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Art and Aesthetics of Abanindranath Tagore

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Item Code: NAL968
Author: Dr. Sudhir Kumar Nandi
Publisher: Rabindra Bharati University
Language: English
Edition: 2000
ISBN: 8186438335
Pages: 256 (5 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 380 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The book presents an analytical discourse on the aesthetics of Abanindranath Tagore, the doyen of Indian Painters of modern times. The method applied is the Historico-comparative method as enunciated by Brajendranath Seal, the eminent Indian Philosopher, and a contemporary of Abanindranath.

It was quite in the fitness of things that the University Authorities decided to undertake this publication in the centenary year of the Master Painter. This is a tribute from a student of aesthetics who has painfully been pursuing this study all these year since joined the Indian Institute of Advance Study Simla, as a Senior Fellow.

It was part of a thesis approved and awarded Sir Asutosh Mukherjee Gold Medal by the University of Calcutta.

The book is the first of its kind as it is written on aesthetics qua aesthetics and that too of an artist who was not a Philosopher by training and profession.

The book attempts to present an artist as a consistent to present an artist as a consistent thinker on art and beauty and the merit of the book in this regard already been recognized by the University of Calcutta through one of its most prestigious awards.


About the Author

Dr. S. K. Nandi graduated from the University of Calcutta and was subsequently admitted to the Ph. D. degree of the University in 1951. He is a Law Graduate. Visva-Bharati and admitted him to the title of Sahityabharati. Calcutta University awarded him Griffith Memorial Research Prize and Sri Ashutosh Mukherjee Gold Medal for his outstanding research in the field of aesthetics.

Dr. Nandi is a former Research Scholar and Research Fellow of the University of Calcutta.

He is a past President of the Indian Philosophy Congress (Ethics & Social Philosophy Section) and All India Educational Conference (Fine Art Education Section) and a past Treasurer of the Indian Philosophical Congress. He was Official Delegate to many International Conferences. He was the president-elect to the Sixth Asian INSEA Conference held in Japan. He is the President of the UNESCO affiliated INSEA India Committee.

Dr. Nandi travelled widely, lectured in different Universities of the West and his publications include Treatise on Ethics, Aesthetics. Psychology, Logic and Metaphysics.

He is a Senior Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advance Study, Simla and a Research Director of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Gol Park, Calcutta.

He taught aesthetics in the Post-graduate department. Rabindra Bharati University.

He was the Head of the Department of Philosophy, Maulana Azad College, Calcutta & teacher of Philosophy of the Presidency College, Calcutta.



To honour an artist and a great artist at that is a rare privilege for the commoners. And this privilege becomes all the more precious if the occasion provided for was the birth centenary of the artist. In fact publication of this manuscript was intended as a centenary tribute to the master painter. But formalities stood in the way of its timely publication. However, it is good that this monograph could come out to cold print at long last through the active co-operation of all concerned in the University. Apart from being a painter, Abanindranath was a great writer as well. This was a brilliant feather to the cap of the artist and the problem of transliteration of the painting media to that of a writer gets new dimension as and when understands properly Abanindranath as a painter and the writer in Abaindranath as a painter and the writer in Abanindranath. When he paints ‘Buddha and Sujta’ he given out a whole story as if he was writing it with a brush. Secondly, when he wrote the topography of Bengal in his inimitable style, it had all the qualities of a good portrait painting ‘Budo Angla’ is a good painting with a vast canvas done in glittering words. Revivalism had a good start in Abanindranath. Patriotism was it , mainspring. After an initial start the artist’s inspiration took off and he outgrew both patriotism and the idea of revival. A softness in Tagore’s paintings a delicate suprarealistic touch in his painting made him unique. To understand this uniqueness, an analysis of the working of his genius has been presented in the pages to follow.

We may profitably recall that the present age has been described by Sri Aurobindo as the artist. The Vaisayas had their time; the Sudras are now surging up to control the desting of the millions. The post-Sudra era will go to the artists. The time is already come when we find a Ravishankar accorded ovations befitting a monarch. Artists have got to be honoured for in Honouring them we honour the genius of the nation. When we study an artist, his creative process, the working of the genius in him, analyse the forms, the symbols he used. We thereby huonour the artist qua artist and that is the highest honour that one could show to a man of genius. This monograph is the product of long years of study and research. I had occasion to give a series o lectures on the aesthetics of Abanindranath Tagore at the Ramkrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta and they were published in the Bulletin. Some of these lectures are used in the present volume. I must than the Institute authorities for permitting me to use those materials for the purpose of this book. A couple of papers on Abanindranath’s aesthetics was published in the “Journal of aesthetics and art criticism”, U.S.A. and through the kind permission of the Editor, the materials so published have been incorporated in the present volume. I am thankful to the management of the noted journal for their kind permission.

Rabindra Bharati University authorities must be thanked for undertaking this publication. Sri Samar Bhowmick, Curator, Rabindra Bharati Museum took great pains in selecting some paintings of Abanindranath for use in this volume. I must thank him for his ungrudging help. The press, Sm. Sibani Chatterjee and all other concerned with the production must also be thanked. The Department of Painting, Rabindra Bharati University. She is my esteemed colleague and I hereby acknowledge with a deep sense of gratitude the valuable service she rendered. The book is dedicated to my daughther Dhriti and my son-in-law Anup, now studying at Gainesville, U.S.A.

I may take this opportunity to thank my esteemed friend, Professor Ramaprasad Das, presently Vice-Chancellor Rabnidra Bharati University for taking active interest in the publication of the volume.

I shall deem my labours amply rewarded if the monograph inspires even a single research worker to break new grounds in the field of aesthetics. This discipline has been neglected in this part of the country for quite some time now and in a spirit of revivalism if we work tirelessly in the wake of Andandavardhana and Abhinavagupta, aesthetics will be given its due place in the hierarchy of academic disciplines. That is the need of the hour. The present monograph is just a pointer in this direction.



Abanindranath along with his uncle Rabindranath Tagore sustain in modern India. Brajendranath Seal, the eminent Indian philosopher and Sri Aurobindo, the great ascetic-cum-philosopher-cum poet gave distinct support to the new aesthetic movement in India. These four contributed largely to the philosophical thinking on art and aesthetics in India during the resurgence of valume in modern times. They had their own distinct outlook to view and judge the problem involved. Rabindranath and Abanindranath had intuitive apprehension of the problem problems and their respective point of view were an amalgam of “intuition” and “synthesising ratiocinative process”. Their artistic intuition often gave them glimpses of the aesthetic process and their ideas were formulated in a language replete with imageries and analogies. The style has been feeling-oriented, somewhat romantic in character. No logical structure was consciously sought to be build up. But Sri Aurobindo and Brajendranath adhered to the metaphysical style of writing,- terse, logical and conclusive. Sri Aurobindo appeared as the tough champion of the ancient Indian aesthetics, in so far as the spiritually-oriented idea of art was concerned and pointed polemics knew their objective and they have been ably used to defend the old aesthetic values as enshrined in Indian epics, in stone, in color, and in words. He found the ultimate value of art in its spiritual significance. Beauty was the gateway to Godheads. This idea was not new with the Tagores. They believed in such ultimate spiritual significance of art. But Brajendranath was trained in the Hegelian aesthetics and the Greek and Roman traditions on art and architecture influenced him immensely. He travelled widely in the realms of English literature and European art. His training as a philosopher gave him the critical acumen to be found only in Sri Aurobindo. Brajendranath moved on along traditional lines of criticism as found in the Western aesthetics. Hegel was his dominant influence and as such some affinity in the approaches of Rabindranath and Brajendranath could be discovered. What Brajendranath thought as a Hegelian, Rabindranath thought as a disciple of the Upanisads. But we not overlook the traditional ideas of the Indian aesthetics working on Brajendranath, although Hegel influenced his earlier thinking. Rabindranath (also often compared with Hegel for his Upanisadic ideas, as understood by him) came close to Hegel and the idea of “self-realisation” through the “other” could be read in their systems. Strictly speaking, of then self through itself, if we care to remember the Upanisadic teaching of a pantheistic nature. If everything is spiritual, this self-alienation of the spirit and the ultimate self-realisation through the ‘other’ becomes meaningless in this all-pirit context. ‘Beautiful’ as the sensuous representation of Absolute, as understood by Hegel paralleled the spiritually-oriented idea of Parama Sundara, as reflected in the beautiful in art and nature (as understood both by Rabindranath and Abanindranath). In the same view we might suggest an affinity in conceptualizing the ultimate significance of art between Aurobindo, on the one hand and Rabinadranath, Abanindranath and Brajendranath on the other. The ultimate spiritual significance of art has been unequivocally poised by Sri Aurobindo and deviation therefrom are hardly noticeable in his entire system of aesthetics. Rigours of his logic, both in creative and critical writings, did not allow him to deviate from this polestar even for a moment. But Rabindranath and Abanindranath had occasions to refer to the ‘object of art’ as contained within the domain of aesthetics. Purpose of art was contained within the four was of art as such. Art for them, for a while did not look beyond the bounds of art itself and its significance was sometimes sought there and there alone. Tagores thought of a theory which might parallel the Westerner’s pet idea of ‘art for art’s sake.’ This idea in itself seems to be divorced from reality as it considered art and aesthetic activity as completely divorced from the totality of life. This is why appeal of this idea lacked finality and its advocates often showed a tendency to overcome and go beyond this idea. Tagore told us that the poet sang out of unbounded and unmotivated joy. He never cared to invest his song with any other significance. The poet’s business was only to delight his audience. If there any purpose, it had its roots in delight and it ended in delight which was communicable and sharable. But this delight or ananda was supra-significant as purpose of art. At times both Abanindranath and Rabindranath spoke of this “purposiveness without a purpose” and invested art with ananda from which everything sprang up and to which everything returned. Again they spoke of the spiritual significance of art, as bodying forth the Parama-Sundara. The empirical utility of art, its didactic charater and its educative value-they have been completely repudiated by the Tagores. But Sri Aurobindo spoke of the aesthetic, the educative and the spiritual value of art. Though art had its ultimate significance in its spiritual value, still it educated people and gave them unbounded joy. In this sense Sri Aurobindo was an eclectic in so far as he accommodated all the possible view on the purposiveness of art. Brajendranath sought to discover the “harmony” in art; this harmony was beauty and the Absolute was the absolute harmony. His modification of the tradition classification of art into classical, romantic, etc. is a pointer to this direction. DR. Seal’s cgharacterisation of rasa, the aesthetic satisfaction as “momentary infinitum” betrays the invests the momentary aesthetic experience with “an infinite value” and in this regard, he comes very close to Rabindranath, Abanindranath, and Sri Auriobindo.

This aesthetic joy consists in the successful desubjectification of subjective feeling by the artist and this has been branded as “expression”. The concept of “expression” has different baring with different thinkers and it has been differently conceived. The poetic intuition is just coined into so many beautiful words, and it has been termed “expression”. This problem involved herein is: whether this expression and the intuition which it expresses are identical or not? Rabindranath, unlike Croce, told us that expression was the primary aesthetic fact. But there is suggestion in his writings that expression was not only the primary but also the “ultimate” aesthetic fact. To Abanindranath and Brajendranath, this problem was one of synthesis and harmony. Expression and intuition would be harmonized and blended without leaving a remainder, to make art what it is. The subtle considerations involved in this intuition-expression relation bothered Rabindranath. He considered in detail whether expression could be termed “expression” with a remainder unexpressed. His considered opining on whether a “mute poet” could be called a “poet” as such deserves careful consideration by the student of aesthetics. Croce, the noted Italian philosopher, discussed this problem threadbare and his conclusion was expression and intuition were identical. Abanindranath and Brajendranath, on the other hand, did not consider intuition to be identical with expression. For them it was important to see how much expressed through the artistic form. So expression meant for them a successful desubjectification of the intuited image through a proper used o appropriate technique. This cognizance of the importance of technique is discernible in Rabindranath as well. But both Rabindranath and Abanindranath concluded that technique had its limited and importance in their scheme of aesthetics. Both of them thought that far a real artist the importance of them thought that for a real artist the importance of technique was nil. They concluded that the technique was inherent in the work of art but it was not the determinant of aesthetic excellence, in any sense of the term. This mystic identity of intuition-expression invests technique with an indeterminate character and it becomes metaphysically unrecognizable. This a priori identity, if postulated negates the importance of technique and both Rabindranath and Abandindranah, by their non-recognition of the ultimate significance of technique, virtually veered round Croce, when he postulated this non-duality in his idea of the “technique of externalisation.” Sri Aurobindo’s idea of intuition is metaphysical in character in the sense that it was supra-logical. It gave a synthetic vision of the whole. This aesthetic sense has been a powerful vehicle for the realization of aesthetic joy. Sri Aurobindo tells us that at certain stage of human development aesthetic sense was of infinite value. The sense of good and bad, beautiful and unbeautiful, which afflicts out understanding and senses, must be replaced by akhanda rasa, undifferentiated and unabridged delight. This aesthetic sense should be fully used before “the highest” could be reached. Sri Aurobindo told us that the self was the “delighted self” and this was a matter of intuition of which our ancient traditions repeatedly spoke. Rabindranath also spoke in the Aurobindean vein. Both Rabindranath and Sri Aurobindo had their inspiration from the Upanisads and the ancient Indian texts and that is why their fundamental agreement on major issues had been striking. Herein they are in the happy company of Abanindranath.

The yogic detachment could be achieved in aesthetic experience, if intuition is so viewed. This detachment makes possible the “harmony” that is found in life and art. And when a person is able to achieve the poet’s status, to contemplate and to recreate aesthetic forms of life and experience, he is Strongly filled with and adjusted to the law harmony. Then he is truly ‘rasena trptah’, poised because of his relish in all that is, because of seeing all things with equal eyes “The world now throbs fulfilled in me at lat.” This aesthetic detachment as involved in the aesthetic intuition gave all the world of delight that poetry and art were capable of. And that is how poetry was not merely didactic nor utilitarian. Because aesthetic intuition was invested with a type of detachment so very peculiar to art, and art alone. Abanindranath, Rabindranath, and Brajendranath unequivocally told us that art had no such final purposed as could be considered “extraneous” to the nature of art qua art. Any such “extraneous” consideration determining the “purpose:” and as such the “purposive nature” of art would make art “subservient” and not a “free activity”. This idea of art as “free activity” negated at the outset the “copy theory” and that is how copy theory did not find favour with any one of the four great Indian thinkers on art and aesthetics, whose views we have discussed in the foregoing pages. We know both the Tagores as “realists”, though their realism greatly differed from British academic realism. Their ‘realism’ was the realism of “form”, the “form” that could hardly be distinguished from the “content” as such.




  Prologue i
  Introduction 1
  Biographical sketch 17
I. Syncretism: Abanindranath's preference 25
II. Beauty, Art and Truth: Their relation 31
III. A Continuum: In Nature and Art 41
Iv. Nature as idealised in Art Illustration: Bharut, Sanchi and Amaravati Art 47
v. Desubjectification in Art as Essence 57
VI. Mimesis in Tagore: Aristotle and Santayana compared 65
VII. Artist's Individuality and Universaliy of Art as Incompatibles 75
VIII. His Paintings: An appraisal 83
IX. His Idea of Lila: Croce, Cassirer and and Schiller compared 101
X. His Philosophy of Beauty examined 113
XI. His Idea of Rasa and Rupabheda explained 123
XII. indian Art Canons and Japanese Art-Canons: Tagore's Appaisal 131
XIII. Sastric ad Mathematical Proportion 141
XIV. Freedom of the Artist: Subjectivity of Beauty 149
XV. Semblance in Art 171
XVI. Beauty as Abustment: Resulting Anomalies 179
XVII. Reciprocity in Art-Appreciation: Its Subjectivity 185
XVIII. His Sense of Realism: Concept of Prama 191
XIX. Bhava, Vyanga and Lavanya Explained 197
  Select Bibliography for further Reference 209
  Index 215


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