Sunday, May 14, 2006

Role of Indian aesthetics in contemporary art

Most galleries in New York and London are filled with art that is quite neurotic
It almost seems that fine art has been appropriated by the socially disaffected
Best Of Both Worlds By SHAKTI MAIRA 13 May 2006
These are times when cultural boundaries are becoming increasingly porous. The movement of goods, information, people and ideas has reached a level that suggests that the global village imagined and predicted in the last century is rapidly forming, though what we are getting is more a global shopping mall with an attached cineplex than a village. In this global culture, though people may live as far apart as New York and New Delhi, their cultural predilections are becoming similar. They watch the same films and television programmes, wear similar clothes, fantasise about the same cars, and think art should be made in the same way and for the same reasons as by the avant-garde artists in London and New York.
In today’s art world, critics and opinion-makers usually look down on anything that is pleasing, beautiful, and not ‘concept’ art. In fact the word ‘aesthetic’ has become a negative, and in the West, contemporary Indian art has been considered less evolved because it is seen as being stuck in trying to be beautiful and pleasing. This raises some questions. Should we accept what art has been made into in the West, and change our art and make it less beautiful? Is it true that all art that is beautiful is underdeveloped?
Most galleries in New York and London are filled with art that is quite neurotic. It almost seems that fine art has been appropriated by the socially disaffected. Surely there is more to life, and, therefore, for art to express than only rejection, anger and neurosis. What about pleasure, love, kindness, joy, peace, balance, and qualities of compassion and transcendence? In the world of art there seems to be a tension, even a schism, between those who believe art must focus on social transformation and those who believe art has a vital role to help people make contact with inner realities — to even momentarily experience the transformation of deeper consciousness. The latter was the central purpose of art in Indian aesthetics.
Both these voices in art are valid and each has its place as a ‘transformer’. Through art we need consciousness-raising on social issues, and we also need the consciousnessraising that leads to a realisation of our inner potentiality for ananda. We need both the art of protest and the art of joy. It is becoming apparent that the emerging global culture and its art is the product, not of the intertwining and melding of the best of different cultures, but of the domination of a particular culture that has its roots in the history of a few European countries and the US. The dominant forms of art in the West are the result of a set of ideas, concepts, values and beliefs that are neither rooted nor always relevant in India.
Art in India was never underdeveloped. It has strong roots that stretch back into the Stone Age that are still alive. Rich traditions formed in all the visual arts. In sculpture there was an immense outpouring across India that started in Mathura and Gandhara schools between 3rd century BC and 2nd century AD. In painting, there were the frescoes of Ajanta and paintings of the western and eastern schools of illumination, and later, Rajput and Mughal miniatures. In all these arts there was a continuity and also graceful change caused by earlier forms of globalisation that occurred through trade, explorers and settlers until British colonisation, when Indian art suffered a major discontinuity in its purpose and practice and a diminishment of respect of its ethos.
Attempts to shed the colonial burden and re-establish continuity found expression in the Bengal School and during the early post-Independence years. Energetic artists consciously made art that was neither revivalist nor purely western, though often influenced by western art movements. Now, with the increasing pulls and pressures of globalisation, there is concern for the shape that Indian art will take. The choice we must make is to develop our own art by reconnecting with, and seeking nourishment from, our aesthetic philosophy and not imitate current western art and aesthetics for three reasons.
  • First, all is not well with the arts in the West. They have largely become an elite specialisation. These societies have been emptied of art in daily living and the art being made is largely narrow and conceptual.
  • Second, the need to bring beauty and the aesthetic values of balance, rhythm, harmony and proportionality into art and all aspects of everyday life such as economics, education, city planning, architecture and product design.
  • Third, India’s aesthetic traditions offer an important transformational vision and purpose for art, something we can bring to the emerging global cultural banquet.

In this, there is an exciting possibility for a new integrative art movement which drops the dualistic paradigms of tradition versus modernity, East versus West, mind versus body. This would be a contemporary art that is neither leaping blindly towards the new, nor lazily leaning back towards the old, but is centred in the eternal. It would be a radical departure from the current art ideologies, and equally relevant in New Delhi and New York, London and Lagos, Tokyo and Tehran, Moscow and Mombassa, Beijing and Baghdad, and everywhere in between. The writer is an artist and author of a book on aesthetics.

1 comment:

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