Art has been produced throughout the Indian subcontinent since 3000BC. To the eye of Western collectors, Indian Art can seem highly ornate. Especially in comparison to the modern and contemporary art produced in America and Europe. Because of this, some might consider Indian Art to be an acquired taste. If it is, there is little wrong with this. Many of the finer things in life are only enjoyed, once they are truly appreciated. To appreciate something, it must be understood first. To achieve an understanding of Indian Art, one must look upon it aesthetically, in relation to the culture and ideological concepts of this diverse and highly ritualistic civilization.
Traditional Indian Art is expressive, sensitive, and highly designed. It portrays a world, which has been relative to the beliefs of the Indian people, since the year zero. The beliefs of the Indian people have shown much tenacity over the last two thousand years. In which case, their art has also remained as persistent, and consistent. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are the three main religions in India. Hinduism, also known as ‘Sanatana Dharma’ (which means ‘The eternal law’), is the most dominant. It is also considered to be the oldest living religion. Jainism, also referred to as ‘Shraman Dharma’ or ‘Jain Dharma’, is an old Indian Dharma religion. Similar to Buddhism and Hinduism, the most fundamental philosophy of Jainism is based upon self help, and a progression towards a higher level of spirituality. To pursue the ultimate goal, which is to achieve a supreme state; a state known in Jainism as ‘Jina’ (meaning conqueror), and known in Buddhism, as enlightenment. In Hinduism, this is moksha, which means ‘freedom’.
All three religions revolve around the conceptual paradox of existence. Based upon those concepts, Indian Art touches upon the three essential elements of that existence. That is, our senses; sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound; and our emotions and inner spirit. Within Indian Art, it is all these things that make our world. Each fusing with the other to produce form. Ancient Indian Art swept through the far east, alongside Hinduism and Buddhism. Because of this, it became highly influential in Asian Art, especially in China and Japan. From the thirteenth to the eighteenth century, Indian Art became more geometrical. Islam became dominant across India, and the Muslim leaders forbade the portrayal of the human figure, within a religious context. As Indian Art is rarely anything else, this rule dramatically changed the face of Indian Art.
Indian paintings have been found in two areas of the Indian subcontinent. The Ajanta caves are a group of thirty caves, located in the state of Maharashtra, east central India. They were first discovered in 1819. The Ajanta frescoes are based upon on the Jatakas (the life of Buddha), and reveal the development of Indian Art up to around 700AD. This is known as the ‘Gupta Period’, and is the most classic period of Indian Art. The Ajanta Paintings are explicit in their spirituality, to the point of being sensual; depicting various portrayals of Buddha, love scenes and sleeping women.
Traditional Indian Art began to diminish at the end of the nineteenth century. British rule brought with it Western influences. Consequently, Indian Art became a mere imitation of European Art. Nevertheless, in comparison, this phase was relatively short lived. In one hand, British rule had somewhat neutralized Indian culture. However, on the other hand, their archaeological studies uncovered many ancient examples of Indian Art. This, in turn, led to renewed interest in more traditional, ancient styles. One of the leading universities in India is the Visya-Bharati University. It was founded by Rabingranath Tagore (a painter and the first Asian poet to win the Nobel prize for literature), in 1921. The purpose of the university was to bring Western and Indian cultures together. Here, Indian Artists experimented with many of the early twentieth century art styles, including impressionism and surrealism; As well as reviving traditional Indian Art styles, primarily, those of the Gupta Period.
Painter, Nandalal Bose, is regarded by many modern art critics to be among the best twentieth century Artists of India. As a young artist, Nandalal Bose joined a circle of writers and Artists whose intention was to revive the classic Indian traditions. His work depicts village life, and Indian mythology. Indian Art has re-established its traditions. However, there continues to be a certain essence of the West, within the work. Once again, proving art does not dictate life. Life dictates art.