Art: the basis of



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Prelude

This book is based on my fifteen years of practical experience of Child Art at the educational institute of Mahatma Gandhi's ashram, Sevagram, as Art Instructor and the Head of Kalabhawan, within the framework of Nayee Talim, Gandhi's scheme for educational reconstruction of India. Published in 1959, its title was Bacchon Ki Kala Aur Shiksha.


In 1962 I was invited to work as Secretary General of War Resisters' International, with headquarters in London. During the years of my work with the pacifist movement, first as Secretary General, and then Chairperson and later, other positions in the International, I had no time to continue my art work. I was too preoccupied with peace activities even to write on art education. However, occasionally I gave talks on the relevance of the intrinsic relationship between creativity and peace at every level of human existence. During my days at Sevagram I had known that enduring peace of an individual, both in social and political matters, can be achieved only through an education which made the individual predisposed to peace; as Maria Montessori said: "If at some time the child were to receive proper consideration and his immense possibilities were to be developed, then a Man might arise for whom there would be no need of encouragement to disarmament and resistance to war because his nature would be such that he would not endure the state of degradation and of extreme moral corruption which makes possible any participation in war."1
Although it would not be totally correct on my part to say it, during those years I 'did forget about the book, almost completely. Nevertheless, I always had a feeling that it occupied a corner in that part of my memory which stored things that were not required for the time being but were nevertheless important. That made me keep my eyes and mind open to the developments in the field of art and education taking place in the West during the period of more than two decades of my stay there.
I returned to India for good at the very end of 1983. After a few months, or maybe a year, a very dear friend gave me a photocopy of a clipping from a Hindi magazine of an article with the title "To Be Forgotten!" It was written by Professor Krishna Kumar of the University of Delhi. I quote: "...A few days ago I found Devi Prasad's book Child Art and Education by purely a welcome accident... Written by an accomplished artist and art teacher on the basis of his personal experience in the Sevagram educational institute, having a deeply experimental orientation, it is undoubtedly a classic in the field of education. Classics are those which remain always available on account of their permanent importance... This book does not appear even in the catalogue of its publishers. Having been written in a language in which books do not receive their due respect, it has been forgotten.."2
The article reminded me of a suggestion that had been occasionally made by several friends and colleagues. The suggestion was that I should try to publish in English, so that it would be available to many more people. I also remembered that after a couple of years of its publication in 1960-61 was told by a German friend that a group of teachers in Hamburg had been studying the book with the help of someone there who knew Hindi well enough to assist the group is going through it in detail. I was told that the group had "found it very useful".
When I visited Hamburg in the early sixties, I met this group. They too made the same suggestion. At that time, I was not in a position to take up the task. When I returned to India and read Prof Krishna Kumar's article I felt that I should act on the suggestion and write the book in the English language. Some other friends too encouraged me to make the effort.
The first thought that came to my mind was that I would go through the book carefully and thoroughly assess its relevance before starting to work on it. I had to be sure that its publication made sense in the contemporary educational scenario. Secondly, it was necessary to find out if there was a need to add some new material or take out what was not relevant any more. I went through the book three times and found that, by and large, the approach, analysis and contents of the book were as relevant today as they were 38 years ago. The thesis on which the book was based was crucial for the reconstruction of most of the educational systems nearly everywhere in the world.
Before I began working on it I had thought that a straightforward translation would do the job. But as soon as I started the work I faced some problems. The question of language was the most important one. Having been written for the Hindi speaking world, it had its own stylistic character. Hence, the idea of straightforward translation was totally other friends too encouraged me to make the effort ruled out. The book had to be, in fact, "rewritten" in English.
The second problem was presented by what was supposed to be a new approach that was developing in the West. It seemed to be based on the realization that allowing children to express themselves freely, with as little interference as possible, was not educationally sound. This approach suggested that what people like Franz Cizek and many educationists had experienced and were advocating—creating an atmosphere in the school as well as in the family in

which the child could express his feelings, experiences, and dreams with freedom and without inhibitions for the fuller development of the child's personality—was wrong. The argument was that the child must be taught the right things from his very early years.


Of course, I did not mean that the child has to be left entirely to his own resources. The principles of dealing with child art demand much more from the teacher (and parents) than merely teaching how to execute a certain job. The responsibility of the teacher is much greater in a situation where genuine freedom from fear and inhibitions is allowed to the child who is encouraged to express himself through the languages which are more effective than the language of words, particularly at that stage of the life of an individual. Educators should know that even at the later stages of life there are several feelings and experiences which can be expressed only through these languages of form and sound.
There are occasions when the child needs support and assurance. Only a teacher who knows about the needs of childhood and has love and respect for children, can give the desired guidance for the fullest possible growth of their personality. The teacher who wants the child to grow quickly into adulthood and feels the pressure to teaching the right things, becomes a hindrance to healthy growth. In the process of rewriting the book I had to put due emphasis on these aspects of art education.
During the past few decades much effort has been made to encourage children to do art work. In many countries, exhibitions of children's art work are being organized and prizes for the best works are distributed to child-artists. Literature on children's art and its teaching is being regularly published in good quantity. Most schools in the Western countries have art sections for the teaching of art to children. Evidently, it is a good development in the field of child education. However, it has created a misleading notion, i.e., that the educational world has gone in the correct and desired direction by introducing art activities as one of the subjects in the school curriculum, and that what people like Franz Cizek and Rabindranath Tagore had asked for has been achieved. In other words, the notion is that art is now playing its due role in the growth of the child's personality.
I have no doubt that the introduction of art activities has provided some joy in the school life of many children. But is that all that was behind the proposals made by educational thinkers like Herbert Read, who, in the forties, were anxious to see art playing its role in the development of the child's (and the adolescent's) personality in its fullest and healthiest manner? Did they not ask for a complete rethinking of the educational practices that had developed in the industrial society?
During my recent visit to Britain I met some people who felt that art is already playing its expected role and that it has brought good results. According to many of them there is not much that needs to be done to promote the philosophy -which advocates art and creativity to be the basis of educational planning. At the same time, I also met some teachers who were serious about art being more than just a source of entertainment for the child. I had some discussions on the thesis I am advocating in this book with a small group of teachers, who also looked at the typescript of the book which I had carried with me. Later, someone who had been listening to our conversations told me that the teachers were thrilled with our discussions and the contents of the typescript. They felt that there was definitely an urgent need for such literature. I was encouraged on learning their response, especially because I felt assured that motivated and informed teachers were looking forward to guidance, both theoretical as well as practical, to transform art education into something that should help the child to become a well fulfilled individual predisposed to peaceful living, as Maria Montessori had indicated in her message to the International Congress Against War and Militarism.
Another issue was related to the question of gender. Until I reached nearly halfway through the writing I was using the expression his or her and he or she. I am generally conscious about the sexist nature of the language I am using. Writing in Hindi, this was not much of a problem, but it sounded ridiculous when I read through the rough English text. The expressions he or she, and his or her was so repeatedly used that it hurt the ears. Therefore I decided to use only he or his wherever necessary, and hoped that readers, rightly against sexism in language, will not mind my inconsistancies.
Although the preface written for the original version was adequate in itself, I felt it necessary to write an additional preface for this edition. It was particularly necessary to justify my response to the demand to rewrite the book. I hope it will help teachers and parents in understanding the need of their children to be able to express themselves more fully and enjoy and benefit from art activities as the most effective way to the road to peace and fulfilment.
Some of my friends have been very helpful in reading and editing the manuscript. Usha Chadda, herself an educator and Akash Dharamraj, psychotherapist, did the preliminary editing, Usha Abrol, Regional Director, NIPCCD Bangalore read a few chapters at the beginning and gave very helpful suggestions and my wife Bindu Prasad, special educationist and clinical psychologist, was consistently looking into the manuscript. I am indeed very grateful to them for their valuable assistance. I am also thankful to my son Sunand Prasad for his valuable help in preparing the typescript of the book from the floppy/ disk I had prepared on computer.
April 13, 1997 DEVI PRASAD


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