The art of gimmickery 3/3

“Persian painting was later perpetuated in Mughal painting which developed into a court art and was used in particular to illustrate the imperial chronicles in a highly detailed and ‘realistic’ style.”

To explain the Hindu school he adds. “It is said that Mughal art influenced certain Hindu schools of miniature painting. In fact, however, this cannot amount to anything more than a purely outward and technical stimulus, for these miniatures, which chiefly depict scenes from the life of Krishna, draw directly upon the rich heritage of sacred Hindu art and they do, for this very reason, achieve a spiritual beauty which the essentially worldly Mughal art of painting could never have.” The Hindu miniature school is said to have taken its roots directly from the Vedas, which are the revelation given to the Aryan prophets.

The fourth patron, namely the British Raj, saw this art as a tool for foreign exchange! The Mayo School of Art and Industry (presently the National College of Arts) was initially established as a “craft” school, which was no place for an “artist”. The colonialist robbed the indigenous artist of his central role of being the ‘spokesman of the Spirit’ and replaced it by the “easel tradition”. The artist either became fodder for the Industry or else left his heritage in exchange for the canvas. Art eroded gradually to the point of becoming a superfluous activity. A side show to the serious business of life!

It is perhaps our latest patrons, the Western as well as the Indo-Pak Western oriented art market, which is the cause of the revival of an otherwise defunct art. We must realise that in the fields of art the colonial masters had already shifted the goal-post. The local artist had to learn the new rules of the game, or move on to another playing field. This is the root of the WOG mentality. The Westernised Oriental Gentleman! Only after Shazia Sikender, a miniature graduate from the National College of Art, had taken miniature painting over to the West playing field, in the mid-’90s, and gained recognition thereafter, did we, the local connoisseurs, start taking this art form seriously. So what does this new market demand, and which we in our eagerness to please the Masters willingly provide? The contemporary miniaturist is obviously required to be connected to the traditional forms so as to give his artwork an ethnic, quaint appeal. It should have a certain outlandish, foreign charm but not to the extent of the artist seriously believing the traditional perspective. The work has to qualify as ‘art’ as defined by the euro-centric modernism.

The contradiction here is that the artist wants to be recognised as an ‘artist’ as defined hitherto, but since the authentic tradition does not qualify as art any more, that tradition is used as a device to market his own product. All that he is does is mine his heritage for attractive sellable gimmicks. He doesn’t need to go into any depth. He has no desire to be an artist in the traditional sense, he only wants to exploit the tradition for its marketability.

The argument here might be that if the euro-centric world view has now become the universal yardstick, why shouldn’t we follow it? The only difference here is that the Western artist’s work is directly connected with a whole ethos. It is a part of a historical past. What he produces now is deeply rooted with his past, even a rejection of his roots is part of a historical process with which he is connected. Our Eastern artist is merely mimicking/aping the outer apparent surface which is the end product of that process.

Contemporary miniature then becomes a new toy the West has just found, and which it might discard soon in place for the other.

Cont. [1] [2] [3]

Published on August 17, 2006 at 12:23 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Excellent and thoughtful piece, which helped me understand the tradition of miniatures in a new way.


    I’m going to be on the look out for Persian miniatures now (your description of their aims is so evocative).

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