Reforming arts, crafts and culture education- The New Indian Express |

Reforming arts, crafts and culture education- The New Indian Express |

Music maestros, actors, directors, painters and sculptors are persons who have contributed greatly in shaping the global identity of India. They have immensely added to India’s soft power. This year, Amitabh Bachchan turned 80. While last year was the centenary year of Subramania Bharati, two years ago, we celebrated the centenary of Satyajit Ray. From Raja Ravi Varma to V D Paluskar and from Rabindranath Tagore to Lata Mangeshkar, many from the world of arts and culture have made India, ‘India’. Traditionally, fine arts, performing arts, and visual arts have played a significant role in setting agendas and shaping narratives. More importantly, with an increasingly frightening spectre of the flattening of the world, it is these disciplines of knowledge that help any society retain its cultural identity. In the context of India, it is an undeniable fact that a plethora of rich and colourful art traditions have made this great nation stand apart from the rest.

But arts and culture cannot be looked at like holy cows. Eulogising our rich talent and traditions, worshipping our culture-heroes and heroines, and talking about lofty ideals of our vision is important, but not enough. There is an urgent need to evaluate the current state of arts and culture education in India and bring in wide-ranging reforms. Ideally, it should start with nomenclature. Understandably, many people often confuse art education with BA and MA. While arts faculties in many universities cover everything under the sun, including fine arts, performing arts and visual arts, most of the traditional subjects are about humanities. A clear distinction between arts and humanities could be a good starting point. It would be a good idea if the traditional BA becomes Bachelor of Humanities, with whatever the specialisation may be, and BA/MA remains reserved for graduation/post-graduation in fine arts, performing arts and visual arts. All these disciplines are distinguished areas of creativity and hence recognising their importance needs reforms in nomenclature.

While the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) cannot be undermined, it is the education of different arts that plays a major role in creative thinking. Most of the prime ministers—including PM Narendra Modi—were students of knowledge disciplines, other than STEM. The same is true with most world leaders.

First and foremost, let’s understand that our philosophy of human life manifests through most of our art traditions, including folk arts. All our major dance traditions and our music—both vocal and instrumental—have traditionally been seen as dedicated to the worship of gods and goddesses. Unlike many Western dance traditions and music abroad, our performing arts are not just entertainment events. They essentially have a spiritual foundation.

Considering many such unique features of Indian arts, it is required that we work towards not just sustaining these art traditions but building on them. The National Education Policy (NEP 2020) provides enough scope for this. Recently, a dedicated report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education (2021–22) has very elaborately discussed issues in arts education and given some important recommendations. One of the recommendations states, “At the current stage of evolving a National/State Curriculum Framework, a mechanism be created to impart basic knowledge of Indian Performing arts like dance, music, instrumental music etc. from an early age, as this will help children appreciate and understand the arts better and will also motivate them to take it up as a vocation.” The report adds that “this would also help in early identification and honing” of budding talents.

It is also important that for imparting a sound knowledge of Indian arts, the content has to be free from colonial approaches. While it is a fact that the inspiration for a work of art by Hebbar or Vasudeo Kamath is no different from that of Warli or Madhubani artists, the colonial approach resulted in needlessly creating two distinct classes of art and craft. Inexplicably, art is considered superior to craft and hence this art and craft division needs to be done away with.

While the NEP 2020 envisions education with a multi-disciplinary approach, the need for qualified arts teachers cannot be ignored. They are in acute short supply because art and craft education has traditionally been denied equality in dignity, wages and job security. As pointed out in the Parliamentary Committee report, appointing arts teachers on an ad hoc basis sends a wrong signal. In a situation like this, children cannot look at it as an attractive career option. The Committee has further recommended that arts education “should be included in the curriculum of teacher training institutions across the country”.

Arts education is a field that merits special attention. Thankfully, the Parliamentary Committee has reviewed a whole gamut of issues and given structured recommendations. One of them includes opening many regional centres of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and also exploring the possibility of including FTII’s Skilling India in Film and Television (SKIFT) programme in various disciplines of filmmaking at the school level.

There is an urgent need to teach appreciation of art as well. What used to happen naturally in families, today needs a formal learning mechanism. Appreciation of an art film, classical music or an abstract painting needs training and for that too, some academic courses are necessary. After all, for good art to flourish, one needs good patrons too.

Remarkably, the Parliamentary Committee has also mooted the idea of “establishing a Central University like Rashtriya Kala Vishwa Vidyalaya (National University of Arts) through an Act of Parliament, with regional centres at prominent art/cultural locations, to become a benchmark institution in all areas of Arts can be explored forthwith”. It would be in the fitness of things to make it a University of Arts, Crafts and Culture, as all three are independent yet inseparable. Such an apex-level national institution can add to the dignity of artisans and their art/craft besides recognising domestically acquired craft skills through some evaluation mechanism.

Should this happen, it would be a monumental contribution to our national mission of building great institutions. And needless to say, to make it happen, there cannot be a better occasion than the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav!


Vinay Sahasrabuddhe
President, ICCR and senior BJP leader

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