Tradition and Modernity In Indian Arts During the Twentieth Century

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Item Code: NAC936
Author: Neelima Vashishtha
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9788173053900
Pages: 243 (Full B/W & Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.0 Inch X 8.5 Inch
Weight 1.16 kg
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Book Description
From the Jacket

The present monograph tradition and modernity in Indian arts is an exhaustive study of the concepts of traditions and modernism in visual arts of paintings and sculpture. It tries to unveil the untouched and lesser known facets of Indian artistic tradition during the first half of the twentieth century. The author has discussed the efforts of groups of thinkers social workers and artists for the search of identity and idiom of Indian artistic tradition and its transformation into modern. The work starts with the hypothesis that tradition and modernity are not opposed to each other but parts of a continuous process. It explodes the general view that Indian artistic tradition was lost before the advent of British education. The emergence of Bengal school and its attaining the status of a national modern school of painting has been illustrated with supportive arguments. This work highlights the role of the pupils of Abanindranath and Nandalal bose as promoters and transformers of Indian tradition into modern throughout India. It also succinctly deals with the interaction of these artists with other arts centres at Bombay, Delhi and Madras. The common thread between them was that artists at all centres resisted intervention of the British Government in art education. Some of the centres were inclined to adhere to tradition. Others opposed it in the beginning but after experimentation in Western Idiom of art reverted to their roots and enriched Indian tradition by assimilating in it the western techniques of art.

The book presents a comprehensive picture of the status and developments in painting and sculpture and other graphic arts in India during the first half of the twentieth century. It contains 79 colored illustrations and 28 black and white figure.

About the Author

Dr. Neelima Vashishtha is M.A. in Sanskrit and also drawing and painting. She worked as a Tagore Fellow on Sculptural traditions of Rajasthan and obtained her Ph.D. on this subject from the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, She Served as Associate Prof. in the faculty of fine arts university of Rajasthan Jaipur.

Dr. Vashishtha has specialized in Art History and Aesthetics and has chosen Rajasthan as a part of her wider studies on Indian art history. She worked on Representation of Ramayana themes in Visual arts of Rajasthan as senior Research fellow, ICHR, New Delhi and also on tradition and modernity in Indian arts during the twentieth century as Fellow Indian institute of advanced study, Shimla. She has five publications to her credit. Her work entitled sculptural traditions of Rajasthan ca.800-1000 AD has been acclaimed in the academic circles besides she has published a large and has also participated in Several national and international seminars.


The Modem Indian Arts during the twentieth century are an amalgam of tradition and modem trends, which is reflected in the fabric of visual arts of painting and sculpture. The present monograph attempts to study different threads of Indian arts during the first half of the twentieth century. The misconceptions of the European art-historians regarding Indian art during the middle of the last century had motivated many scholars, indologists, art-historians and Sanskrit’s to interpret the meaning of Indian images, illustrating the idea behind the image and its metaphysical significance. This had resulted in a number of studies on architecture, sculpture and painting. Indian art of ancient and medieval periods had remained religious in its content; its meaning was traced to the epics, Puranas and other religious, literary and shilpa texts, as literature, religion and fine arts have been inter-related in India since its beginning. Consequently, a clear picture of artistic activity of Indian art became possible for the world of art lovers; and the beauty and grandeur of wall and miniature painting traditions not only of India but also of the Far East and Persia have been enriched and re-established among the art traditions of the world as well as in the eyes of critics of Indian art.

The same thought had been troubling the author of this monograph, and inspired her to select this subject for the present study. The misapprehensions regarding the concept of modernity as opposed to traditional arts, the impact of social and political upheavals, rejuvenation of the tradition of wall and miniature painting styles and their aesthetic qualities; the origin and growth of modernism in Indian arts at different centres in India and the encounter with the movements of art in Europe were some of the issues, which have not received academic and objective attention of the scholars. For instance, modem Indian art has still been studied by the scholars in the light of developments in Europe; and the trends of European modem art contra tradition are imposed on Indian modern art, which had resulted in neglect of Indian traditional styles. It has en argued by the scholars that the modern painting has evolved through emulating and transplanting the modern styles evolved by European artists. Consequently, the art-historians have overloaded Indian modern art with labels of impressionism, cubism, surrealism and expressionism and analyzed it comparing to European artists and rejecting the art works where these similarities are not present. It indicated intellectual indebtedness, or over-awe for the Western artistic tradition. Every artistic tradition develops independently in its own social environment and reflects the contemporaneity with time and space. This inherent characteristic entitles the artistic tradition to be judged according to its own social, religious and intellectual factors.

The artistic tradition can be compared to a plant growing in the soil and climate, having roots in the soil of the land. Likewise, the Indian artistic tradition which has grown on the Indian soil will have the fragrance of this land, and must be interpreted from the Indian point of view; the similes, metaphors, symbols and imageries represented in painting and sculpture have been embedded in the Indian psyche and could be rightly interpreted through Indian aesthetic theory, contemporary literature and social environment. The theory of Rasa and Dhvani have been formulated on the basis of human emotions, hence possess the potential to interpret all arts till the arts remain related to human emotions. Moreover, interpreting visual arts through verbal medium places a hurdle in the process of aesthetic experience, by substituting European terminology one more obstacle is introduced which makes the meaning beyond comprehension. An attempt has been made to analyze the artistic modern trends according to Indian ethos and principles of art.

The present monograph attempts to dissipate the fallacies and misreading of the developing modem trends in Indian art, regarding the controversy of tradition and modernity, as opposed to each other and to establish the modem Indian arts in its true sense. Moreover, a total picture of Indian arts during the first half of the twentieth century is being presented in this monograph. The analysis of different facets of art, the regional variations, the parallel human reactions to overcome disasters to the struggle for freedom, common urge for the search of identity, self- reliance of artists through adoption of folk arts, social responsiveness and experimentation to evolve new forms and techniques as an answer to contemporary society, have been attempted with a view to place Indian modernism in its veritable sense, as a further development of Indian artistic tradition.

The subject of the monograph had emerged during discussions on modem Indian art. It was always felt that art-historians have not considered this theme in the broader perspective of Indian cultural renaissance and emergence of modern idiom of Indian art and its growth. There have been numerous attempts by the art-historians and critics to analyze regional trends centering around different centres of art, such as, Bengal, Bombay, and Baroda or on different art forms such as folk arts, painting, and sculpture. A third course was attempted by the Lalit Kala Akademi in the form of publishing monographs on artists of distinction or by organizing retrospective exhibitions and publishing catalogues and devoting special volumes on the work of individual artists.

Some attempts have been made in the last decade of the twentieth century to document the currents of modem Indian art with visual illustrations, but suffer from partial or regional view and do not present a comprehensive picture of India. They either emphasize on the developments at Bombay or at Bengal or emphasize some European trends such as cubism or expressionism. The attempt to present a comprehensive view is that of Neville Tuli, entitled, The Flamed Mosaic — Indian Contemporary Painting (1997). He has concentrated on paintings, sculptures and information collected through interviews of artists to make generalizations but has ignored many regions and regional developments in art. He has mainly taken artists from Bombay and Bengal. Similarly, Geeta Kapur’s Contemporary Indian Artists and When was Modernism are selective and suffer from lack of holistic and comprehensive approach. It appears that artists and centres of art have been selected after forming a fixed notion of progressivism and the trends which do not fit in that framework have been left out. The works of Yashodhara Dalmia and Tapti Rani Guha Thakurta present partial view but an objective documentation of the area of their study.

These efforts do not help to form a comprehensive picture of the Indian artistic tradition in the twentieth century, though they do form a part of that whole and provide indispensable material for such a project to be achieved successfully.

The twentieth century in India could be divided in two equal distinct units both historically and also in cultural and political trends. The colonial rule ended in 1948 and the agony of partition took its time to settle overtly by 1950 with the declaration of India as Sovereign Republic. Therefore, the first half of the century is characterized by mainly the national freedom struggle, self-reliance, cultural renaissance, freedom and social responsiveness in art. While the second half is synonymous with internal wars, and struggles for individual rights of freedom and equal opportunity; wars against poverty, illiteracy, exploitation, corruption and terrorism on the one hand and globalization, non-alignment and interaction with other cultures on the other. The two units of the twentieth century have produced different trends in the visual art which could not be pursued in the limited scope of this monograph. Therefore, the study has been confined only to the first fifty years of the twentieth century.

The art of first fifty years is different in nature from the later half. The first half presents a preparation and search for the identity of Indian art as it had remained stagnant after Mughal period. The efforts of the artists were directed towards reclaiming the artistic past, extension of the new evolved language and experimentation in the elements of painting, extending its area to folk, tribal and unconscious, underscoring social responsiveness and communication as values of art. This transformation into modern art is in itself a mélange of indigenous, traditional and European modes of expression. From the Tagores and Nandalal Bose to M.F. Hussain and Paniker, there is a little of both the orient and the occident. The proportion of the two has been pendulous in varying degrees in painting and sculpture. Though it appears to have many small waves in the river when perceived in the context of the whole nation, but the river of tradition continues to flow forward.

I am extremely grateful to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla for providing inspiring and peaceful ambience and freedom to work, to its Library for all academic facilities, and to the staff who is ungrudgingly ready to help and, above all, to the librarian for providing me with the latest publications related to my subject whenever it was required by me. I place on record my sincere thanks to the administrative staff of IIAS for offering help during the term of fellowship to carry out my research work.

My gratitude is also due to other libraries and institutions for rendering help and providing all facilities for research. I wish to record here the names of Lalite Kala Akademi Delhi. National gallery of Modern Art, Delhi Konnemara Public Library and government Museum Chennai College of Fine Arts Chennai; Rabindra Bhavan archives and kala Bhavana, Visva Bharat Satiniketan Bharat Kala Bhavan B.H.U Varanasi the Hansa Mehta library and faculty of fine art, M.S. University Vadodara and Library of L.D. Institute Ahemdabad. Without their whole hearted help in proving the source material it would not have been possible for me to complete the project.


Abbreviations xi
List of Illustrations xiii
1Tradition and Modernity in Indian Arts 1
2Formative factors for the Revival of arts 19
3Search for identity 44
4Satellites of Bengal School 99
5Experimentation vis-avis tradition 127
6Development of Indian Modernism 168
Bibliography 207
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