Art for whose sake?

I have always wondered…

If art is just a medium of expression?

If it is a way to connect or of connecting? 

And is art only for art’s sake?

Riddled with these questions I began penning down my understanding of art…

When early humans went out hunting and came back wanting to share their experience, they started drawing on the walls of caves. Thus came to be the earliest form of art, cave paintings. This was their way of connecting with nature, animals, and plants around them. Then slowly as time went by, humans discovered agriculture and domesticated animals and river valley civilizations were born. Along with these developments, art too started to become more elaborate and complex; though still continuing to focus on human’s interconnectedness with the elements, the land, the gods, the kings and the animals. As civilizations became more and more industrialized and living became mechanized, art too took a turn. 

On the other hand, folk and tribal arts continued to have a distinctive cultural and traditional identity. They are simple, colourful, vibrant and speak volumes about a country’s rich culture and heritage. The artists used earth or natural and traditional motifs as designs. Here too, the connect with the soil is very evident and alive. 

The art that we see and experience in contemporary times has come a long way from the cave paintings and the folk and tribal arts. Now it represents a niche that has started getting more unique, more individualistic, perfection oriented and not inclusive. Very often, we see it become a tool to be used primarily for consumerist needs.

So where did we as a civilization lose the connection with nature and become alienated from the source of all creativity?

How do we re connect with mother earth through this medium?

Art has always been a connector for me. Art practiced for art’s sake may or may not be sustainable. We seemed to be living out the story of separation. Through the practice of art connections can be made, people can be sensitized and grounded.

The principles of Ecological art are as follows:

  • interrelatedness in our environment
  • create works using natural materials
  • reclaim, restore damaged environments
  • revise ecological relationships, proposing possibilities for co existence, sustainability and healing.

These principles have touched and made sense to me, they have often been inspirations that I have taken to my art classes.

In the field of education, art has largely been seen as an extra-curricular activity. I wonder why art cannot be a part of the curriculum and not apart. Why cannot it be used as a medium to teach different subjects? In my experience as an art facilitator, I have always struggled with these questions, finding answers to some of the questions sometimes and letting go at times if I have been unable to.

 I believe Rainer Maria Rilke when he says,

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves……… Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Some of the experiences and experiments that have given me a  sense of satisfaction have been as follows

During one of the celebrations in the Primary section, we had introduced Tagore; the child, the poet, the artist and his idea of Shantiniketan to the children. One might feel, Tagore introduced to children aged 6 to 9! However, we were in for a surprise. They not only took to the idea, but also ran with it. The unintended consequence, if I may say so, was children who otherwise found it difficult to sit down and concentrate on work, sitting for hours together making Alpona¹ and bead jewelry, stringing stories and anecdotes, singing and dancing away.

Another instance where the high school students were introduced to an exercise, where they had to cut out a frame from a cardboard and go around the campus looking through it. This was a simple exercise that helped them look at the space around them, build perspectives and perceptions. It also enabled them to connect and be sensitized to the space around.

Earth Art, is an exercise which has always amazed me. When introduced to the children for the first time, they would be confused and would seek clarity. However, by and by, they developed a keen sense of observation picking up things which are in and around like seeds, twigs, leaves etc. to use for their art work.  Through this they explored colours, textures, shapes and sizes and got in touch with nature’s principle of diversity. Along with this, another exercise was of making colours using natural materials. What fascinated me was children discovering for themselves that art can be created with very little resources. And one just needs to train the eyes to look and spot natural material available in and around us.

In a project that I was involved in at school( Prakriya), the staff and students together built Pintoo Python, the garden seater, in the sand pit area. The story of Pintoo Python is based on the theme of inclusion, respecting and accepting earth’s diversity. After the narration of the story, the garden seater was created using leftover material from the school building. 

All these aspects of art when introduced at an early age allow children and young adults to touch a deep chord within and enable them to tune in to nature. When nature becomes a medium for art exploration the experience becomes joyous for children and the facilitator. It enables them to feel  grounded and explore creativity with a deeper sense of connectedness. The wish and hope as a facilitator is that the students would dip into these experiences and explorations and look at art not only for art sake!

It seems apt to end with a quote by Rabindranath Tagore

“Art awakens a sense of real by establishing an intimate relationship between our inner being and the universe at large, bringing us a consciousness of deep joy.”

¹Alpona: Colourful motifs or paintings done by hand using rice flour to decorate in Bengal. The word is derived from Sanskrit ALIMPANA, which means to plaster or to coat with.

Ishita Bose Sarkar


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