I propose that the proper subject for discussion under the caption “Art at the University Stage” in this seminar, may be more precisely entitled “the place of Art in University Education”.
And, under this general title, I would like to suggest three basic questions for consideration and exchange of views. These are:
- How far are the ideals of ‘liberal education’, accepted by our universities, under British rule, during the last two hundred years, consistent with the aim of a really genuine liberal education, and help to create those values and sensibilities in the student, which may enable him to live the good life as a citizen, useful both to himself and society?
- To what extent do the individuals, produced in our universities, emerge with a character in consonance with the exalted ideals of our old-new nation, with a great creative past, which hopes now to contribute some virtues, to cope with the difficulties of its transition to a modern stage, and be a balancing factor in the atmosphere of disruption and conflict prevalent among the family of nations?
- And how can the gaps, which, I shall contend, exist in the present day university education, in appreciating the role of art as an important factor in creating balanced human individuals, be filled.
Before I go on to raise these issues, I would like to make some preliminary observations on the historical tradition of art in our country which may have some reference to the problems we arc discussing.
Insofar as our country affords as example of one or two of those unique ancient civilizations, in which what is now called ‘art’ was generally accepted as creative work, bound up with practice of a comprehensive religion, or way of life, the participation of almost the whole of society in the use, or enjoyment, of creative works, was ensured, generation after generation, century after century, almost by habit. For instance, in Mohenjo-Daro the architecture of the public bath and the private latrine seems to have been as important as the making of pots and pans, and terracotta or gold images of magical or cult objects. And the stupas, as well as the images obviously made in the workshops of the places of pilgrimage of the Buddhist faith, suggest that the values of good workmanship were fairly well shared between the craftsman, the clergy and the laity. At least the stories and the themes treated in the Buddhist art were familiar legends to the whole of society, from mnemonic memory. And the great mediaeval Hindu temples demonstrate, clearly, that there is no bifurcation between the belief in religion and the use of well made images or symbols, whether these be giant sculptures or the intricate language of dance or small ritualistic votive lamps. Again, the values of craftsmanship and design, which went to the making of mosques seem to have been shared in common between the donating Emperor or nobleman, the priestcraft and the worshipful, who said their prayers in the sanctuary.
The lack of empahsis on the concept of beauty in all these three great religions, implies, of course, that ‘aesthetic sense’ in the modern European signification, may not have been expected, but the technical works embodying the laws of architecture, or the principles underlying sculptures and painting, were highly evolved and had profound aesthetic sanctions behind them. ‘One who knows amiss his craft’ says the Maya-Mataya, ‘after his death will fall into hell and suffer’. It is likely, that these very sanctions, laid down by the priestcraft, from the point of view of religion, led sometimes to the subservience of the craftsman to the canons laid down by religion, in such a way as to lead to a period of decadence, because the canon became oppressive, as in Sukracharya’s phrase that ‘even a misshapen image of a God is always better than an image of a man, however beautiful’. But the larger part of traditional art which flourished under the influence, and direct patronage, of the three religions I have referred to, shows that there was the highest respect paid to inventive skill, at least by the few who were responsible for the initiation of giant monasteries, temples and mosques. The common belief which knit together the followers of the one or the other religion, seems to have assured wide enjoyment of creative works if not complete technical understanding of their formal values. And the artist often had a vivid sense of devotion and mental alliance with the images be made.
During one great period of Indian History, the so called ‘classical renaissance’ of the Gupta age (first century to fourth century A.D.) the concept of fine art, Lalit Kala, seems to have flourished among the courtiers, the learned men and the creative artists, in a manner which denotes that good taste had percolated into this period from the generations which had gone before, even as it is obvious that the aesthetic ideals of this age persisted into later periods.
For the uniformly high qualities of colour and design in much of the craft work, the fabrics and the objects of daily use, both ritualistic and secular, among the bulk of the population, right until the 18th century, evidence to the continuance of traditional good taste and appreciation of skill in handiwork. And, it seems to me, that the decay of the great religions, and the lapse of intense belief was certainly accompanied by a deterioration in the arts and crafts, in the delight in well made objects, as well as in the understanding of the need for them.
And about this time, under the impact of European conquest, India came into the orbit of the Western Industrial revolution.
Now, this upturning had already brought rapid social and psychological changes in the fabric of the great religious faiths of Europe, and robbed the works carried out under them of belief, in the West itself. And the machine forms, the sciences from which these machines originated, as well as the new learning of the European renaissance, which had led to the questioning of all previous faiths in Europe and brought an extreme individualism there, also ushered an era of individualism into India after the British conquest, such as was unknown to our country for centuries during its long traditions.
The sources of the social organisation of the 19th-and 20th-century European states, had lain in the hypothesis of the new sciences, with their inductive methods of inquiry, and the examination of all previous values, in the light of the new illumination.
This also brought about the bifurcation of all the knowledge that had been assembled. The sciences themselves began to be considered as distinct from the humanities, which included the arts in university education.
The classes, which resulted from the pressures of commercial life based on profit, tended to become distinct, even like our own old caste order. And, in the resultant conflicts and chaos of society, the emphasis on vocational training, for individuals who were to be churned up in the vast machine dedicated to the worship of Mammon. many of the values of human life were lost sight of, if not deliberately ignored. The average ‘intelligent person’ trained in a university tended to become an atomised creature, with a narrow outlook,—a specialist without a vision of the potentialities and aspiration of the whole man, while the ‘average man’ performing a routine operation in the making one part of a gadget, or selling it, lost nearly all genuine rhythmic sense and became a bored, self-centred personality, seeking escape in the pleasures of Kisch culture.
Unfortunately, in spite of the great freedom movement in our country, many of the social forms of modern Europe were imposed upon, or were voluntarily adopted by, our forebears, and we have inherited the crises of the West willingly, remaining in our minds provincials and suburbans of Europe and America, and tending to take on the philistinism and vulgarity of the West, without sorting out the ideas we have imported, in regard to education and the general conduct of life.
If this be so, we have to evolve a new outlook to eradicate the evils of vocational training and specialism, in order to help the emergence of whole men, both from our universities and society at large.
After these general remarks I feel that we are in a position to pose, one by one, those three questions which I put down at the beginning of this essay and try to answer them in such a way that some positive suggestions may become possible, at the end.
‘How far arc the ideals of liberal education, accepted by our universities under British rule, during the last two hundred years, consistent with the aims of a really genuine liberal education and help to create those values and sensibilities in the student, which may enable him to live the good life, as a citizen, useful both to himself and society?’
As everyone knows, our present day education system has come down to us as a forcible imposition on us from the West; and it is, still, under our national regime, a compromise with, and an inferior imitation of, the British system. And nowhere in the new schemes, whether of Sargeant or Radhakrishnan’s, does one feel that the aim of education has been conceived on the basis that every man and woman is potentially, as Ananda Coomarswamy put it, a special kind of artist (though not every man is a painter or a sculptor), and that the real aim of liberal education is not class rooms and syllabuses but humanness and freedom, the real freedom which comes to the whole man with a free mind, the mind whose fears, hates, guilts and anxieties have been released, so that the dynamic energy latent in him can express itself, creatively, through pleasurable acts and movements.
Of course, education of a liberal kind at the university level alone, cannot contribute very much when the child, who becomes the man, is poisoned at the source. And though I am going beyond my subject to talk of the need for good primary education, I am convinced that until we begin to rear our children from the very earliest ages, in the atmosphere of the greatest freedom, allowing them, without dont’s, to express their creative urges, unless we realise that childhood is a natural creative playhood and not a business of categorical imperatives and learning of tables by rote to the tune of the school master’s Danda, (itself stimulated into action by the teacher’s own faulty upbringing and education and low standard of living), until we get into the habit of seeking the inner life of a child and not only his ulterior acts, we shall be building, not a nation of whole men, but generations of vipers, who will set upon each other at the least little excuse given by narrow minded fanaticism, and our so called art will remain a thin veneer of complacency to cover our beastliness.
Still, as we pretend to espouse the ideals of liberal education at the universities on the British model, it may be instructive to see the results of this education on the minds of many of the scholars of the British universities themselves. It is not infrequent to come across many intellectuals in Great Britain who say in a tone of mock humility: “I don’t know anything much about art but really, I can’t stand the ugliness of modern art!” And I remember at least one politician, with liberal sympathies, who held a picture upside down and began to auction it for a charity, with the mock-humorous phase: ‘I don’t know which way it should hang, but I know that the painter who painted it should hang—except that he may be exonerated for helping our fund!’ Public taste has been so corrupted by the specialist education in the British universities that art has come to be for most graduates ‘a queer thing’.
And, among our own universities, vocationalism and specialism, though indifferently taught, so completely excludes the stimulation of the sensibility, the intensification of the emotions, or the promotion of a balanced outlook, that the situation is utterly depressing. The recourse to the cram notes, aids to text books, and the questions and answers, which are supposed to enable a student to pass his B.A. or M.A., leaves no room, or incentive for such activities as may help the making of an individual, integrated with other individuals. The professors, teaching whole classes of hundred or so students, on limited emoluments, often take the easy way out and fail to guide the young mind. Anyhow, there is an absence of adequate texts in the curricula, giving an elementary idea of our heritage or of a modern humanistic world outlook.
Sir Herbert Read has drawn attention to a passage in the Autobiography of Charles Darwin, which is a remarkable piece of confessional writing, by a great scientist, describing how the aesthetic sense can be lost through emphasis on specialist training:
‘My mind seems to have become a kind or machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher states depend, I cannot conceive. A man with a mind more highly organized or better constituted than mine, would not, I suppose have thus suffered; and if I had to live my life against, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for, perhaps, the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.’
And I can myself vouch for the fact that the Indian universities certainly do not help to stimulate those opportunities through which the student may individually or collectively, satisfy his natural urges to participate in creative activities, and thus enable the young people to become useful both to themselves and to society. (In order to be a creative writer, I had myself to unlearn much of what I was taught, particularly to release my sensibility, a process of self education which, I hope, has not yet been finished!)
To what extent do the individuals, produced in our universities, emerge with a national character in consonance with the exalted ideals of our old-new nation, with its great creative past, which hopes now to contribute some virtues, to cope with the difficulties of its transition to a modern state, and be a balancing factor in the atmosphere of disruption and conflict prevalent among the nations.
If education in our universities is inadequate for the tasks envisaged by a modern liberal education, then it is totally destitute in its awareness of our peculiar position as an old-new nation with an unique tradition, and the need for the creation of men of noble character, who may know their history and synthesise it with the fundamental human values accepted everywhere today as the inspiration behind the more creative impulses of the modern democratic state.
The blame for this abject situation in the universities, lies not so much on ourselves but on the British rulers of India, who imposed a blind, imitationist system of teaching on our country and who were generally contemptuous of our ancient traditions.
From Lord Macaulay, who was the author of the British-Indian university system, through Professor Westcott to Roger Fry, the designation of our artistic heritage has been constant and uniform.
The strictures of Macaulay arc familiar: “I have no knowledge’, he wrote in his Minute on Indian Education, ‘of either Sanskrit or Arabic. But I have never found one (among the Orientalists) who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. I certainly never met with any Orientalists who venture to maintain that the Arabic and Sanskrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations. And when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded, and general principles investigated, the superiority of the European becomes absolutely immeasurable’ .
In 1864 said Prof. Westcott of Indian sculpture: ‘There is no temptation to dwell at length on the sculpture of Hindustan. It affords no assistance in tracing the history of art, and its debased quality deprives it of all interest as a phase of fine art. It must be admitted, however, that the works existing offer very curious subjects of inquiry to the scholar and archaeologist.’
And, though much objective scholarship was brought to bear on the Indian tradition by many eminent Englishmen, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these researches did not persuade the famous contemporary art critic, Roger Fry, from declaring, in his Last Lectures delivered in Cambridge, during the Second World War, that the ‘Indian craftsman had no sense of design’.
In the face of this kind of attitude our official universities, before the transfer of power, could not emphasise the teaching of the values of our past culture or disseminate information on this culture.
Since then the addition of courses in ancient history and culture have been piecemeal. And, apart from three universities, there is no regular teaching of the history and the values of Indian art, or world art, anywhere. Thus any serious knowledge and appreciation, of the achievements of Indian civilisation is, at the moment, in the poorest state possible.
In vain did the poet Tagore seek to warn the Indian people about the dangers of neglecting our past and about ignoring the need for relating it to the vital as pects of the new learning from the West.
And the whole psychological basis for stimulating the higher aesthetic taste of the child, which was the basis of the Gandhi-Zakir Hussain report on basic education, with its insistence on ‘learning by doing’, has been so far shelved, with the report which embodied it.
Actually, there is nothing in the present university system of India to suggest that we are conscious of the need to develop a national character, far less of the need to adjust such national character to the social and psychological changes which will come, inevitably, with the extension of the First Five Year Plan into the Second Five Year Plan and march onwards towards a ‘socialist pattern of society’.
The essence of this reprehensible situation is that if we accept the hypothesis that the university teaching is concerned merely with the training of the intellect of our students, by filling their heads with knowledge of economics, history, philosophy, literature and the sciences, we are ignoring the existence of sensibility, and the emotional life, which lie at the sources of human personality.
Undoubtedly, quite a few amateur and professional artists practice the creative arts in our country today, according to their individual aspirations and skills. But the bulk of the people are illiterate and prefer traditional crafts and cannot participate in the enjoyment of the culture produced by our braver spirits. The minority of the university educated intelligentsia may pretend to understand the products of the imaginations of these artists, but do not, I hazard the opinion, have the necessary information on the ancient, modem, or contemporary history of Indian, or world, art, to bring any integrity, or genuine sense of discrimination and appreciation, to the works being produced in our midst.
Therefore, the creative virtues, which may thus help to bridge the gulf between our past tradition and present democratic secular makeup, and contribute our modest share towards providing a deeper basis for understanding with other parts of the world, do not exist, except as a thin stream of potential contemporary art.
In this context, I would like to quote the warning of the British thinker, Ruskin, to his students in Oxford. Said Ruskin: ‘The art of any country is the expression of its social and political virtues.’ And he added elsewhere: ‘With mathematical precision, subject to no error or exception, the art of a nation, so far as it exists, is an exponent of its ethical state.’
And I would like to recommend to my countrymen the profound faith of Mahatma Gandhi who declared that ‘there is no art if it does not serve the people’.
Is it likely in view of my analysis of the existing situation, that we have as yet no life concept, with a consequent faith, which may become the basis of a national character and certain shared values?
I am afraid the answer is that we have no life concept yet. And we have not yet grasped even the elementary fact that art is as vital a necessity for us in helping to provide a life concept as bread and clothes and houses, insofar as it is impossible to be truly human, under modern conditions, without the cultivation of the sensibility and emotions, side by side with the intellectual side of our temperaments.
The Necessity of Art
And how can the vast gaps, which I contend, exist, in the present day university education, in appreciating the role of art as an important factor in creating balanced human individuals, be filled.
The practice and understanding of art has never in our long history been divorced from life, as though it were an excitation of the nerve-ends of the imagination when a person is bored or seeks to escape from the tedium of routine. As Dr. Coomarswamy put it aptly:
‘To the primitive man, first and foremost a metaphysician and only later on a philosopher and psychologist, to this man who, like the angels, had fewer ideas and used less means than we, it had been inconceivable that anything, whether natural or artificial, could have a use of value only and not also a meaning. This man literally could not have understood our distinction of sacred from pro fane or of spiritual from material values; he did not live by bread alone. It had not occurred to him that there could be such a thing as an industry without art, or the practice of any Art that was not at the same time a rite… … …’
Nor was there any bifurcation between the various faculties of man, in the Hindu, Buddhist or Islamic religions.
It is only in the modern democratic state that disintegration is accepted as a law of nature and accommodation is made for all the ills of the body, without consideration of the central fact that creativeness is a natural attitude of the integrated personality, even as creative work forms the basis of any organised society, whether of men, of bees, or of mere ants.
And, in the context of this creativeness, the work of art becomes, as professor Whitehead feels: ‘The concrete achievement of a thing in its actuality, with a highlight thrown on what is relevant to its preciousness.’
In this sense the creative arts become the pooled resources of the culture of a people; and the manifold works, to the elaboration of which human genius be comes addicted, constitute the most coherent expression of life when they are most private, and the habit of living in and through such vivid values is the only possible life in which harmonious development of human personality can be achieved. And thus creative art becomes an expression of the natural faith, and the inner traditions, of a people.
Without it a people die, or languish, in an apathy, which is the expression of decadence. It is impossible to build a nation. with its important limbs cut off at the sources, by the hardening of the arteries and the stoppage of the circulation of the blood, which in itself is the basis of the instinct for life and more life.
If what I have said is substantiated by the individual testimony of other participants in this seminar, if there is, indeed, a deep and integral connection between the whole man and his creative acts, and if these creative abilities are fashioned, to any extent. by education, then it may be asked: What are the ways in which we can promote such integration through our educational system, particularly at the university stage?
I do not think that any partial reforms, such as the opening of an art institute here and a museum there wilt suffice, important as these methods may be within the possibilities of our small present day budgets for education. These isolated reforms cannot lead to the direction in which we must travel, if we are to rescue ourselves from the disastrous situation in which we find ourselves, through the British India system of education, prevalent among us.
What is needed, in the first instance, is a thorough change in our own outlook.
This seminar may be a partial effort in this direction. And then we must really think in terms of a new commission inquiry, in which we may invite those thinkers of our own country and abroad, who are not merely art critics, but sociologists, political workers and planners and publicists, who can inquire into the present paucities of our education system, with a view to the evolution of a comprehensive scheme of education, through art, informed by the sense of a humanist life concept, to which we have been vaguely proceeding without much awareness of its implications.
Such a commission may take evidence, not only in our country, where we have made a very small start in the way of education, but, through the U.N.E.S.C.O., in such other countries where the problems of integration of education with modem life have already been pursued with some degree of depth and coherence.
I would suggest that Sir Herbert Read, the eminent British art historian and philosopher, be asked to be the chairman of such a commission, with some of the Vice-Chancellors, educationists and public men of India as members of this inquiring body.
As a small interim measure towards the correction of the defaults of university education, the Ministry of Education should be asked by this Lalit Kala Akadami seminar to appoint chairs for the teaching of the History of Indian Art and culture in all the important universities in our country.
I anticipate that at least four or five of the most important universities could secure grants from private individuals for the establishment of chairs of the History of art. Such chairs already exist in the Calcutta, Banaras and Baroda universities, and have proved very beneficial in raising the general level of aesthetic appreciation. I suggest that the universities of Delhi and Bombay be asked to take steps to found these chairs of the History of An immediately. Other universities could be recommended to appoint Readership of the History of Art until they can afford, with the help of Government or private grants, to found full professorships.
Further, I suggest the grant of scholarships from the Ministry of Education to train students who are likely to become cadres of the teaching staff in the universities, for courses such as the history of Indian and World art, and aesthetic appreciation, as well as for the thousands of museums and culture centres, which must be opened. For it is necessary to decentralise the ignorant ‘wonder house’ presentation of art, current in our country’s museums, and to bring many more people into the orbit of the awareness of the vivid values of human culture.
The decentralised culture centres should, in my opinion resort to new techniques of display and education than be content with the dusty manner to which even the most important museums are, at the moment, addicted.
The Lalit Kala Akadami, which already has a programme of publication embracing the field of ancient and modem Indian art and culture could extend it to include informative and popular, as well as research, studies, on the arts and cultures of our neighbour countries in Asia, which have inherited civilizations similar to our own. A programme of publication in India, at reasonable prices, of works of European art and culture, might also ensure contact between our people and those of the West, at the highest levels of achievement.
Again, in order to evolve a wholesome university education system, I emphasise the need to drop the fashionable catch words and slogans of the ‘Art world’. I place much value upon the body of experts on the commission which I have recommended, to analyse the new methods of education that have already been propounded by the most important thinkers in the face of the present world debacle. Only, the proceedings of such a commission, may be able to stimulate some appreciation of our need for greater life concepts and a fundamental aware ness of our human needs. The emergence of life concepts will, in their turn, reveal the real function of creative works in the modern community, by showing that creativity is the core of all civilized living, the warp and woof of human existence and not a mere decorative luxury.
When we realise that the emergence of a great new art tradition in our country is contingent upon the evolution of great life concepts (and what could be greater life concepts than the positive values arising in the face of the problems of uplifting our lowly and downtrodden fellow countrymen?), it may be possible for us to talk of art with some degree of honesty. At the moment, all our boasting about art is largely a compensation for our paucities in the present, and all our partisan quarrels are a series of vicious circles within bigger vicious circles.
Arc we serious enough in our efforts to study the problems of genuine liberal education, to evolve a national character, and to emerge from the present world crisis to some degree of poise and balance in human society?