaeological styles) well suited to the purpose, and it appears only reasonable that as our administration exhibits European justice, order, law, energy and honour and that in no hesitating or feeble way so our buildings ought to hold up a high standard of European art.
There would be some force in the argument if the only principle of British administration in India, were to hold up the virtues of the British nation for the admiration of Indians, regardless of the interests of Indian art and industry. But as it is obvious that the policy which Mr. Roger Smith defended and Mr. Cecil Burns accepts as inevitable is most injurious to both; it seems to me that we should exhibit our virtues in a better light if we did as the Moguls did and employed Indian architects to construct Indian buildings in the styles evolved by Indian conditions, styles which they have always modified to suit changing circumstances and changing ideas, as a living art always is modified. If we have no living architectural style to teach Indians, the only rational and just alternative is to accept the living architectural styles of India and adapt them to our administrative necessities.
Mr. Burns, besides citing Mr. Eoger Smith’s paper, declared that the question had been fully considered in connection with the project for the Queen Victoria Memorial in Calcutta. I can only give this statement an emphatic contradiction. I myself proposed to Lord Curzon that, as a preliminary to the making of a design for that building, a survey should be made by a competent architect, of living Indian architecture, i.e., of buildings constructed in Indian styles by Indian master-builders who are still alive; that the design for the Memorial should be made in consultation with the best men that were found, and carried out in co-operation with them. Such a survey would have completely disproved Mr. Burns’ extraordinary assertion, on which he would base the whole future policy of Schools of Art, that Indian handicraft is dead; and had the Memorial been carried out on those lines the building alone would have justified the scheme. by giving a splendid encouragement to Indian master-builders, and making a new epoch in Indian art and craft. To my great disappointment Lord Curzon did not see fit to adopt my proposal, on the ground that Calcutta was a European city and that an Indian style would be inappropriate for the building. Sir William Emerson, the architect selected to carry out the design in accordance with Lord Curzon’s wishes, did attempt at a public meeting to explain, on architectural grounds, why an Indian style could not be adopted. His argument was, that, with Indian methods of roof construction it was impossible to get the area of open floor space requisite for the large Museum. If this were true, nothing would be simpler than to adapt modern European methods of construction to an Indian design. But as a matter of fact it is altogether a misstatement. The architects of Bijapur, who invented the ingenious and beautiful method of balancing the weight of a dome inside a building, instead of outside, constructed buildings with an open floor space greater than that of the Pantheon at Rome; and Fergusson, a most competent authority, in describing the tomb of Mahmud as a “wonder of constructive skill,” says: “In the Pantheon and most European domes a great mass of masonry is thrown upon the haunches, which entirely hides the external forms and is a singular, clumsy expedient in every respect compared with the elegant mode of hanging the weight inside.” Throughout his History of Indian Architecture he bears testimony to the constructive ability of modern Indian architects, and shows that Indian architects have always done with Indian architectural styles what all good architects should do they have adapted them to the requirements of their own times. If European architects are unable to do this it is not the fault of Indian architecture.
Sir William Emerson in endeavouring to defend Lord Curzon’s choice of a European style for the Victoria Memorial is entirely inconsistent, for, in 1873, in the discussion on Mr. Roger Smith’s paper at the Society of Arts, he differed from the argument of the latter “that the conqueror should carry into the conquered nation a new style of architecture”. He declared then:
The course pursued by the Muhammedans was infinitely preferable. They adapted their architecture to that of the conquered country: European architecture would scarcely suit the requirements of the country. Indeed it is impossible for the architecture of the West to be suitable for the natives of the East and the Muhammedan buildings were found to work well.
I must leave it to my readers to judge how far the facts and arguments bear out Mr. Cecil Burns’ statement that the question of adopting an Indian or European style in public buildings was fully considered in connection with the Victoria Memorial at Calcutta. The survey of living Indian architecture which I proposed to Lord Curzon is still an almost indispensable preliminary to any comprehensive scheme for reviving Indian craft. It would be a very easy matter if India had industrial and artistic leaders as numerous and competent as her political spokesmen and writers, but all the Swadeshi talking and writing will not lift Indian art out of the mire, and if India is content to become “a suburb of London and Paris/ 5 artistically and economically, Government cannot be blamed for not taking the initiative in such things.
It is quite useless for Government Schools of Art to endeavour to encourage Indian art and to propose co-operation with the Public Works Department in the decoration of public buildings, so long as that Department discourages Indian art by setting a higher value upon European decoration, whether it be good or bad. I gave an instance of this in the discussion which took place on Mr. Burns’ lecture. There are in Orissa at the present time, within easy reach of Calcutta, a number of first rate Indian craftsmen, masons and stone-carvers, who can execute architectural sculpture vastly superior, not only to Public Works decoration, but to the average work of the same kind produced in any part of Europe in the present day. It can fairly be compared with some of the best Gothic sculpture of the Middle Ages in Europe. Though their present average wages are only four annas a day, the craftsmen are unable to obtain employment, except in the most trivial kind of artistic work, on account of the architectural policy of the Public Works Department. Yet in the Military Secretariat buildings recently erected in Calcutta, and designed as usual in imitation of the Italian Renaissance architecture, masons and stone-carvers were paid at the rate of two rupees a day, only for copying the regulation European ornament prescribed by the European architect. For other buildings in Calcutta and elsewhere a highly paid European sculptor was brought specially from England to provide the architectural decoration; and for the Victoria Memorial very large commissions will be given to European sculptors, as the whole design of the building is European. Over a lac and a half of rupees has been already paid as commission to the European architect. Thus large sums of public money, or moneys chiefly subscribed by Indians, are continually being squandered to the discouragement of Indian art, while large sums are being spent in maintaining Schools of Art for its encouragement. The influence of a single School of Art, however well conducted it may be, is infinitesimal compared with the influence of a great department like that of the Public Works. Either we should cease to pretend to encourage Indian Art; or the architectural policy of the Public Works Department should be made consistent with the fundamental principles of British Indian administration and the avowed objects of the Schools of Art, as they have been defined in the Despatches of the Secretary of State. The present state of things is wholly irrational, and cannot be justified on political, artistic, or moral grounds.
Since it is generally agreed that the Moguls were eminently successful in their artistic and architectural policy in India, it will be useful to consider the principles on which they worked. Akbar, undoubtedly one of the greatest and most successful of India's administrators, worked on a very simple principle. He was not a learned man, so he tried to learn from everybody, not to teach what he did not understand. He did not find the Hindu craftsmen too ‘ illiterate/ because, though illiterate himself, he could appreciate their artistic skill. He took Indian art as he found it, and made the best possible use of it. The Moguls were not an artistic race; a few generations before Akbar they were barbarians whose artistic ideas were limited to pyramids of human skulls. But they had an infinite capacity for assimilating the arts and crafts and the culture of the races which became subject to them. In this respect they resembled the Romans much more closely than we do. Coming into India with the very few and simple architectural ideas which they had learnt in Persia and Central Asia, they found the Hindu builders much superior to their own, and they were not too proud to make use of them. The Hindu craftsmen, on the other hand, being given ample opportunity for exercising their craftsmanship, soon adapted their traditional styles to the requirements and taste of their rulers, and Indian art commenced a new and most vigorous development. It is a common mistake of European writers to attribute that I development to Muhammedan artistic genius. It was rather due to the sensible policy Akbar initiated of utilising the skill of Hindu architects and craftsmen, and to the capacity which the latter showed for improving upon the ideas introduced by the Moguls.
The only reason why our Anglo-Indian administration has been such an artistic failure is that we pursue a diametrically opposite policy, which is artistically unsound and economically extravagant. Nothing could be more extravagant than to waste all the artistic resources of India in the way we are doing now. Certainly with regard to Public Works, Akbar’s administration was less extravagant than our own. When the Anglo-Indian Public Works Department was established, instead of employing Indian master-builders, as Akbar did, all important architectural work was put into the hands of European Military or Civil Engineers, some of whom had no previous knowledge of building construction, with the result that a costly building sometimes collapsed as soon as it was put up, from glaring faults in the original design. It thus became imperative to adopt in public buildings a style of architecture which presented the least difficulty to these amateur architects, and the ‘ classic ‘ European style, being the most simple and constructionally primitive, and thus the most adaptable to the calculations of the departmental budget, became the traditional style of our Public Works architecture.
It has always been popular with amateur architects in Europe for the same reason it was the easiest to learn. Until a few years ago, membership of the Royal Institute of British Architects could be obtained without passing any examination, and even now anyone can practise as an architect in England without passing any test or obtaining any degree. The ‘ classic ‘ style is popular with European and Indian contractors for the same reason, that it is the easiest to estimate for and the easiest to build with. It is equally popular with the professors and students of Indian Engineering Colleges, where architecture is treated in the same way as it has been in England; it is an architectural formula which can be taught from diagrams and learnt by heart in a few weeks, so that engineering graduates may pose as architectural designers. The untrained students of Engineering Colleges thus supplant the ‘ illiterate ‘ Indian master-builders by whose skill the Moguls achieved the greatest of their architectural triumphs.
This inefficiency and stupidity were in no way connected with the opening of the Suez Canal; they were the direct outcome of the system of ‘ classical ‘ education, which is also largely responsible for the degradation of national art in England. The best modern artistic thought of England is not reflected in such a policy it is entirely opposed to it. India has a right to expect of us the best that we can give that which is best for India. There is no reason whatever why our Public Works administration should not be as artistically successful as that of the Moguls, if we followed their efficient artistic methods. But so long as we hold to the principle that none but European architects or untrained literates of the Indian Engineering Colleges shall be employed in the design of public buildings, and that none but European artists shall be placed in charge of Indian Schools of Art, our architectural and artistic policy will never be so perfectly adapted to Indian conditions as that of the Moguls. Indian art and architecture can never be properly practised or taught except by Indians, or by Europeans taught by Indians, and if it be true that the Indian Education Department cannot now, after fifty years, produce Indian architects and artists fully qualified for such appointments, there could be no more convincing proof of the unsoundness of our artistic methods.
The proper function of Indian Schools of Art now is to help to repair the blunders of fifty years’ inefficient educational administration, and thus to prepare the way for an efficient system of Public Works, established on a sound artistic foundation instead of on academic sophistry, archaeological prejudices and departmental incompetence. The weakness of the policy outlined by Mr. Cecil Burns in his paper is due to his failure to understand the psychological conditions in India of the present day. He admits, that, if Indian art is to really revive, the movement must come from within, and in that case it will revive whether the official policy is right or wrong. But he cannot see the signs of the times, or feel that the growth of the Indian national consciousness, which is now going on apace, will surely make and is already making itself manifest in an artistic revival which is a reaction and a protest against the continued denationalisation of Indian art. For Government to ignore that protest, as Mr. Burns advises by accepting the departmental status quo as inevitable and unchangeable, is political folly. By doing so the coming artistic renaissance will grow to be an anti-British movement, a visible sign of an ever increasing cleavage between the rulers and the ruled. By adopting a more far-seeing, a more just and more artistic policy, Government would rally round it all the best elements of national feeling. By learning to understand and make better use of Indian art, Indians and Europeans might learn to understand each other better, and to overcome their mutual, racial, religious and political differences. The impetus which Government might give to Indian art by a thorough reform of departmental machinery would open up many new avenues of employment to Indian youths, and thus remove one of the principal causes of the present unrest; but the half-measures which Mr. Burns proposes lead nowhere except to set up a permanent barrier between Europeans and the more enlightened of the non-official Indians.