The artist is not a special kind of man but every man is a special kind of artist1 I had my primary education in a school which was a typical example of one of the most anti-education educational systems created by colonial rule in nineteenth century India. The most vivid memory I have of that period is that for some reason or another, or perhaps for no reason at all, our teachers never hesitated to give us corporal punishment, which made us hate the school. There was nothing in the school that could create in us an interest in any subject or activity. I do not remember enjoying even a moment of my time in it. Later I was moved to the primary section of an intermediate college founded on the Aryasamaj ideals. Luckily this school had a carpentry class as an extracurricular activity.
The family moved to a new house situated in open and better surroundings. The new place was partly renovated before we moved in and partly afterwards. I was almost nine at the time and was fascinated by the work the craftsmen were doing. Both the head mason and the carpenter, were very good craftsmen and tolerant people. They did not mind my sitting and watching them work and meddling with their tools. This experience was enough for me to take an interest in carpentry at school. So much so, that I gradually collected enough tools of my own, bought with my pocket money, to be able to make things for the house. I also became interested in keeping the wood work of the house especially the doors and windows—clean and well painted. Later I even became interested in drawing and painting, a subject which
I took for my college education after finishing school.
In spite of a boring, nay hateful, primary education I think I had a more or less happy childhood although I was not conscious of it at the time. It only became clear to me, during my student days in the art college at Santiniketan, when I saw the happy faces of the ashram school-children and later when I did my teaching/research work as a part of the educational scheme initiated and guided by Gandhiji in Sevagram. I realized that if during my childhood I had not had the opportunity to "meddle" with the tools and the raw materials of the craftsmen who renovated our house, I would not have developed the taste for "making things"! Without this experience would I have understood children's nature, as I think I did in later life, I often wonder!
The principles of education worked out by Tagore had totally rejected the notion and practice of teaching based on textbooks. For Tagore, education was a process of learning rather than a mechanical method of thrusting information into, what are supposed to be, the empty minds of children and adults. According to Tagore, the best textbook is life itself, and nature, of which we are an integral part; so also our cultural heritage and its significance in the ongoing processes of our lives. To put it in a nutshell, there are three centres of education: mother-tongue, nature and creative activities. The system of education the colonial rulers had developed in India not only ignored these elements, it totally ruled out their place in the processes of education at all levels.
Looking at the lives and expressions of the children of the Sishu-Vibhag (pre-school) and Patha-Bhawan (primary school) of Santiniketan, and spending some time with them, I understood that the school can and must be a place of joy and creativity. My art education in Kalabhawan (art college) under Acharya Nandalal Bose and Acharya Binod Behari Mukherjee enhanced my understanding of this truth. That was the inspiration and strength behind my experiments with child-art in the Sevagram educational institute.
I was fairly well aware of Gandhi's ideas on art. He was closer to Tolstoy than to Tagore—a bit too puritanical for someone like me, who had experienced life as a young artist in an atmosphere created and nurtured by Tagore. Tagore believed that for a healthy development of personality and human relationships, bread and art are inseparable aspects of life. Tagore and Gandhi were aware of their so-called differences. Yet they were very close to each other on all matters of consequence, the truth of which I continuously realized in my life.
Within a few months of my graduation from Santiniketan I joined the team working for the development of Nayee Talim ("new education" as it was named by Mahatma Gandhi himself in its second and the final stage). Initially I took up the job for six months. It was for the duration of the teachers' training camp organized by Hindustani Talimi Sangh (the organization founded in 1937 for carrying out the Nayee Talim scheme) to start work along the lines of the thinking Gandhiji had come to during his last imprisonment. He was released in early May, 1944. A basic school was already functioning in Sevagram since 1937, when the Gandhian education scheme for children between seven and fourteen years of age was first launched.
This was the beginning of the second phase of Nayee Talim. Explaining his scheme to the Hindustani Talimi Sangh Conference held in Sevagram in January, 1945 Gandhiji said: "Although we have been working for Nayee Talim all these years, we have so far been, as it were, sailing in an inland sea which is comparatively safer. We are now leaving the shores and heading for the open sea. So far, our course was mapped out. We have now before us uncharted waters, with the Pole Star as our only guide and protection. That Pole Star is village handicrafts."
"Our sphere of work now is not confined to Nayee Talim of children from seven to fourteen years: it is to cover the whole of life from the moment of conception to the moment of death... "2 He was very clear that this new line of action was going to take all our energy and dedication. Even as a fresher in the field I had realized almost from the very beginning that it was probably going to be very tough, but it -was the greatest and most revolutionary experiment in educational planning for our country.
It was my good luck that I had my college education in Tagore's Santiniketan. Our two seniormost colleagues E.W. Aryanayakam and Asha Devi Aryanayakam also had been close associates of Tagore. Asha Devi took a keen interest in my experiments and supported me throughout. She also encouraged me to write occasional articles for publication in the institute's official journal Nayee Talim, which, by the way, helped me in working out the plan of this book.
I became convinced that the experiments I was going to conduct should fully incorporate, in a balanced and integrated manner, the educational principles propagated by both Gandhi and Tagore. It may be worth mentioning here that the first syllabus-for teaching art in Basic Education—as Nayee Talim was called —in 1937, was prepared with the help of Acharya Nandalal Bose. It was a take-off point for me, but only a takeoff point.
Although they were inspired by the Gandhian spirit and the spirit of experimenting with the principles of Nayee Talim, most of our colleagues had no clear notions about the place of art in the processes of education. Art to them was some kind of skill or a collection of skills to decorate various aspects of life or painting pictures, making-sculptures, etc. for so-called public education or propaganda, or producing different kinds of functional artefacts. As a "specialist" in the field and one who was trying to discover a much wider role that art could play in the development of the full personality of the child, I had to face various problems, practical as well as theoretical. I was in need of clarity and support at the same time.
I wrote a letter to Gandhiji for guidance. He sent me a written reply in which he mentioned my teacher Nandalal Bose as an artist who "comes very close to my ideal..." In relation to my work he said: "Bread comes first and adornment afterwards. That has always been my belief. But since you are here, do whatever you conveniently can. Learn here what true art is... There is therefore a place for true artists in Nayee Talim..."3 Did Gandhiji give me a long enough rope for carrying on experimentation in my own way? I believe be did, but I do not know for certain. However, I am convinced that he wanted me to do my work in the manner I thought best. This letter was indeed a great encouragement to me and a source of self-confidence. I was able to stand firm on my principles whenever other colleagues failed to understand my approach and work.
As art instructor I considered my task to be of a multifarious nature. It included discussions with teacher trainees on the place of art in education and the role art has in society and the life the individual; children's art of drawing, painting and clay modelling etc., the principles' and methodology of teaching art to children; and teaching the abc of drawing and painting to the teachers themselves. The Ashram school and its primary section in the Sevagram village were ideal places for the trainees to practice teaching. The Ashram school became my laboratory for experimenting with Child Art. Then, of course, there were our own school teachers who needed orientation as well as instruction in relating art as such to the rest of the school subjects and hostel activities. Neither the school teachers nor the trainees had any previous experience in regard to these subjects.
As a matter of principle, Nayee Talim puts the maximum emphasis on the aspect of self-reliance for the individual as well as the community, and on social relationships. As an experiment in education for the whole country, it was eminently clear in our minds that our school should not possess any such equipment or conventional buildings which schools in the six hundred thousand villages of the country could not afford. Instead of considering it a handicap, I used to think of Tagore's thoughts on this question expressed in his essay My School:
"There, are men who think that by the simplicity of living introduced in my school I preach the idealization of poverty which prevailed in the medieval age... But seen from the point of view of education, should we not admit that poverty is the school in which man had his first lessons and his best training? Even a millionaire had to be born hopeless and poor and to begin his lesson of life from the beginning. He has to learn to walk like the poorest of children, though he has means to afford to be without the appendage of legs. Poverty brings us into complete touch with life and the world, for living richly is living mostly by proxy, thus living in a lesser world of reality. This may be good for one's pleasure and pride, but not for one's education. Wealth is a golden cage in which the children of the rich are bred into artificial deadening of their powers. Therefore in my school, much to the disgust of people of expensive habits, I had to provide for this great teacher—this bareness of furniture and materials—not because it is poverty, but because it leads to personal experience of the world..."4 One of the essentials for me was to understand the basic philosophy of Nayee Talim as Mahatma Gandhi meant it to be. Unlike any other educational system or institution, in Nayee Talim, no subject or activity could be considered in isolation, outside the context of the life and environment around. Moreover, for the balanced development of the personality of the child, the growth of the mind and the body should be inter-linked and integrated. To this end, one of the significant aspects of Nayee Talim was its approach to teaching. Most of the subjects related to intellectual growth. For example, arithmetic, history, geography, science, language etc. were correlated with the meaningful manual work that the children and their teachers did for an average of three hours a day. Similarly, all manual-creative work was treated intelligently. This implied reallocation of priorities of the contents of teaching. Hence, the question I had to ask myself was: Could I treat the teaching of art to children in isolation—as a subject totally independent of other subjects or activities?
There was yet another question that forced me to work out a fresh strategy and the way I should plan my work as an art teacher. Was it practically possible to have a special art teacher in every school in each village of the country? The straight forward answer was: No! Moreover, was having a special art teacher in every primary and middle school essential? At the beginning I had no answer to these questions, but it came to me after working for a few years with children. I realized that the teaching of art in Nayee Talim was different from the way it was taught in ordinary, or even so-called progressive schools. It could surely not be like that of art schools, for the aim was not just to teach drawing and painting etc. It was much more than teaching the skills that are associated with arts and crafts as they are understood today.
I had to work out two things in my mind. First, it was necessary to define and clarify what actually was the purpose of art education. Secondly, apart from drawing up a syllabus and the methodology for art teaching, it was important to identify those activities in which art could play its creative role? The Sevagram school was a residential institution, which meant that it provided more opportunities for introducing an aesthetic aspect to the lifestyle of the community.
Very few artists can be teachers, and fewer still can be really good art teachers, particularly for children. Based on my own observation I have found that art teachers—artists trained in art schools—generally speaking, tend to impose their own notions and forms on children. They try to "teach" rather than create the required atmosphere for children to express themselves through line and colour, clay or wood, etc. After years of experience I have come to the conclusion that for children under ten or twelve years of age, a teacher who is not an artist but who understands children, and the beauty and nature of their art, can be a better-art teacher than one who may be a good artist but does not understand the child. A teacher who is able to give proper guidance to children upto the age often or eleven is more likely to be a good teacher of art. So also for children into the beginning of their adolescence.
I have seen teachers who did not possess even the minimum skill of drawing but who had knowledge of child-art, who appreciated and enjoyed it, and who fully identified themselves with the needs of children, being very good art teachers for children. Only such teachers can nurture the creative spirit and artistic talents of children. The point to note here is that at that stage the question of teaching techniques or special skills does not arise. What children need from the teacher is encouragement, proper material, class management and companionship. If such a teacher happens to be a good artist it will surely be an asset, but it is a rare thing to happen. Moreover it is not that essential.
So, one of my objectives was to try to impress upon the class teachers to develop an attitude and perspective which would give them the confidence required to guide children in their art activities also. It would require them to learn the psychogenesis of child art, learn to believe that children's drawings are not just scribblings or splashes of colour, they can be beautiful artistic creations. Moreover, these creations open the window into the world of the child and his inner life to a great extent. By this statement I do not imply that the status of children's art is the same as that of Ajanta. or the Sistine Chapel. Nonetheless, I do mean that it can be real good art and that it should be treated with understanding and respect.
There are two manifestations of art education. One is similar to that of the artist's creations: painting, sculpture, music and dance etc. The second is that which finds expression in all our conscious and unconscious movements and behaviour. Both are essential for making life balanced and creative.
There are some who believe that there should not be a separate provision for artistic expression in the form of painting, sculpture and dance etc. because real art should find its expression in our daily life. It should not have a "superficial" existence. Such a puritanical approach lacks understanding of human nature and of the function of art in life.
Some people consider art a useless activity because it does not always provide enough for a physically comfortable life. They even think that being a useless activity, it should not have any place in education. Nandalal Bose has the following to say about this kind of attitude: "People who say that art does not provide a good livelihood should remember one thing... There are two aspects of art. One gives joy and the other gives money. One is called 'arts' (Charushilpa) and the other 'crafts' (Karushilpa). Charu-shilpa liberates us from the narrowmindedness created by the pains and tensions of day-to-day life. Karushilpa not only makes our life-journey beautiful by making the objects of daily use beautiful by its golden touch; it also gives us our daily bread. Our country is being impoverished by the decline of our crafts...”5 Unfortunately, art has been divorced from our daily lives. It no longer makes any impact on our inner life. Even in the lives of artists themselves, one hardly sees any harmony between their creations, personalities and lifestyles. It seems that an artist's art activity and private life have nothing to do with each other. Art is becoming an object of luxury for the rich and the indulgent. It is probably for that reason that some social revolutionaries do not consider art as an essential part of life. In fact, some even think of it as undesirable. They do not realize that the dislocation that has occurred in human unity is to a great extent due to the fact that the absence of art experiences has resulted in unfulfilled lives.
According to Indian philosophy, the artist was considered a yogi, as Coomaraswamy wrote in The Dance of Shiva: "... important part once played in Indian thought by the concept of Art as Yoga... It will be remembered that the purpose of Yoga is mental concentration, carried so far as the overlooking of all distinction between the subject and the object of contemplation; means or achieving harmony or unity of consciousness. "6 Some educators do give a place to art education in their educational systems, not because they think that art is one of the important sources of joy and fulfilment in life but because they consider it to be a leisure-time activity, a hobby. According to them most of the active time of the individual should be spent in "useful" pursuits and the rest in other activities. One needs some relaxation after working on useful matters. Such relaxation should be obtained by taking to fine arts. These educators go as far as to say "Without painting, sculpture, music, poetry, and the emotions produced by natural beauty of every kind, life would lose half of its charm."7 For such educators, the aim of art education is to deal with the superficialities of life, nothing more than an ornamentation of the life of drudgery and strain caused by engaging in the "important" pursuits of life. Herbert Spencer continues: "So, far from regarding the training and gratification of the tastes as unimportant, we believe that in time to come they will occupy a much larger share of human life than now. When the forces of Nature have been fully conquered to man's use, when the means of production have been brought to perfection, when labour has been economized to the highest degree, when education has been so systemized that a preparation for the more essential activities may be made with comparative rapidity, and when, consequently, there is a great increase of spare time, then will the beautiful, both in Art and Nature, rightly fill a large space in the minds of all."
Herbert Spencer was a very influential and respected philosopher and educator of 19th century Britain. He pronounced: "Accomplishments, the fine arts, belles-letters, and all those things which, as we say, constitute the efflorescence of civilization be wholly subordinate to that instruction and discipline on which civilization rests. As they occupy the leisure part of life, so should they occupy the leisure part of education"8 This thought, that art and art education are related to leisure, is responsible for making art a dasi (maid-servant) of the rich and the indulgent. It has created a gap between the life of the common citizen and the life of the rich who can afford time and money. Thus the term "cultural activities" was coined. The more leisure time one can afford for such activities, the more cultured he or she is supposed to be.
As a result of separating art education from day-to-day living, life has lost its joy; and to overcome the fatigue caused by "more important work", art has been made into an object of recreation. Instead of remaining a life-giving force, art has become a slave. A slave can provide only physical comfort, it cannot give the sense of inner fulfilment which is an essential part of a well developed personality. Art now is a luxury that only the rich can afford. And it is probably for this reason that many a social and spiritual leader rejects the idea of art being given an important place in life. It is a tragedy that they see it only as an object of indulgence, rather than a way of life in terms of social, aesthetical and spiritual
Herbert Read puts it as follows: "But when, as nowadays, we speak of the problem of leisure, we are not thinking of securing time or opportunity to do something—we have time on our hands, and the problem is how to fill it. Leisure no longer signifies a space with some difficulty secured against the pressure of events, rather it signifies a pervasive emptiness for which we must invent occupations. Leisure is a vacuum, a desperate state of vacancy—a vacancy of mind and body. It has been handed over to the sociologists and the psychologists; to such specialists it is more than a problem. It is disease.
"The existence of most people is divided into two phases, as distinct as day and night. We call them work and play. We work for so many hours a day, and when we have allowed the necessary minimum for such activities as eating and shopping, the rest we spend in various activities which we call recreations, an elegant word which indicates that we do not even play in our hours of leisure, but spend them in various forms of passive enjoyment which we call entertainment—not playing football, but watching football games; not drama, but theatre-going; not walking, but riding in an automobile.
"We have, therefore, not only a hard-and-fast distinction between work and play, but equally hard-and-fast distinction between active play and passive entertainment. It is precisely this decline of active play—of amateur sport—and the enormous growth of purely receptive entertainment that constitutes a sociological problem. If the greater part of the population, instead of indulging in healthy sports, spends its hours of leisure in dark and crowded cinemas, there will inevitably be a decline in health and physique. And in addition, there will be psychological problems, for we have yet to trace the mental and moral consequence of a prolonged diet of sentimental or sensational films." 9 Herbert Read insists: "We have to live art if we could be affected by art. We have to paint rather than look at paintings, to play instruments rather than go to concerts, to dance and sing and act ourselves, engage all our senses in the ritual and discipline of the arts. Then something may begin to happen to us: to work upon our bodies and our souls." 9 We know that science has also been made a slave; it has been used for creating the most destructive kind of weapons of war, which every minute threaten even the survival of life on the earth. It has also provided human kind with all kinds of means of luxury and indulgence, which have resulted in grossly aggravating the inequalities that exist in society, instead of eradicating them. And yet people are not able to be discreet in the management of science. They want education to be totally geared to the physical sciences. Educational institutions long to build the most modern and fully equipped science laboratories; but they consider it extravagant to have a proper art studio which would carry the same prestige as a science laboratory. Such an art studio in a school can give children the experience of joy which only art can.
Human beings start experiencing creativity from a very early stage in life. Unfortunately, the inherent creativity of childhood gradually disappears in later years. Given the social structure and values nurtured by the so-called modern educational system, which ignores the role of art in the development of the personality of the child, his or her natural creativity tends to end with the beginning of adolescence. If that quality in children is to be retained, the educational system that exists today must be totally overhauled, nay, revolutionized.
Gandhi and Tagore had a vision of a liberated human being. That vision can be realized only through an educational approach, based on creativity in which the aim of every activity is the affirmation of the unity within the individual's personality and, at the same time, the unity of all humanity. In other words, art has an essential role to play in the educational process, the aim of which is human unity.
Emphasizing the role art plays in liberating the personality, Herbert Read says: "A child's art, therefore, is its passport to freedom, to the full fruition of all its gifts and talents, to its true and stable happiness in adult life. Art leads the child out of itself. It may begin as a lonely individual activity, as the self-absorbed scribbling of a baby on a piece of paper. But the child scribbles in order to communicate its inner world to a sympathetic spectator, the parent from whom it expects a sympathetic response.
"Too often, alas, it receives only indifference or ridicule. Nothing is more crushing to the infant spirit than a parent's or a teacher's contempt for those creative efforts of expression. That is one aspect of a process which disgraces the whole of our intellectualized civilization and which, in my opinion, is the root cause of our social disintegration. We sow the seeds of disunity in the nursery and the class room, with our superior adult conceit. We divide the intelligence from the sensibility of our children, create split men (schizophrenics, to give them a psychological name), and then discover that we have no social unity."10 We begin our lives with the closest possible unity of mother and child, the foundations of which are emotional love. Tagore wrote about the growth of human unity through the growth of love beginning from the love of the mother and the baby to the love for the immediate family, then to the extended family and ultimately to universal love. If the educational processes are created to aim for the unity of the whole of humankind, the
process will be a gradual one, i.e. the unity of the family should be extended to the school and then by stages to the community and then to life as a whole. But the foundations of this unity are laid in creativity which is the most important aim of art education.
The source of creativity is in nature and we discover it by being creators ourselves; as artists, painters, dancers, carpenters, sculptors etc. We also discover that our creativity manifests itself in its best form when it is carried out in the spirit of togetherness working together and living together, as this too is the pattern of nature.
I soon realized that as teacher, one of the important steps I had to take was to introduce children at an early stage of their education to the play of harmony and rhythm in nature, for these elements penetrate deeply into the mind and take a powerful hold on the fresh and open mind of the child. This realization came to me also because of my Tagorean background. Tagore made a significant distinction between knowing and internalizing.
“We have come to this world to accept it, not merely to know it. We may become
powerful by knowledge, but we attain fullness by sympathy with all existence..." He pleads: "...childhood should be given its full measure of life's full draught, for which it has endless thirst. The young mind should be saturated with the idea that it has been born in a human world which is in harmony with the world around it..." 11 I found art education fulfilling three purposes simultaneously. The first and foremost was the aspect that is so adequately presented in the words have already quoted from Tagore and Read—the aspect of creativity. Secondly, the practical aspect which is related to the forces that direct the development of skills, such as the skill to see, measure or plan. The third, equally important and useful side of art education I found was its diagnostic potential.
I was repeatedly fascinated by the way children's drawings revealed the inside of their mind its joys and its sorrows, its past experiences and its wishful thinking, and much more. Educational psychologists have now realized the potential of art as a tool for diagnostic purposes and also as a therapeutic activity. Art therapy is now becoming an important educational tool. In the hands of the schoolteacher, it can serve as an effective way to plan the child's educational activities.
I was also inspired by descriptions of the Indian educational traditions and philosophy given by scholars, as well as those found in our folklore. In India we did not compartmentalize art and life separately. The main objective of education was the pursuit of knowledge. Pursuit of knowledge did not imply only gathering of, or seeking information. It included wisdom, capacity of discretion, control of the ego, humility, truthfulness, self-dignity, social service, and creative skills. The teacher did not impart only the education of classical subjects but also taught students the practical skills required for living a good life. The teacher and the students lived together and did everything required for survival from collecting firewood for cooking to receiving guests and looking after them in the most hospitable manner.
Education was related to the professional, family and social needs of the students. If it was a kshatriya (warrior class), along with other subject, the art of using weaponry and like political science was also taught. According to the Indian classical tradition, a person was considered well educated only if he was conversant in all the sixty-four arts (seventy-two according to some scriptures) which included almost everything that makes life wholesome and practically and aesthetically sound. These educational concepts most probably applied to those sections of the population which were engaged in professions related to intellectual, religious, as well as trade and defence activities. Artisans too had their educational traditions, in which along with learning the skills of their trade, social, religious as well as ethical values and their practice were given great importance.
The colonial period of Indian history has been a dark period in terms of the educational, artistic, industrial and cultural traditions of our country. It caused a dislocation in almost every aspect of Indian life especially its value system. The system of education the British constructed was totally divorced from the daily lives of the people. It could not have been otherwise. For, the sole purpose of that education was to manufacture clerks for the colonial administration. Instead of education being geared to the human needs of the community, it was built around the needs of the colonial administration, through textbooks.
Although the British now are nowhere in the picture, our educational system has remained book-oriented. In addition to clerks and administrators our national education system today aims at producing more and more engineers, doctors, professors, etc. Our so-called national educational planning has not been able to rescue the country from colonial practices. Instead of bringing joy and the spirit of togetherness in the individual and the community, it has nurtured competition and greed.
Contrary to our situation, the West has taken some interesting steps towards improving their educational systems. Although it was mainly on account of their commercial values —certainly not solely socialistic ideals—that new elements were introduced in the school curriculum. Eventually the changes proved to have led their thinking in new directions. With the advent of the industrial revolution, industry needed an increasing number of draftsmen and crafts people, for which the training of the eye and the hand was essential. In Britain, a little before the middle of the eighteenth century, the government set up a Select Committee to enquire into the best method to promote the understanding of art among the people. The Report of the Committee recommended that it would be useful for the artist and the consumer of the works of art, if art was made a part of the elementary school curriculum. It led to the introduction of drawing and painting in school curricula sometime in the mid eighteenth century.
The introduction of art and drawing was by no means aimed at teaching art and art appreciation as it had nothing to do with the training in the real objective of art. It was too mechanical and dry in spirit. R.R.Tomlinson called it "soul destroying and sterile methods".12Yet I have no hesitation in saying that this step paved the way, though unintentionally, towards the revival of art education in the right direction. After all, the Bauhaus movement was a product of industrialization. The growth of radical art movements, e.g. Impressionism, was also a kind of reaction .to the European values of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries!
That kind of art education included drawing of straight lines going in different directions, drawing of different shapes, geometrical or otherwise. In short, it aimed at understanding perspective, three dimensional drawing. Later on, some free hand drawing was also introduced in the curriculum, and with it the effects of light and shade. Naturally this kind of drawing did not much interest children. It was too dry an exercise, for them to do still-lives of cups, vases and pyramids. Gradually drawing and painting of scenes, trees and flowers with colours, and designing and pattern making also became part of art education.
In Europe, all this was considered progressive about three quarters of a century ago. In India, however, art classes in most schools, even today, continue to do only that which the majority of the children hate, a fact teachers know very well. Moreover, art is not thought to be an important subject in the context of the totality of the educational scheme. And since it is not a "difficult" subject, children take it for passing the exams. The main reason for the drawing class being so boring for children is the manner in which it is taught. Teachers handling the subject may have had some training in drawing, but not many of them have received the required education in art teaching, leave alone in the understanding of the art children create. Moreover, very few teachers possess a sound understanding of the child's mind and its needs. Unfortunately, most of our teacher training institutes remain untouched by the discoveries made by psychologists into the depth of the world of children. Our educationists and planners cannot even imagine the profound role art can play in the development of the child's personality.
While our educators have continued to impose their ideas on children, in other countries significant changes have taken place in the educational world over the past several decades. New experiments have been conducted to explore the world and needs of childhood. The German founder of kindergarten educational reformer, Wilhelm August Froebel showed that freedom is a very important element in the education of the child. Some others demonstrated that strict discipline was harmful for the creativity of children.
The work of these psychologists was important historically, but the work done by an Austrian artist named Franz Cizek was revolutionary in the field of children's creativity in practical terms. Despite emphasizing the importance and need for freedom for the development of the child's personality most psychologists often impose their own ideas on children. Cizek, on the other hand, has protected the child from adult domination. He said: "I have liberated the child. Previous to me children were punished and scolded for scribbling and drawing. I have saved them from this treatment. I said to them: What you do is good. And I gave mankind something which until I came had been spurned. I have shown parents the creative power of children. Formerly parents and teachers suppressed the best things in children. But I have done all that not from the point of new of the pedagogue, but as a human being as artist. Such things are not achieved from pedagogy, but from the artistic and human or from human artisticness." (Emphasis is mine)13 Despite many hindrances and criticisms, Cizek maintained his respect and love for the child. So much so, he said something that had never been heard before: "The most beautiful things in the creation of the child are his 'mistakes'. The more a child's work is full of these individual mistakes the more wonderful it is. And the more a teacher removes them from the child's work the duller, more desolate and impersonal it becomes."14 This I feel is really revolutionary and a genuine recognition of freedom, the freedom that allows the individual to grow on the basis of his psychological character and need.
Franz Cizek was an artist himself. He was born in 1865 in a small Czech town called Leitmeritz in Bohemia, then a part of Austria. Wilhelm Viola described Cizek's life and struggles in these words: "Cizek came to Vienna when he was twenty, and entered the Academy of Fine Arts. He lodged with a poor family, where, fortunately, there were children. These children saw him painting and drawing, and they wanted, as Cizek so often related, 'to play painting too'. Out of his genuine love for children, one of the reasons of his success, he gave them what they asked for— pencils, brushes, and paints. And beautiful works were created by them. It was a happy coincidence that Cizek was in close contact with the founders of the Secession movement, a kind of revolution of young painters and architects against the old academic art. He showed his friends the drawings of his children and these artists were so thrilled that they encouraged Cizek to open what they scarcely liked to call a school, but for which they had no other name. There children would be allowed, for the first time, to do what they liked. Now a long fight with the school authorities began. They saw no necessity for an institution such as Cizek wanted to establish. They turned the project down... He made a new application... To let the children grow, develop, and mature... This programme they found entirely inadequate.
“It was in 1897 that Cizek got the permit to open his very first Juvenile Art Class..., but the experiment proved so successful that, in 1903...the State offered him rooms in the State Kunstagewerbeschule. This was, fortunately, the only material support he ever had from the State, and it proved a blessing, for it saved him from any interference in his work…
"This Juvenile Art Class Cizek carried on until 1938. Forty years were spent in humble and loving observation of thousands of children, whose ages ranged from four to fourteen years, including some children of two years of age. In these experiments and careful study of the children's works, which Cizek called documents, he discovered the eternal laws which are followed unconsciously by the young creators."15 There is no doubt that products of child art are not identical to those of adult artists. Art that children create does not have elements such as adult objectivity, social content and abstraction that often inspire adult creativity. Nevertheless, it has to be accepted that the unconscious creativity of the child often has a tremendous degree of beauty and frankness, as Acharya Nandalal Bose writes: "Young children's drawings and paintings are very beautiful; they have amazing colours and rhythm. Only that artist will reach that state of creativity who has attained the heights of the deepest knowledge."16. Thanks to my teachers like Acharya Nandalal Bose I had some insight into the qualities of child-art before I started working in Sevagram. After being engaged in my experimental work for five years, I came across some writing on the work of Franz Cizek. It gave me further self-confidence, and the conviction that I was on the right track. I was now constantly on the lockout for reports and descriptions of work being done in the USA and Europe on the subject of children's creativity.
I found that many educators did not approve of the freedom Cizek gave to the child in expressing his or her internal world. They continued to say that children do need guidance, because giving them total freedom would limit their growth to a certain level only. Based on my own observation and experience I have no doubt that in the name of guidance most teachers give instructions, and impose their own ideas, though some do it in a subtle manner.
The substantial awareness that I gained by conducting various experiments clarified my thinking about the real educational needs of the children of our country in the context of their environment, culture, and economic conditions. The Sevagram school represented real India to me. It was in a rural part of the country which was poor and untouched by the elite culture created during the British Raj. All the children except very few came from the nearby villages. Those 'very few' were of urban or semi-urban families who were living in Sevagram and working in some of the departments there. Not a single child had any previous experience of drawing pictures nor of making models with clay.
I soon realized that none of the systems or schools operating in the Western world could serve as models for our work. The first thing to note was that ours was not an effort to build a unique educational institution. We were working on a scheme that would be suitable for every school in the 6,00,000 villages of India. In other words, we were aiming at a system which would be sound and suitable for every child, for that matter every man and woman, in the country, and not for a selected few, as is the case everywhere in the world.
It is mostly the top layer of society that gets the best, whereas the majority has to survive on the minimum. Gandhiji was very clear and firm on this objective. I knew that in Britain a dream that parents cherish is that their children go to some public school.17. It is not on merit that all the children are selected for entrance in these schools; connections play an important role. But the point I wish to make here is that according to Gandhiji's educational scheme every child should have the best opportunity to blossom into a fulfilled individual and a creative member of the community. And he knew that education, as it was being practised, created spirit of competition rather than cooperation, encouraged the attitude of separation instead of unity, and instead of teaching to give, it inculcated greed in the educated. In other words it nurtured violence in the minds of the pupils in place of non-violence.
Education has to take a sophisticated view of the question of violence. It must define violence in all its manifestations. Physical violence is only a tiny part of violence committed within human societies. For instance, the inhuman treatment of the blacks in North America or the Harijans (untouchables) in India is equally, if not more damaging than any physical violence. The degree of violence children, or for that matter women, are subjected to is incalculable. Who could take the necessary steps to eliminate such violence from human behaviour? Surely not the politicians) who, by and large, are the products of the so-called modern education. Hardly any among them have the imagination and will-power to take necessary steps in their own lives or the lives of those they claim to lead. Many of them are responsible for sowing the seeds of violence in society. Therefore, the responsibility, I believe, is of those who want to be called teachers, and who are expected always to keep their minds on the future of the community they serve.
I want to mention here an observation that I feel is relevant while talking about the educational work of Gandhiji. I believe that Gandhiji did not have enough time to devote exclusively to education. Probably, he hoped to do that after seeing the British quit. Whether it was lack of time or the time scale he set for introducing new elements in a gradual manner, as he said that one step at a time was enough for him, it is difficult to say. Perhaps it was on account of his own perspective; he did not or could not define the role of art in the development of the personality of the individual as well as the community! What would have happened to the role of art in Nayee Talim if he was there to work out the details? I do not know, as he had his own ideas about it.
It was the Committee set up by the Hindustani Talimi Sangh that drew up the syllabus. It included drawing and painting as one of the subjects. Acharya Nandalal Bose had formulated the syllabus of that section of the curriculum, which I found to be a good starting point. However, I also knew that most of my colleagues were not acquainted with the new perspective needed for teaching art in a progressive system of education like Nayee Talim. I had imbibed this perspective from Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and from whatever limited knowledge I had gained of the classical Indian approach to creative activities. They, in all likelihood, expected me to be a good drawing teacher. This thought made me wonder what would have been the result of my work if I had been just that. Would I have made the discoveries I was able to make about child art and education.
There cannot be any doubt regarding the comprehensiveness of the Nayee Talim syllabus and the balanced stress it put on human values. Apart from the knowledge required to understand and live with one's environs and the skills necessary for day-to-day life, the syllabus also put emphasis on cultural activities and social service. I was a novice in the field and had no previous experience of teaching, yet, intuitively, I was deeply impressed and amazed by the clarity and boldness of approach. In spite of a little intellectual loneliness that I sometimes felt, I had self-confidence, and was able to gradually demonstrate that art is the way to joy, freedom and fulfilment for children.
Towards the end of the six months teachers training camp, I started contemplating how and where I could continue this work, without having the slightest idea about its potential; but I was interested.
One afternoon I had a pleasant surprise. The Head of our institute, the Aryanayakam invited me for "a chat". Ashadevi Aryanayakam said that they would very much like me to continue the work that I had started with children and trainee teachers. I told them that I had been thinking of talking to them about this matter for a few days! So, I continued with the experiments in Sevagram for eighteen years.
Before starting after the summer vacations, I spent a month at Santiniketan, sharing my experiences and getting further guidance from my teachers, specially Acharya Nandalal Bose and Acharya Binod Behari Mukherji. In one of the sessions with the Acharya he made a drawing of a horse cart to explain what he thought could be a guide for my thinking. He described the picture: "One of the two wheels of the cart is made by Gurudev (Tagore) and the other by Mahatmaji (Gandhi). You are in the driver's seat. The horses are your energy, and the reins are your mind, will power and discretion. It is lucky that now you are with Mahatmaji. Try to do your best." I went back to Sevagram and restarted the work with added self-confidence and peace of mind.
This book is the result of fifteen years of experimentation. The incentive for working on a book as such came from several directions. As the main centre of Nayee Talim, Sevagram had a special responsibility for training teachers from various states and educational institutions, for which I had to systematize my thinking and experimentation. Art being one of the subjects, I tried to see that the trainees got as good an idea as possible about my approach to art and its teaching methodology. This meant that I developed a theoretical as well as practical programme of lectures and demonstrations for them. Moreover, I was invited to give short courses on Art Teaching in Nayee Talim teachers training institutes in different part of the country. But the biggest push came from the official journal of the movement, Nayee Talim, when its editor asked me to write a regular series of articles on my experiences with children. In other words, I had to write.
The first article appeared in the September 1947 issue of the journal. By that time I had realized that due to our circumstances, economic as well as socio-political, our approach and techniques would have to be different from what had been going on for decades. I was fully aware of the fact that some good work had-been and was still being done, in the field of teaching art to children. Yet, I knew that what we had to— do—keeping in mind every child of the country had to be radically different.
If the work I was doing was for every child, the book too would have to be for every teacher, possibly for every parent too. So I begin with a chapter discussing the question: Why art education? It deals with the approach of the adults. The second chapter, I thought, must try to discover the answer to the same question from the children's point of view. Most teachers of primary schools do not even know the reasons behind the argument for teaching art to children, except that teaching of drawing can be helpful in some practical ways. To help the teacher understand why this minor subject is being given an important place in our educational programme, it is necessary to discuss the matter from the point of view of both, the child and the teacher.
In the next three chapters, I deal with the art of children and its manifestation in early adolescence. A teacher who knows about the nature of child art and its various stages will be able to successfully plan his or her method and programme of teaching. The stage of adolescence has a significance of its own. It is also a special period in the growth of the personality of the child. The approach to teaching art to adolescents has to be somewhat different. Moreover, it is important for teachers also to develop their sense of aesthetics, particularly in view of the sensitivity and beauty of child art.
I have tried to share my experience and findings with teachers about teaching, educational atmosphere and methodology in the sixth and seventh chapters. I have not discussed any particular methodology, for, I believe, rather I am convinced, that each teacher should be alive to the need for developing his or her own methodology depending upon the requirements of each child, the local atmosphere and available resources and equipment. Of course, I have tried to make some practical suggestions as well.
Art appreciation is an important aspect of cultural growth and the development of aesthetic sense. The time to introduce it in the syllabus is at the beginning of adolescence. But it is also an essential ingredient in the education of the teacher. Hence, I felt the need to include a discussion on art appreciation. My effort has been to not make the subject of art appreciation a mechanical subject but to leave it as a matter of common sense.
Very often teachers—and sometimes parents too—asked questions about various aspects of child art. Generally, I discussed them on the spot, but sometimes I noted them down in my diary to be discussed later at a more appropriate time. I thought it to be a crisp technique to handle queries or doubts. It is commonly used. Although, answers of most of the questions are to be found in the text of various chapters, I felt it might be useful to present a selection of questions with their answers in a separate chapter. Some questions obviously need somewhat elaborate answers, more than what can be found in the main text of the book. I have included, as appendices, three articles published in Nayee Talim as answers to a couple of questions I was often asked, which I felt solicited special treatment.
At this moment, I feel like that child who runs to his teacher to show him his work with a feeling of accomplishment. In this case the readers are my teachers. It gives me the same sense of accomplishment in presenting the results of fifteen years of my work in the form of a book. I do it with a deep sense of humility and hope that it might become a source of inspiration to teachers who have genuine love for children and respect for their personality, and to parents who wish to see the expression of joy and fulfilment on the faces of their children. The ambition behind working on this book can be best expressed in Tagore's words: "Let the growth of the child's mind be under Nature's generous and joyful space and time. Today education is sitting on the child's shoulders as a burden." It must get off from there and become a source of joy for the child. I shall be grateful if this effort of mine proves useful to even a handful of teachers.
Planning for education requires, among other things, two serious considerations. Firstly, it has to aim at preparing the individual to become an integral part of the value system the society has built over a long period for the behavioural pattern of its members. These values and the manner in which they are interpreted and practised represent the ideals and the cultural characteristics of that society. Therefore, a major task of education is to prepare the members of the society to try and fulfil those ideals.
The other consideration is the inherent nature of a particular group of people and, of course, its individual members. This inherent human nature could be made up of natural, native, ancestral and genetic elements, conditioning, and such considerations. It is, so to say, bred in the bones. If educational planning does not take this factor into consideration, it would not only fail in its responsibility, it could also do damage and distort the personality of the individual, eventually doing great harm to the society as a whole. One point that cannot be overemphasized is that education, under no circumstance can be a process of moulding personalities, not even to force or coax one to fall in line with the established norms of society.
Moreover, even if one wants to mould something, one has to know the nature of the material to be moulded. If bronze is chosen for making a sculpture it should be treated as bronze and not as wood or clay. The sculptor must know the nature of bronze, its qualities and limitations but education deals with human nature, which has its own potential and pace of growth. Its objective is not to mould but to help the individual grow and develop into a socially good and creative human being, free to make his or her own choices in life. Hence education has to be subtle in its planning and objectives and the manner of achieving these objectives.
In other words, educational planning will be sound only if it can strike a healthy balance between socio-cultural ideals and human nature with its vast potential for building a liberated personality of the individual. There is no place for physical force in sound and healthy education. Along with an understanding of the values one's society cherishes and learning to practice them in life, education ought to inculcate a deep sense of discretion and a feeling of self-respect and freedom in the individual to be able to think independently and make choices for himself or herself.
In this chapter, we shall try to explore the realm of social and cultural ideals related to art. In educational circles today it has become a fashion to say that art is necessary for the development of the child's personality. For the same reason some extra subjects are added into the curricula. However, very few teachers become aware of the rationale behind such conclusions, reached by educational experts, about the special role each of these subjects plays in the development of the individual's personality, and its social relevance. Many of those who talk about it do so rather superficially.
Educational planning, in all the cultures of the world, has been done by teachers who were clear about its goals in relation to the individual as well as the community. They had a well defined image about the potential of each subject they thought should be taught at different levels and to different groups of people. For instance, teaching of mathematics was not mainly to transfer to the pupils the skills necessary for practical matters of life such as buying and selling; it was also meant to develop a special kind of mental discipline, which cannot be acquired by any other exercise. Therefore, it was considered an important part of education. The same principle was applicable to other subjects and activities which the educational processes looked after. This is surely true in the context of higher education in contemporary societies.
By implication and also by necessity it meant that the teacher must have full comprehension of the practical aspects of each subject he or she taught and its character-building potential, manifest as well as latent. The objective of art education, therefore, should not be an activity only to train the hand to be able to make attractive objects and to decorate the household or the work place. It should aim at the holistic growth of the individual. In other words, education in general and art education in particular is a way for one to grow and become sensitive to the beauty in nature, of social values and the aesthetic aspects of life as a whole. In art education, training of the hand and the eye is only a tool, the object is to build a creative, fulfilled and well balanced personality.