Art education: Trapped in academics

Art education: Trapped in academics

Art of the matter Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat students debate the relevance of their course, curriculum and career Dh Photos by M N Vasu

The metamorphosis of art education from quaint gurukulas on the countryside attended by a privileged few to high profile art schools producing artists by the assembly line has been both a boon and a curse. Structured art education has brought with it greater accessibility, appreciation of different art forms and even commericial viability.

But have degrees and diplomas in various art forms made art education subservient to syllabus and other rigidities associated with conventional academics? The answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’ from the students of one of the premier art schools in the country, the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat (CKP). According to these wide eyed youngsters - a majority of them deeply passionate about art - both courses and faculty are bogged down by adherence to syllabus and lack of imagination.

Pallavi Chander, a final year student of sculpting who discontinued a business management course to pursue sculpting, says the CKP experience has been thoroughly disappointing. “The learning is tied down by an outdated syllabus and there is no real connection between what you learn and what you want to express through your art,” she says.
Dhanush, another student of sculpting says that this obsession with syllabus is a fall-out of commercialisation of art education. “Earlier art education worked on the basis of serving an apprenticeship professionals. This gave a lot of technical and practical exposure but now art schools are just lucrative commercial ventures,” he says.

A direct repercussion of bloating art classrooms is reduced interaction between students and faculty and also between pupils at different departments, and consequently an education that lacks flexibility and a multi-disciplinary approach. Poornima Subramanian, a student of art history says students of one discipline hardly get any exposure to other disciplines. “An art history student barely gets to learn about painting or sculpting. Ultimately the lack of exposure results in dogma and inhibited expression,” Poornima says.

However, Sumeru, who had very limited exposure to art before joining CKP offers a divergent opinion and says that degrees give the necessary legitimacy to art education. “The onus is on the students to learn if they are interested in different forms and nothing is stopping them. As far as a degree is concerned, it is required for those who seek employment via their art,” he says.

Naturally enough, a thought that finds takers amongst the faculty at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat, who say that an art education is not isolated from the realties of the market place. The Principal of CKP, R H Kulkarni says that art education should be as commercially viable and productive as Information Technology (IT). “Art education is not the property of one or two individuals. In terms of economics and employment, art today is on par with science. And works of art are seen as an investment,” he says.

And graduates with this art education, the faculty argue, are highly sought after by corporates ranging from IT giants  to large media houses. “So many of our alumni are web designers and graphics artists at major corporations. It works on the simple principle that an artist can learn technology but creativity and aesthetic sensibility cannot be taught to engineers,” says Anil Kumar, a faculty at CKP.  Kulkarni puts the debate in perspective and says “Today, art too is about branding. A signature of M F Hussain is more valuable than the work of art itself.”

Dogmas and inhibitions

Among other things that are part of India’s colonial heritage is the system of formal fine arts and visual arts education. From a handful of universities, notably - Shantiniketan and the Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda - today innumerable art schools have sprung up across the country.

The demand for art

students as designers, illustrators, web designers and graphic artists across different verticals has not only made art education lucrative but also commercial. However, the commercialisation of art education has shifted the focus from aesthetics to churning out artisans with a specific skill-set.

The increasing commercial viability of art has reflected in swelling student strength at art schools across the country. The increase in demand for arts courses along with constant advances in technology are posing fresh challenges to those imparting an art education. One of the biggest outcomes of the large-scale commercialisation of art education is its growing proximity to conventional academics.

 Art education today is complete with examinations, both theory and practical, regular class tests and even a viva voce. The antiquated debate of “art for art’s sake” aside, grades and marks being awarded for individual expression and merit lists  being announced for arts courses have firmly turned the spotlight on the importance of a strict adherence to a syllabus. While, keeping the syllabus relevant and rapid technological advances are challenges, adherence to a syllabus is simply catering to the lowest common denominator.

Deccan Herald seeks answers from the students of one of the premier art schools in the country, the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat.

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