How to see Indian Art


A seeing in the self accordingly becomes the characteristic

method of the Indian artist and it is directly enjoined on him by

the canon. He has to see first in his spiritual being the truth of

the thing he must express and to create its form in his intuitive

mind; he is not bound to look out first on outward life and

Nature for his model, his authority, his rule, his teacher or his

fountain of suggestions. Why should he when it is something

quite inward he has to bring out into expression? It is not an

idea in the intellect, a mental imagination, an outward emotion

on which he has to depend for his stimulants, but an idea, image,

emotion of the spirit, and the mental equivalents are subordinate

things for help in the transmission and give only a part of the

colouring and the shape. A material form, colour, line and design

are his physical means of the expression, but in using them he

is not bound to an imitation of Nature, but has to make the

form and all else significant of his vision, and if that can only

be done or can best be done by some modification, some pose,

some touch or symbolic variation which is not found in physical

Nature, he is at perfect liberty to use it, since truth to his vision,

the unity of the thing he is seeing and expressing is his only

business. The line, colour and the rest are not his first, but his

Indian Art – 1 269

last preoccupation, because they have to carry on them a world

of things which have already taken spiritual form in his mind.

He has not for instance to re-create for us the human face and

body of the Buddha or some one passion or incident of his life,

but to reveal the calm of Nirvana through a figure of the Buddha,

and every detail and accessory must be turned into a means or

an aid of his purpose. And even when it is some human passion

or incident he has to portray, it is not usually that alone, but

also or more something else in the soul to which it points or

from which it starts or some power behind the action that has

to enter into the spirit of his design and is often really the main

thing. And through the eye that looks on his work he has to

appeal not merely to an excitement of the outward soul, but

to the inner self, antar¯atman. One may well say that beyond

the ordinary cultivation of the aesthetic instinct necessary to all

artistic appreciation there is a spiritual insight or culture needed

if we are to enter into the whole meaning of Indian artistic

creation, otherwise we get only at the surface external things or

at the most at things only just below the surface. It is an intuitive

and spiritual art and must be seen with the intuitive and spiritual


This is the distinctive character of Indian art and to ignore

it is to fall into total incomprehension or into much misunderstanding.

Indian architecture, painting, sculpture are not only

intimately one in inspiration with the central things in Indian

philosophy, religion, Yoga, culture, but a specially intense expression

of their significance. There is much in the literature

which can be well enough appreciated without any very deep

entry into these things, but it is comparatively a very small

part of what is left of the other arts, Hindu or Buddhistic, of

which this can be said. They have been very largely a hieratic

aesthetic script of India’s spiritual, contemplative and religious






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