Why Art Class In School Needs To Be More Than The Mountains And River We Drew

Posted by SEENA in Culture-Vulture
December 15, 2017

Has anyone ever thought of the status of an art class at a school especially in rural India?

I do remember my art class during my school days. We had a colouring book in which we were supposed to colour properly. The aim was to ensure it looks exactly same as the original image in that book. Almost a frequent practice other than this would be – art teachers drawing a typical landscape on a blackboard for students to copy.

Teacher, parents, and children believed that not everyone could draw well, only the skilled ones God gifted. There is no exaggeration or exclamation in the picturization of popular films, showcasing art teachers as conventional and rigid people, who always want exact reproductions from children. Quite often, in our Bollywood movies, our hero enters as a child-centric art educator. This contrast between Bollywood heroism and conventional teaching paradigm shows there are some issues with our existing pedagogy.

Creativity and intellect are afar in art education, as the intellect of a child is defined by the score in mathematics or science subjects. The situation continues to be the same in a regular school system. But the case of a CBSE school is better than nothing. The board has been following a developed art education curriculum in India, which is based on fundamental art learning.

Do you really think the score in mathematics or science subjects could be able to define a child’s intellect or creativity? Maybe it can evaluate one’s memory, but that’s about it. This is because, most of the pedagogical models, is designed in a way to focus on teaching things that are concrete. For instance: We all learned trigonometric functions like cos θ, sin θ, etc. in our schooling, but was it in relation to our day to day experience or application in life?

Training the ability of the mind to solve the problem we face is not possible through concrete formulas. It is possible through by experiencing the reality of life. On the other hand, creativity won’t take place when you teach your child to draw and identify ” /\/\/\ ” as a mountain. Let the children themselves decide and innovate their acquainted ‘mountain’.

Since 2005, across urban and rural India, year after year, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has highlighted the fact that, “although almost all children are enrolled in school, they are not acquiring even the foundational skills that could help them propel themselves forward, both in school and in life.”

Art education is a worldwide dialogical and research topic in the 21st century. Framework for 21st-century learning suggests that a focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration is essential to prepare learners for the future. Researchers accepted the fact that art education is the best way to integrate all the above-mentioned skills, with an understanding of creating, evaluating, and effectively utilizing information, media, and technology.

Cindy Meyers Foley (Executive Assistant Director and Director of Learning and Experience at the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio: U.S.) makes the case. “Art’s critical value is to develop learners that think like artists, which means learners who are creative, curious, that seek questions, develop ideas, and play. For that to happen, society will need to stop the pervasive, problematic and cliché messaging which implies that creativity is somehow defined as artistic skill. This shift in perception will give educators the courage to teach for creativity, by focusing on three critical habits that artist employ, 1. Comfort with Ambiguity, 2. Idea Generation, and 3. Transdisciplinary Research. This change can make way for Centre’s for Creativity in our schools and museums where ideas are king and curiosity reigns.” The idea has won its intention to make children innovative and creative there.

Now, what about India? Art was an integral part of Indian life for centuries: it might have been part of a lifestyle, or work or status.

The scene changed during colonial durance. Colonial education in India, erected the forceful confirmation, to ensure that followers followed the cultures and traditions of colonizers. Devi Prasad, a visionary wrote on his book – “Art: The Basis of Education” says, “I had my primary education in a school which was a typical example of one of the most anti-education educational systems created by the colonial rule in nineteenth-century India.”

Later, India as a nation tried to develop an anti-colonial education model in its earlier stage by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi proposed a “new education system” in which the curriculum model was known as “nai talim (new education)”. Nai talim suggests that knowledge and work are not separate. Unfortunately, due to many reasons, Gandhi’s educational model was overthrown. We ended up witnessing the developments of a westernized educational model which made us forget our ‘Sanskriti’ (cultured model in this context).

Even if the ‘new education system’ visioned by Gandhi was not achieved in a nation-wide practice, it existed as the Sevagram experiments of basic education movement in its initial years (booklet – Story of Nai Talim 1937-1987). Undoubtedly ‘nai talim’, Gandhi’s scheme for the educational reconstruction of India, meets the requirements of worldwide research-21st-century learning skills. And that dream resulted in developing a great vision for school art education too.

“Art: The Basis of Education by Devi Prasad” elaborately discusses it after his fifteen years of experience and experimentations as an art educator at the educational institute of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram, Sevagram. He has mentioned the guidance he got from Acharya Nandalal Bose and Acharya Benode Vihari Mukherjee in developing an art educational model in his book. Devi Prasad put forward the importance and clear notions about the place of art in the process of education. He says that the pre-conceived notion among others on art was “some kind of skill or a collection of skills to decorate various aspects of life or painting pictures, making-sculptures, etc. for so-called public education or propaganda, or producing different kinds of functional artefacts.”

He developed and experimented an educational model which incorporated the educational principle propagated by Gandhi and Tagore, in a balanced and integrated manner. He explains, “Gandhi and Tagore had a vision of a liberated human being. That vision can be realized only through an educational approach, based on creativity in which the aim of every activity is the affirmation of the unity within the individual’s personality and, at the same time, the unity of all humanity. In other words, art has an essential role to play in the educational process, the aim of which is human unity.”

We also dream for the great visions of our great visionaries to become true for the nation. But the reality is worse, and there is an enormous amount of work to be done to break the pre-conceived notion of art. The challenge is to change the mindset of matured persons rather than children.

Presently, there are several private foundations and NGOs in India which took the initiative to implement a new educational model which meets the 21st-century learning skills. I was part of a private foundation (Art1st, New Delhi, H/O Mumbai) for art education, during the year-2016, founded by Ms. Ritu Khoda with a vision  – to create and develop learning environments that nurture and strengthen imagination, visual literacy, creative skills and cultural awareness of children and educators.”

The crew includes a group of mentors (artists, art historians, and educationists). As I was the program director and theorist for the art1st education program, I happened to visit and used to be part of training programs for teachers in several public schools across India. The process was not an easy task because art has become something else for them.

Devi Prasad wrote, “Instead of remaining a life-giving force, art has become a slave. A slave can provide only physical comfort; it cannot give the sense of inner fulfilment which is an essential part of a well-developed personality. Art now is a luxury that only the rich can afford.”

After some creative workshops and exercises inspired by the process of master artists, the progression in the confidence level was found to be visible. If three training sessions could bring such a change, a vision to incorporate visual art (including modern and contemporary) in the school curricula across urban and rural India will bring a big change in the pre-conceived notion of art in laypersons. Visual illiteracy is what gives art a status of a slave. How many master-artworks or artists have been incorporated in the school curriculum textbooks?

Recently, a chapter on Raja Ravi Varma contributed by an Art historian Vijayakumar Menon has got a place in Kerala State syllabus for the upper primary session. One could rarely see discussion on artwork by our modern masters like Nandalal Bose, Ramkinker Baij, Raza, Souza, etc as part of the school curriculum.

Apart from these, the need to examine the way of teaching and adapting art pedagogy to fit the needs of children is crucial. That can only be solved by the will and creativity of educators. The practicality relies on the status of art and methodology of an art educator, as well as other subjects-educators. A favourable environment and sensible teachers are must for the student-centric pedagogy. Though we (art1st) had an exciting curriculum of art lesson, it was very difficult to create a suitable environment even in the private sectors.

This was because they adopted a new-art1st-curriculum as experimentation, and all the other subjects apart from art were taught with an existing syllabus. Thus, a method-lead conflict occurred between teachers and children. The role of a teacher is critical for making an interactive learning platform in a classroom. The teacher is not supposed to tell a child that – this is wrong/right.

A teacher is responsible for hearing out the child’s decisions and reasoning and then guide them accordingly to develop their ideas. On the other hand, the teacher is in a difficult stage in front of a new generation social media consuming-child. It’s double in case of visual art teacher, as it is the era of audio-video-visual culture.

Reflections of art educators after implementing new methodologies in the schools where we supported are priceless moments. One art educator said that, “With the mentor, I could recognize two differently abled children from art class. That is because each child is exposed to their own space.” Another one experienced and found art class as a platform for children to develop their critical thinking and connecting abilities, She said, “Once in an art lesson, I was showing the paintings by Picasso and asked about their observations. One girl was comparing that painting with African mask dance, which is appreciable. She shared that she watched African mask dance and ritual on youtube.”

Another art teacher could reflect upon the possibility of psycho-analytical reading of child art and of developing the cross-referencing skill of a child through art lesson. “One of my observation regarding a simple drawing of a tree by a class 4 student leads to pass on her emotional acquaintance with her grandpa. This acquaintance may be linked with her family belief or some religious output. But the stirring element is that she made drawing of a tree which is not a tree, for her, it is her grandpa (dada).”

The originality, innocence, intimacy of the idea in that child is comparable with that of Contemporary Indian Artist Subodh Gupta’s work of art – a ‘tree’ using utensils which he calls or titled ‘Dada’.

The model of school-art education in the current scenario should be capable enough to convene the societal needs incorporating the applications of advanced media and transdisciplinary research, for a better tomorrow.