Saturday, July 17, 2010

Indian Art in Detail

Author:        A.L. Dallapiccola
Published:    2007
Publisher:    Mapin Publishing
Hardcover: 144 pages
Readers in India
Having read quite a few good books which explain the art and paintings of the western world, I was on a lookout for such a book on Indian art. And I found this book in the British Library.
The author of the book an Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh, is an expert in Indian art and culture.
In the introductory chapter she attempts to define what is Indian  art and concludes that " Expressed through its multiplicity of forms and vibrant colours, Indian art is essentially a celebration of life in all aspects".
The contents are thematically organized in next four chapters viz; Gods, Heroes, Devotion , Courtly and village life . In these chapters the author  describes her selection of about 70 objects from the collection of British Museum. These objects beautifully illustrated in this book (both the complete artifact as well as enlarged details) cover some 2000 years of Indian art. They range from huge stone sculptures to minute ivory carvings, from paintings on paper and cloth to ritual objects. They all prove the mastery of the Indian artists and craftsmen, whether they served the royal court or worked in their native villages.
As I was going through this beautifully produced book, a couple of thoughts struck me about the Indian art in comparison to the Western art.
One, barring few exceptions, none of the Indian artists chose to identify themselves. They selflessly remained anonymous. Whereas we know the names of the artists/architects of almost any piece of Western art.
Secondly, while Indian sculptures are definitely more complex and intricate than their western counterparts, the paintings are rather two dimensional and primitive as compared to the paintings of the western world of the same period. Wonder what is the reason behind it.
There is one mistake in the book, which I hope will get corrected in the next edition. On page 17, it mentions that Sarasvati, goddess of learning, music and the arts as one of Vishnu's consorts as per eastern Indian tradition. This is not correct. As far as I know Sarasvati is reagarded as consort of Brahma not of Vishnu.
Another drawback of this book is that the art objects described are restricted to those which are in British Museum . Describing the objects of art from varied sources could perhaps give a more complete picture of Indian art.
But overall I found this book a very good though rather short introduction to Indian art and I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in getting a exposure to it.

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