The problem of Art Education, especially of advance art studies, unlike the problem of academic or scientific education, is one of complicated nature, bristling with all sorts of difficulties. Though the artist may not be a special kind of man yet his innate temperament, idiosyncrasies and aesthetic sensibilities need special environment, attention and treatment. “Artists are born, not made,” is an age old slogan, but ‘born-artists’ are rare; the ‘made-ones’ are many. Born artists are often geniuses, hypersensitive, mental and emotional freaks, with certain intuitive, imaginative and creative faculties, not ordinarily possessed by those “who take infinite pains” to become artists. Both these types have to be taken into account before we seriously consider the question of advanced studies in art.
A clear mental picture of a problem is often a half way to its intelligent solution. Trying to understand a problem is more profitable than arguing about it; and art and artists are subjects for understanding and not for argument. It will be worthwhile considering, for a moment, what art is before we proceed to discuss the question of facilities for advanced art studies.
Of course, it is next to impossibility to give any precise definition of art. Like life, it escapes precise definition and like life it is universal and of no particular race, creed or country. There are as many interpretations of art as there have been people who have attempted to define it. “Art”, wrote Tolstoy, ”is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of highest and best feelings to which man has risen.” But mere feelings, alone, however “highest and best” cannot produce works of art. We all have feelings and we do transmit them to others, sometimes crudely and sometimes beautifully, but we do not produce art or become artists in that process. A peculiarly creative faculty is also required to put a particular feeling into words or forms or colours and which we name the artistic faculty. Art is that which only a few can do and which many cannot.
Art, as we know, is not all technique, all tradition, or even individual idiosyncrasies; it is not all heritage or all contemporary. It is not all objective or all subjective; it is not all spiritual or all secular. In short, it may be some of these or all these, or something even more than these. Hence its universal nature and indefinable quality. But there is a touchstone by which all arts can be tested or judged, by the effect it has, or is calculated to have, both on the artist and the public. That surely is bad art which rouses ugly thoughts and incites to evil passions; and that is good art which helps to bring out the better and nobler side of man and induces him to feel good, think good and do good. This, I submit, must be a test of any enduring work of art, be it a song, or a picture or a statue or a building.
Who, then, are the artists? All those who paint, sculpt, sing, dance or write? All those who hold diplomas, degrees and awards—the city-bred art school graduates? Who are the artists? Those who built the great temples, carved the stone images, cast the metal murtis, taught music and dance and wrought such lovely objects of daily utility? Those master-craftsmen who painted the Ajanta frescoes, carved the Mathura sculptures, cast the Tanjorc bronzes, wove the Dacca muslins and dyed the Surat patolas—are they not artists par excellence?
Now, how are we going to devise a system of Art Education to meet the demands of these varied types of artists? That the present system of Art Education is too unimaginative and too purposeless for creative work will be accepted by all. Though the purpose of real education is to “draw out” the latent talent and faculties of an individual, what really goes by the name of education is cramming, mugging, gathering information and collecting facts about life and nature. The art school education differs only slightly; instead of cramming and mugging, the student is made to copy, and copy, and later to go on repeating and repeating the same medium and style, which is called the mastering of technique. No room is given, no scope is provided for original research, creative thinking and bold experiments.
The Present system of Art Education, with its diploma and degree courses, can serve only a limited purpose. It can, at best, turn out a lot of amateurs, with a general knowledge of the techniques of painting and sculpture, which they may or may not improve or develop in their career; and who more often take to commercial art for a living or become art masters in schools and colleges. It cannot be denied that such arts and artists are of a mediocre type, innately incapable of either creative imagination or creditable achievement. This academy type of education in our art schools is mostly responsible for the dearth of real great creative artists in the country. The few that are outstanding names in our art world are either those who have never been anywhere near an art school or those who had the spark of genius in them which could not be put out by the soulless system of Art Education prevailing in the country.
A uniform theoretical and practical course and training to art students of even ordinary talent and promise is bad enough; but it is worse when it comes to artists who are mentally precocious, emotionally rich and physically extra-sensitive, who are either geniuses or have the promise of becoming one. Mass teaching in such cases is a crime. Diplomas and degrees can never be a proper test in their cases; rules, disciplines and syllabuses will be more hindrances then help in such cases. Not only the art school methods are unsuitable and unhelpful but definitely harmful for the full flowering of their genius, for, art is an intense form of self-expression; as the man is, so is his art.
The ancient system of Gurukula, where the pupil sat at the feet of the guru and learnt all that the teacher had to impart or train, is still the ideal one for such students. Our best musicians and dancers, even today, are the products of this system. Even such of the painters and sculptors who have made a name and are outstanding artists in India are those who had undergone an intense course of training under a master. A hundred per cent gurukula training may not be possible in the present-day life in India but it may be possible to devise and bring into being a method of education in which some of the salient features of the old system may be incorporated without much violence to existing conditions. The psychic nature of the fine arts is such that it requires special environment, association and instruction. Modern conditions of life and modern modes of living, with all their attendant craze for rush, hurry, speed and superficiality, are obstacles in the way of reintroducing this old system. Nevertheless, the experiment is worth trying.
A central institute under the direction of three or four master artists may be started in some ideal location to which such art students as have the burning desire to become great creative artists—and not merely research or post-graduate students—may go there to realise their dreams or fulfil their ambitions. This experimental institute may be centrally administered and treated entirely on a different footing, with less rules, time-tables and red-tape. The scheme of instruction should be on the direct teacher-pupil method, as it was in Santiniketan in recent times, and utmost freedom should prevail. Sufficient inducement should be offered to deserving masters in the arts of painting and sculpture to take up the teachers’ place in that centre; and liberal scholarships be offered to deserving students. A representative collection of paintings, sculptures and art books must be part of the equipment. International artists must be invited to exhibit their works and to exchange ideas with the students; state-aided tours both in India and abroad must be encouraged to broaden the minds and outlook of the artists. Since all arts are one and indivisible, music concerts and dance recitals should be regular seasonal features. There should be facilities for designing all kinds of handicrafts and a small museum for their display.
For the master-craftsmen referred to earlier, who are the descendants of those who gave to the world such master-pieces of art as Ellora, Konarak, Khajuraho and Mahabalipuram, some kind of the old guild system must be revived consistent with modem conditions. Failing that opportunities and encouragement must be forthcoming for their betterment. It cannot be questioned that they are a great national asset, especially in view of the big schemes of building decorations contemplated by the Central and the State Governments, and their legitimate rights as artists must be respected and further facilities be offered to them. They have been neglected too long and their worth not sufficiently appreciated till now.
To sum up them: Artists may broadly be divided into three groups: (I) Born artists or geniuses, with creative imagination and aesthetic sensibility; (2) average students of art, qualifying themselves for a career as commercial artists or art masters; (3) master-craftsmen trained in the tradition style.
For the first group, a modern version of Gurukula type education, a few talented pupils studying directly under the master and sharing his life and knowledge intimately, will be an ideal one. An experimental institute based on this system is worth trying. There must be a definite departure and complete breaking away from the ideas of ordinary academic institutions.
For the second group, the present art schools, with certain vital changes in the syllabuses and curriculum, will be sufficient. A post-graduate course for research and original work may be started in all the Government art schools, to which diploma and degree holders from the Universities may also be admitted. Exchange of art masters may be tried and periodical tours of art students to all the famous architectural monuments and museums may be encouraged. Cheap art books and art pictures must be made available to them. Travelling exhibitions of not only Indian art but of the arts of the world will be of great benefit in enlarging their minds and opening their eyes to the beauty of arts other than their own. All these must be State-sponsored and State-aided.
For the third group, an attempt should be made to revive the old guild system, and if that is not possible or feasible, more of these master-craftsmen should be absorbed into art schools for training art students in various crafts and more of them must be employed by the State for decorating public buildings. They must be supplied with fresh designs and given new ideas for bettering their crafts. They should, in my opinion, be treated in the same way, and be provided with facilities, as the artists in groups one and two. The economic well-being of the craftsmen is as essential for the future of art in India as the economic well-being of the educated artists. In fact, the present gulf between the two must soon be bridged if we have to achieve anything worth achieving in the future. Not only the social values of the arts must be emphasised in education and art institutions but the spiritual aspect of art must be restored, first, by education and artist to be a useful citizen, and secondly, by raising his moral stature through a new system of education based on human values and not material gains.