Saturday, December 10, 2005

the Impersonal Principle

Education Through Art Nita Mathur © 1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
As empiricism, experimentation and demonstrability reign over the world order, there is a deepening silent crisis in education marked by eroding wisdom, depleting values and denuding self-knowledge. This crisis cannot be resolved by improving literacy rate figures, nor by making policy interventions, much less by creating data banks and building up information storehouses.
The word ‘education’ is often employed synonymously with literacy, particularly in bureaucratic and political parlance, as a kind of divine weapon — the brahmastra to combat all human problems. Material and human resources are hence directed towards positing and achieving formidable targets of total literacy. Education programmes lay emphasis on learning to read and write as also on specialising in various academic disciplines.
Knowledge such as this is experiential. It develops from and survives on the cultural substratum of the people who create and use it. Thus education consists of beholding, receiving, embellishing and handing down traditional wisdom. A piece of Rabari embroidery, for instance, is also a kind of text, a visual text quite different from written text. The Madhubanis aspire to depict their legends, re-create their own lives and transcend worldly existence through their paintings. A painting is subtle and replete with meaning and message, carrying substance beyond the contours of figures and spread of colours. The patterns and motifs of trees, birds, fish and others, singular and in association, portray the gamut of beliefs, concepts and understandings, in essence, the life-style and world-view of the Madhubani people. Elders sit in the midst of children who assist them at various stages. The technique and the conceptual context gets passed on from one generation to the next through verbal articulations and depictions as part of collective social memory.
Conveyed by oratory, preserved by memory and transmitted by legacy, this system of education is related with the everyday life of a people, which makes it meaningful and fulfilling. It becomes a pathway to self-knowledge and truth. The many branches of knowledge and the arts share the cosmogonic base. As Saraswati (1994) has pointed out, the Rathvas and Saoras regard god as the first painter and, interestingly, the painting itself as god. The act of painting thus gets interpreted as ‘reading’ the god. The people receive inspiration for painting in dreams and in altered states of consciousness. While the content of Rathva paintings derives from the pictorial history of the universe — the work of the first painter — the subject-matter of Saora pictographs is life in the underworld as revealed to the priest in dreams and in a state of trance.
The paintings, songs, dance, theatre — all employ the human body, sensibility and sensitivity to transcend its own limitations to achieve confluence with the Impersonal Principle. The artists, then, are yogis or sadhakas engaged in spiritual pursuits. The inner silence, contemplation and refinement transmute the outer chaos and noise into creative works. This makes for rhythm, harmony and orderliness in the world around.
The concept of art here is not confined to exotica. The artist is not just one of a select few constituting the elite. Each person, being equipped with faculties of expression and appreciation in one or other medium, is an artist. The free lines drawn in leisure by a child are as much a product of art as a portrait drawn by a serious painter; the nautanki of Uttar Pradesh and the rhythmic, co-ordinated patterned movements of village women are as much dance as a Bharatanatyam sequence performed by a celebrated dancer. The experience and participation herein are more important than the stylisation and perfection of the finished product. The issue is one of realising one’s potential and developing it as an integrated aspect of growing up.
An essential requisite is the incorporation of the aesthetic dimension into education not as training in skills but as an agency for developing a synchronous, holistic life-style and perspective. The position of dance in this context is extremely important, both as a component of education and as a receptacle of the elements of education. The dance movements characterised by rhythm and symmetry are known to stimulate the various bodily systems, enhancing their power and efficiency. This is closely followed by the development of balance and proportion in the body. To children, dance unveils the many channels through which emotions and states of mind may be expressed. There are distinct gestures, postures and facial expressions that communicate the shades and intensities of rasas or inner states and aesthetic experience.
Dance performs the cathartic function of releasing pent-up emotions and drives. The control and discipline of the body so arduously acquired by children in dance is inseparable from that of the mind. In identifying with the enacted character and the situation of dance, children are lifted out of the disturbing unconscious realms of the mind. They employ various defence mechanisms — compensation, atonement, self-actualisation — in the dance situation as means to surmount worrying thoughts and muddled instincts. This prepares the mind for comprehending and retaining instruction in schools. Previous Page Contents of the Book Next Page

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