There was a time when even the validity of the title might have been questioned. The generation of our grandfathers were doubtful about the purpose of art in education as well as in life. They had reasons to be somewhat terrified of art which meant a certain social fauvism, a certain wildness, which shocked, in spite of Ruskin and Morris, their lndo-Victorian Puritanism. They wanted to be gentlemen, in the respectable shadow of the middle class Englishmen whom they partly knew and partly imagined. Since those sturdy days of self assurance and successful effort, ideas have developed even in our midst and have been clarified and now we all, at any rate, those of us who like to call ourselves intellectually advanced, agree that art has a capital A and has a purpose, if not quite obviously or practically in life, at least in what is called education. And education is also supposed to have a purpose, apart from the competitive merits of degrees and the rewards of employment. Upto this point, all our superior persons will agree, at least verbally; but after that the quibble begins, because purpose leads us to the question of values, to the total consideration of our real life. What should be the values of the good life of every one of us and to be realised by the entire people?
Let us leave these big problems to philosophers, and remind ourselves that art or aesthetic activities extend or intensify our perceptiveness and sensitivity. And that a child or a young person should be given the scope to enrich and develop his perceptivity or sensibility and has at least the labial assent of every educationist.
But do we want our young people to be sensitive, perceptive, self-conscious personalities? If we encourage our young to develop and purify their sensitivity, we have to give it the sanction of something valid in actual life and help the sensitive mind to place itself unshakably in the midst of our bewildering world, and in and through the various active and receptive relationships between the two, grows a mind aware of itself in relation to the world. There may be very little comfort in this growth, none of the advantages of dead habit and routine in this deepening and extension of a child’s or an adolescent’s mind, but it does take the young mind to a higher stage of nervous organisation, to a deeper consciousness of one self and the world. Whether this will express itself positively or negatively depends largely on society, but in certain stages of social life, even the resistant or the negative artist or layman has a great role to play. Of course, problems of mere good living often triumph over the idea of the good life. But even though we admire our worldliness and advise our sons and nephews to follow this easy path of success, we have not got the brazen courage to avow this fact openly. So we quite often find a compromise. We give our homage to those who did not surrender to this middle class temptation the freedom and adventure of the mind, of the sensibility, particularly when these non-conformists are great men of the past, that is, when they do not embarrass us or compete with us actually; and on the other hand, we try to make the best of our life here and now, this life which is so real and so earnest, and not at all an empty dream!
The artist’s mind, active or receptive, does indeed bear the stigma of non-conformity; the artist is a protestant if the order of things does not provide any scope for tension and dialectic even within the framework of the status quo. Thomas Mann called this bohemianism of the artist, a defence mechanism and a counterattack upon what Mann called bourgeois civilisation. It was this that led a great American poet, Wallace Stevens, to his distinction of the whole man from the technician and the bureaucrat. Now, it is true, that the stronger are the powers that be against the whole man, the wilder and more whirling are the words of protest against the whips and scorns of time, against the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the insolence of office and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes. And at times, there is savage despair when the finely made man can only say: ‘Tired with all these for restful death I cry’.
Indeed, the artist is a kind of Hamlet in this Elsinore of ours, and he can but dream of a Republic of Hamlets, who, accompanied by the Fortinbrases of the world, have passed through the self-conscious purgatory of Hamlet, without losing their love of life. It is easy to laugh at this in Shavian fashion. Even the usual joke against the artist really cannot restore our self-confidence. After all, the main function of such jokes, as Myrdal had once said, is to create a collective surreptitious approbation for something which cannot be approved explicitly because of moral inhibitions. Because the age old idea of the whole man has gained ground even among departmental files, anyone who pretends to think a little realises that something must be done against what Dewey called compartmentalisation of occupations and interests which brings about separation of that mode of activity commonly called practice from insight, of imagination from executive doing, of significant purpose from work, of emotion from thought and doing. This division is responsible for the exclusive specialisation of function and the supremacy of those functionaries who are sometimes called experts, and to a consequential narrowing of the mind and outlook as a whole of the rest of the people who, as Lord Greene had remarked, out of weariness are glad to save themselves the necessity of thought.
It is here that literature and art can play an essential part. As has been simply said by Whitehead: “Their services to economic production would be only second to those of sleep or of food”. Have not we all noticed how rhythm expedites tiresome work or how precise beauty of form in the environs or of the tools increases and improves the quality and quantity of work or output? And once this is admitted to be true in the life of a healthy organised nation, it is quite clear how important should be the emphasis on the concept of the whole man in education and what purpose art has in that field, as a field which, we forget in our mechanical way of thought, is as wide and inter-related as life itself. We are all quite familiar with the usual criticism from men occupying high positions as well as the common man that our schools and colleges are unsatisfactory. We seem to forget that the teachers alone are quite helpless so long as the dominant values outside the school or the college do not change. After all, the poor teacher has to follow the path of the least resistance for safety’s sake. And an unsatisfactory state of education is a reflection on the entire community, on all of us.
It is here that the purpose of art as of literature, indeed any purpose, is defeated in our education. Art becomes only a subject, detached from the rest of life or other interests, for a specific examination or only as a hobby. It remains an isolate, tolerated but a little looked down upon. For does not art encourage certain obstinate qualities which do not help in getting on in life? Does not preoccupation with art make people ‘eccentric’, ‘unpractical’, ‘complex’ where getting along the easy path of success is the supreme value? Are they not ‘forgetful’, ‘inattentive’ to many things and unduly attentive to many others? Arc they not unduly questioning, given to irony, unduly sensitive, rather slow, as they have to obey the demands of the working of their whole being? Why should the object, the concrete, the real, the difficult matter so much to these people that they come to obstruct the traffic of competitive life with its one-way regulation of success or failure?
Even in our admission of art as something important, we are, therefore, liable to be half-hearted, and beauty quite often frightens us, at any rate is an embarrassment to us, even though we may find, at times, in our midst. an aged artist or two, who have at least achieved unambiguous success, and then, of course, we have to award them an order of merit or some such prize.
So the problem is how to fulfil this purpose of art in education. We all know that it can be fulfilled only when education is realised in its widest implications and circumfers the whole of a people’s life. But let us restrict our focus to education as such and we find that owing to the limiting conditions already touched upon, the larger purpose of art in our education is daily defeated. Partly due to short-sighted planning and partly due to executive incompetence, Art Education in our schools and also in art schools suffers from defects of compartmentalisation and unrelatedness of life around the school. Now it is true that life around may be a little too disturbing, as most of our cities are senselessly ugly and a belief seems to be growing in a programme of further uglification, itself an ugly word, both from the architectural point of view as well as the point of view of civic convenience. It is difficult for a fresh young mind to imbibe in his nervous system the importance of totality and balance in design or sensible organisation of form, when the sky and the riverine green earth cry at him with the pain of ever-new but out-of-date and formless skyscrapers cutting through earlier pseudo-Gothic roofs and imitation Greek pillars and false Renaissance domes.
I wish to draw your serious attention to the deep-seated effect of the damage done by ugliness and vulgarity around us. Surely every one knows how the entire nervous organisation itself is affected in the young by constant visual and aural ugliness. For example the prevalent habit of bad music and loudspeakers not only prevents willing and unwilling listeners from listening to something fine and good, it endangers bad taste and loudness in the impressionable personality. It is here that the educator’s protestant role has its clinical function. The mind should resist, should be critical because without the necessary tension, it is impossible for a sensitive mind, an artist-mind to grow and education to have any vitality, so long as the men of goodwill or men of taste numerous as they are in our country are ineffective.
It may appear there has been not enough attention given to this aspect of art and education in our official world. But now under the sanction of the Lalit Kala Akadami and the Ministry of Education itself, it will be possible for education and Art Education to be less mechanical in its aims and a little more fearless in its methods. Unless that is done, we will continue to find signs of further weakness in our education and also in our art activities. Some of the symptoms are well known to us.
First of all, there is the anaemia of arty-ness. As art has not roots in life, and as the artist or art-worker has to turn into a dilettante, and a rather ill-rewarded dilettante too, we find a very superficial attitude to art and as a matter of fact, to all beauty growing among us. This arty-ness, it is true, does beautify a little a person’s house or at least his drawing room and perhaps his wife’s clothes, and even that is some consolation. But this superficiality has far reaching dangers; it is fake, it is not genuine and it encourages smugness. It is out of this arty-ness that there is a false interest in our so-called folk art, which is dying and can never be revived in its present state. It is out of this surface attitude that we had that Oriental-cum-Indian artism, which has helped us neither as art nor as some thing living. And the most recent symptom is the trend towards so-called modern or abstract art, which can honestly be arrived at as a logical step in development from the academic realistic art experience of Europe. Without historical necessity and without the background of stages of experience, there can be no genuine modern art—that fearful progress in self-consciousness on the part of painting or sculpture. Perhaps we could learn from the stylisation of our classical and popular art in our efforts towards modernity, but that would require a closer identification with the life and art of our people.
What is more important, as it effects numbers, is the growth of this debilitating, hoodwinking attitude, beyond the art schools. And this has encouraged on the one hand, the habit of sentimental shortcuts toward the growth of a mind, to the formation of taste and imagination not as something organic, related, real but as something to be acquired accidentally and then dropped when one does not need it any longer. Redemption is possible for an honest and humble attitude against art. One can fight against George II who said: ‘I hate all Boets and Bainters’. But arty-ness is an insidious enemy. We can ill-afford the wastefulness of pretence. It is time for our educationists to be aware of this.
It is gratifying to learn that one of our leading art colleges has at last decided to give its students the advantage of what is called a life-class. Of course, within the narrow limits of art in our education, life-classes are not enough. Perhaps more outdoor sketching is a minor help, and not merely in the neighbourhood of the school or college. No doubt, students should be encouraged to camp out, but not merely in search of immediate subjects but to explore and discover our villages and cities in all their different aspects. That would also enable them to study local arts and crafts on the spot and learn from work with the local craftsmen. And there should be considerably more interest in the history of art and in aesthetic questions. Theory classes and discussions encourage intellectual adventure and at the same time help the art-worker to place himself in the history of art, so that the hunt after originality may cease, and the artist’s vision may have that compulsive, urgent quality which is of primary value in art work and in the development of the artist. And then we also wilt give more attention to whether a thing is well-made, rather than whether it is striking or whether it exhibits certain preconceived notions of beauty. Art need not be synonymous with commercial advertisements. But all these are minor considerations, the purpose of art in education takes us out to larger social issues; ultimately, as Mann had said, to politics. It is no good importing methods which are not a growth but an imposition on our education.
The purpose of art, or for that matter, of education is the enhancement of our sense of life, and the process has to be based in theory and practice, on the organic concept of the whole man or personality. Good taste and sensibility or perceptivity cannot develop in a piece-meal fashion. Partial and imposed reforms are never effective. We need a total configuration of values and inter-relation in our methods. Art and education are but a part of the life of the community and sickness or vulgarity in the larger sphere cancel out efforts in the narrower. While we can only try to design the life of our homes or of our society, was can, in the meantime, so inter-relate and vivify the courses, with an emphasis on the concrete, on the eye, the ear and the hand, that some livingness, some pattern of urgent wholeness will emerge and will be the compelling influence in our education, which may help toward the fulfilment of the purpose of art and also of education.