Wednesday, May 21, 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?

Art institutes in India have always followed rather than lead the art movements in India. At a time when artists like Abanindranath Tagore and Nandlal Bose were trying to find a nationalistic Indian idiom of art, the Government College of Art and Craft in Calcutta offered no courses in such matters. The emphasis at the college was on teaching students the basics of realistic oil works. The JJ School of art, which was established in 1857 (the year of India’s first revolt for independence) had also not incorporated any course on Indian Art.
Ramkinker Baij (left) one of India's best known enfant terrible had almost no formal training.

Most of the doyens of those days had expressed how stifled they felt in the art- colleges. This includes Ramkinker Baij, perhaps the most avant-garde of artists of the Bengal School. Baij never completed his training at Kalabhavan and decided to chart his own course independently outside the influence of art institutes. Like him, some of India’s best known names had almost no training from art-schools. This include Ravindranath Tagore, Amrita Shergil and Gaganendranath Tagore.

The situation hardly improved in the post independence era. Artists like Akbar Padamsee who had studied art at Bombay’s JJ School of Art had went on record stating that they learnt nothing there. Francis Newton Souza had left the same School in the first year rebelling against the mediocrity of the faculty and decided to practice art on his own. MF Hussain also never went to any art-school. Yet these artists are today the best known Contemporary Indian artists.

The problem with Indian art colleges or institutes is that they are mostly run by bureaucrats with almost no knowledge of art, inclination or motivation. And panel of artists are chosen not on the basis of qualities but on the strength of their lobbying powers with the bureaucrats. The system in the west is much different where art-institutes work autonomously, often enjoying freedom to introduce new courses and ideas in training.
Amrita Shergill, Rabindranath Tagore, Francis Newton Souza, Maqbool Fida Hussain. Is it not interesting that the best of Indian art came from such artists who never went to any art school.
Another problem is that in India most art colleges are detached from other courses. Thus a student of art cannot take subjects of economics, or physics for study and similarly students who are doing Bachelor’s courses in others subjects cannot take a course in art. In USA art-colleges are part of regular education academies and art students get the opportunity to get exposed to ideas from various fields.

Bose Krishnamachri's new style of art

In the post-liberalization Indian art, we are seeing the influence of digital imaging in the art of Chintan Upadhyay, or optical illusions in the art of Bose Krishnamachari, or the ideas taken from the field of geopolitics in the art of Devajyoti Ray and Atul Dodiya. But these varied ideas are not found in the courses of art colleges. No wonder we find people from fields like economics, medicine and science making better artists these days than students of art colleges.

A concerted effort on the part of the academicians, artists and administrators is required to introduce wide based syllabus in the art colleges and to introduce a synergy amongst various subjects and education institutes.