Books on Indian Art are mainly written for scholars in the academic world. Unfortunately, that kind of makes them inaccessible to the general public. In my opinion, this is also a reason why most of us do not understand and hence appreciate the rich aesthetic traditions of ancient India. Thus, there is a strong need to bridge the gap between them. The scholarly knowledge and what the layperson needs to know about Indian Art. Also, how it evolved over a period of time.
In this textbook-style book, author Prof Vidya Dehejia – a well know art historian, tries to bridge the gap to a large extent. Taking the reader chronologically through the long history of India or Indian subcontinent. She gives a glimpse of the vast spectrum that we can explore. Along with ample aid of pictures that help the reader visualize what the author explains. Thus, it’s a journey of Indian Art through the ages.
She starts by introducing the concept of experiencing art. She moves to Harappa or Indus Valley Civilization and the art that we have received from there. Moving on to earlier Buddhist art in the excavated caves around the continent. Vidya discusses Temple art of North and South India followed by the paintings of Mughal and Rajputana. She also points towards the changes in the architecture as the time moved and invaders rulers/traders brought in their influences. She takes you through the colonial aesthetics primarily by Portuguese and British. Finally, she ends the books with the post-independence architecture of cities. Cities like Chandigarh and modern art of some leading post-independence artist. It is like getting the art history of the country in a capsule.
I had the good fortune of attending a course that author Vidya Dehejia conducted on Narratives in Early Buddhist Art. Furthermore, from her classes, as well as, her book what stands out in her work is that she puts the political and social context to the art. This aspect helps you understand it better. She gives a lot of importance to the information retrieved from in-situ inscriptions making it a more scientific approach. She looks at masterpieces of a place. The unfinished and not so well executed pieces that give a complete picture of the times. Noteworthy also is that she could identify same hands across various sites in India.
While you may not learn too much about any particular art form from this book, it opens many windows. It gives the opportunity to look at and also pursue what touches your sensibilities the most. Pictures from monuments and artifacts scattered across the world are a delight to look at. And let me tell you not easy to get at one place.
I hope more such books are written on the subjects that each chapter of this book deals with.