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Between Method and Material: The Shifting Shape of Pedagogy
Sampurna Chakraborty

“The reason why art practice changes is not far to seek. Whatever its position in the hierarchy of activities in a society, art practice is a part of its culture complex and is tied to it with physical and psychological correlatives. This is the case whether its role in this complex is central or peripheral, integral or isolated; even an art phenomenon that turns its back on society is still part of it, be it as a thorn in its flesh. Since society changes and there are changes in the culture complex, art too is affected by these changes; changes in social structure, patronage, materials, religion, all have their repercussions on the nature of art practice of the time.”

- K. G. Subramanyan. Art and Change, Moving Focus

We breathe this realisation habitually, trying to make sense of the changing contours of this boiling pot, called global culture. No surprises there! But what is challenging in the same velocity, is how we negotiate with these ever changing notions of the romanticism that is art. Is it the desire of matching up ones’ aesthetical parameters to the decree of shifting generation or is it the ambition of moving beyond the established parameters of practice, justifying uniqueness, as the consequence of modernity? Our choice there defines our negotiation with the art practice. During my extensive tutelage in Santiniketan, I had constantly confronted this demon of a question as to how I should negotiate with the formalism of art practice inside an institutional paradigm and my exposure to the attractiveness of the post-modern oomph. When we witness a time where a trans-disciplinary field of practice called visual culture, that interpret and analyse the bounty of visual experiences in culture à la mode, the preeminent art institutions in India, advocate the categorical division of method and material structuring of art learning. Therefore, the construction and consumption of knowledge and practice in art, endure a gap in articulation of the present. As we attempt to map our position within such intertwined field of cultural studies and critical pedagogy, we provoke the boundaries of disciplinary hegemony.

Suneesh SS, Untitled, 72 x 144 inches, Oil on Canvas, 2016-17

Currently researching on the field of art pedagogy in India, I found myself at a unique position of witnessing the shift in the tendency towards disciplinary constraints that an art student usually withstands, on the way to locate their individual artistic tendencies, – at the exhibition ‘The Shape of Things’ curated by Ushmita Sahu at Ganges Art Gallery in Kolkata. On display were works of twelve recent post-graduate students of Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati University. The exhibition demonstrates that the wheel of change is churning, slowly and firmly, from within the walls of the institution. The exhibition pins the shifts in academia towards the study of visual culture that further challenge the art education praxis. Without any hesitation, standing in front of these works and conversing with these very young artists were purely delightful. Delightful because, standing amidst them, I could time travel the lineage of an institution and could almost chart out the intellectual progression of an institution. Secretly, I was proud. The curator, followed the working method of the students over a considerable period of time and presented some of the better examples from their Masters degree final submission display, that happened on the first quarter of this current year. Ushmita points out in her curatorial note, “… there is not a definitive list as many (students) had already left the fold of their alma mater, and however these artists are, to an extent, representative of the pedagogical diversity existing in Kala Bhavana today.”

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