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Ideology of Art Education

Jyotindra Jain

Edited by Samina Choonara
National College of Arts, Lahore, 2003, pp. 175, Rs. 1295.00


Mayo School of Art (now National College of Art, Lahore) was the youngest of the colonial art schools established in India in the nineteenth century. The first one to emerge was the Calcutta Mechanics Institution and School of Art founded by Frederick Corbyn in 1839: though this makeshift art school was replaced by a proper one in 1854 by the Society for the Promotion of Industrial Art. In 1850 another art school was opened in Madras by the initiative of one Dr. Alexander Hunter, a medical doctor. Sir Jamshedjee Jeejeebhoy, a prominent citizen of Mumbai and a well-established businessman, put in massive effort to start an art school in Mumbai, which is now famous as Sir J.J. School of Art. The Mayo School of Art in Lahore was established in 1875 in memory of late Viceroy, Lord Mayo, who was assassinated on his tour of the Andaman Islands in 1872.      With slight variations in their ideology and practice, all colonial art schools in India were bound together by the common objective of training artisans who were seen as people in need of “scientific” training in drawing as according to John Ruskin an Indian did “not draw a form of nature but an amalgamation of monstrous objects.” Their “imitative” faculty, according to Sir Richard Temple, was to be replaced by “their powers of observation, and to make them understand analytically those glories of nature which they love so well.”       With the coming of the British academic art education to India, the concept of art as different from craft began to emerge. George Birdwood was willing, provisionally, to grant the status of  “art” to everything, “down to the cheapest toy or earthen vessel”, because “in India everything is hand wrought.” As we shall see in a while, in the wake of the British élite’s reaction to industrialization at home and the consequent celebration of the “handmade”’, the “Indian genius” was rediscovered. Birdwood, however, defined Indian creations as “decorative”, having to do with “crystallized tradition” and according to him, the artisans possessed “a great genius for imitation” different from European fine arts which were marked by the “inventive genius of the artist, acting on his own spontaneous inspiration.”       For Birdwood painting and sculpture as fine art did not exist in India. However, he had hope: “the spirit of fine art is indeed everywhere latent in India, but it has yet to be quickened again into operation.” ...

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