Sunday, May 04, 2008

Are the Art Colleges and institutes in India playing a very active role in the evolution of Indian Art? Has there been any change in their approach to pedagogy since their inceptions in the past 100 years or so? And in the present phase of globalization how far are our art colleges coping with the changes that are taking place in the art world?

Lush green outdoor studio at Kalabhavan, Santiniketan

The Kalabhavan under the Vishwa Bharati at Santiniketan is one of the oldest art colleges in India. It boasts among its alumni such illustrious names as Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy and Ramkinker Baij. At a time when most Indian artists were learning how to reproduce western realistic masterpieces, the faculty of Kalabhavan incorporated Oriental Art forms, Indian Mural traditions and folk art into the curriculum. This was quite revolutionary and Kalbhavan had earned the name of one of the finest art-institutes in Asia. Students form across the world used to come and learn art here. Santiniketan, of which Kalabhavan was a part, was flourishing as an institute of excellence in many other fields like Indian philosophy and Literature. Artists, writers, philosophers all mingled at Santiniketan at that time and influenced each others’ though processes.

The Government College of Art and Crafts, under the Calcutta University was a close rival of Kalabhavan. Established by the British Government, it however did little to promote Indian art forms. Its emphasis was always on producing artists with good painting skills. During the heydays of Bengal School of Art, most notable artists had a scorn for this institute. But in later days, many younger artists moved towards this institute as it was here that skills were taught the best. In the pot-independence period, the college thus emerged as the premium institute of art with such big names to boast as Bikash Bhattacharya, Ganesh Pyne and Paritosh Sen.

Artists from Kalabhavan and Government College had dominated the Indian Art scene for a very long time. They traveled elsewhere and established art schools all over the country. KG Subhrmaniyan, Sankho Choudhuri and some other ex-students of Kalabhavan had established one such college at Vadodara’s Maharaja Sayaji Rao University. From the very beginning, the college stressed on conceptual matters and less on craftsmanship. The college also allowed great freedom to all its students which was hitherto unknown in British art Schools. In the post-independence period Vadodara produced some of the finest artists outside the influence of the dominant Bengal and Bombay artists. Haku Shah, Himmat Shah, Gulam Mohammad Sheikh and Bhupen Khakar are the best known of Vadodara Artists.

Statute of Sir Jamshedjee Jijibhoy; the founder of JJ School of Art

However in the post-independence era the college that have shown the maximum expansion both in terms of faculties as well as curriculum is the JJ School of Art In Mumbai. Like Vadodara’s Art Faculty it too stressed on free thinking but at the same time, it gave due importance to craftsmanship. This was also the first college to have introduced newer modes of art into its regular syllabus. With a thriving commercial art section, the students get exposed to all new additions to technology. Many of India’s best modern day talents like Sayyad Haider Raza and Tyeb Mehta had once been students of this great institute.

The question is how have these colleges adapted to the changes of our times. Are they poised enough to take on the newer challenges and thereby fulfill the needs of today’s students? We will analyze in the next issue.