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State of Art

By Divya Aslesha

The opening paragraph of the national focus group on arts and culture report efficiently sums up the concerns the Arts face in India and particularly from an educational perspective. 

It says, “The need to integrate art education in the formal schooling of our students now requires urgent attention if we are to retain our unique cultural identity. For decades the now, the need to integrate arts in the education system has been repeatedly debated, discussed and recommended and yet today, we stand at a point in time when we face the danger of losing our unique cultural identity.”

It also points an alarming reality that for most children sketching and drawing involves cartoon characters like the Japanese Shin Chan or the all American Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. Children are surrounded by an environment that does not integrate a sufficient exposure to the Arts. There have to be more ways of involving children with the Arts in a manner that appeals to them.

This matter could be approached in a multi faceted way.

The first lies in addressing this issue at the most basic level. It is common knowledge that a majority of Indian schools do not have any sort course in place related to the arts and particularly the fine arts. There is a focus on studies while arts, music and the sort are classified as ‘Extra Curricular Activities’ giving them peripheral importance. Simple things like allowing children to draw, paint, sing and dance goes a long way in broadening their outlook. 

This freedom is extended to them only during their preschool days. The moment they enter school, these creative liberties are clamped down upon. We need a policy that will address an awareness of the arts right from their school levels.

We need a wider outlook to arts in schools. An independent policy that addresses arts in schools is imperative if we are going to expect our children to be sensitized towards these things. Schools generally have ‘drawing’ classes and music classes which just skim the surface of these fields but the same time are dragged on through most of the years at school in a meaningless way. Children rarely take an interest in these subjects unless they are naturally talented at them. While not all children can paint and draw and sing they should at least be taught appreciation of these forms.

To my knowledge, historical art forms only found a mention in my class 10th text book in a small chapter called ‘Heritage of India.’ The chapter focused primarily on the architectural style of the monuments in India. The Gandhara and Bengal Schools of art only found a small mention. It is disgraceful that a Wikipedia page has more information on Indian arts than a 10th standard CBSE text book.

The Indian painter Nandalal Bose has said, ‘Art is a lifelong meditation and not a hobby.’ Why do we then insist on marginalizing art into ‘hobby’ classes or ‘activity’ classes in school? Our education system places a thrust on doing these things but there is no emphasis on studying, understanding and appreciating the various art forms in India.

The Indian education system has changed to suit the demands of society today. The Indian mindset is such that every child should grow up and find a ‘sensible’ job. There is far too great an emphasis on core subjects. Every year, the number of Art seats left vacant under the Maharashtra Board for Higher Secondary Education only sees an increase. The number of seats in the few prestigious colleges is ridiculously few and this only exaggerates the situation.

The objective of education should be to facilitate creativity and growth and not create individuals who fit a certain mould. The National Focus Group on Art Education has prepared an extensive report but quick read through it appears most idealistic and not the most practical solution to this problem. 

This is quite evident through the objectives listed out for teaching primary students arts:
“Make children conscious of the good and the beautiful in their environment, including their classroom, school, home and community, through an integrated approach that they enjoy.”

In my opinion, it is clearly this sort of high handed and lofty approach that has left Art education in the deplorable state it is presently. It is essential that the Government understands this problem completely and approaches it in a better and more practical way.

The learning process of arts has to be decentralized. It cannot be dictated or put together by the Central Government. Instead of having a uniform policy for art education across the country, policy makers should consider each state addressing this matter. This will ensure preservation of the indigenous art forms that exist in every state and differ from region to region.

School children must be exposed to art forms native to their states and regions. This could also serve as the building blocks for learning and appreciating what makes Indian art. School children are the future and I see no better place to make a beginning.

 

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