Art has a long and tedious history in India. From the prehistoric settlements of Bhimbetka to the various forms of contemporary art today, it has spanned across generations and entire civilizations, morphing into various forms, and adapting to cultures. Art has never been stagnant, it has survived through ages of change, with artists and practitioners introducing themselves to newer techniques and incorporating the thoughts of the people.
As is the case, one may easily be overwhelmed by the immense wealth and tradition of art and art forms in the subcontinent. This article tries to simplify and list down various art movements and streams throughout the history of art in the country, though it is important to note that this is a highly simplified and abridged list. Without further ado –
1. Early Indian Art | Art Movements
Early Indian Art is a vast repository of paintings, carvings, engravings, and sculptures dating from around 8000 B.C. up to the prosperous Gupta empire till 500 A.D. It can further be divided into prehistoric art, Indus Valley art, Mauryan art, Buddhist art, and Gupta art. The rock relief carvings of Bhimbetka and various other rock-painted shelters fall under the prehistoric category of Early Indian Art. The Indus Valley civilization too had a boom of artistic creations like metal sculptures and terracotta figurines. Buddhist art gained huge popularity with the widespread construction of Chaityas and Viharas adorned with paintings and relief sculptures. Though the golden age of Early Indian art came during the Gupta period, which is generally regarded as the peak – it saw paintings as well as elaborate and finely cut religious sculptures.
2. Medieval Art | Art History of India
Medieval Art was commissioned and patronized as paintings – either on a grand scale on walls and as murals, or as miniature and detailed paintings styles. Metal sculptures using bronze or copper were also common and widely made during this period. One of the main contributions were the grand temples built, which were an amalgamation of all art forms practiced during this time.
3. Mughal and Colonial Era Art | Art Movements
The art of the period of Mughals depicted the vibrancy and traditions of the time with artforms and painting styles such as Miniature art with Persian, Pahari, Rajput, and other styles from various regions of the subcontinent. The painting was the preferred art form of the courts of Mughal and other rulers during this period.
Later during the Colonial rule, British influence and schools of thought had a major influence on styles of work produced and sought after. Since British culture was taken to be the ideal way of life, other traditional and folk art forms were simultaneously disregarded and Western influences over art and painting styles took precedence. The Company Style of paintings was a popular style that originated due to the patronage of the East India Company during the 18th and 19th centuries. The style blended traditional elements from Rajput and Mughal painting with a more Western style of perspective.
4. Modern and Contemporary Art | Art History of India
After the Colonial rule ended in the subcontinent, there was a huge overhaul in art styles around the country. Even at the start of the 20th century due to the Independence movement, the first notable art movement to create an entirely different style was the ‘Bengal School’ art movement. It was initiated and triggered by a nationalistic fervor in search of an Indian identity. Artists such as Nandalal Bose, Gaganendranath Tagore, and Mukul Dey exerted a huge influence over the artistic scene with the movement’s centers at Kolkata and ShantiNiketan.
Even movements similar to Europe’s modern art movements found their way into India. Government art colleges also started looking beyond their rigid programs in Western Academicism, opening up to modern art movements for a newer generation of students.
Though the most radical change came through the creation of a radical group called the ‘Calcutta group’ against a background of political, social, and economic upheaval with war, famines, and violence. Paritosh Sen, Rathin Maitra, and Sunil Madhav Sen were part of this group who attempted to launch an art of change – anti-nostalgic, anti-sentimental and subverting hierarchies.
There was a group called the ‘Bombay Progressives’. This group was formed during the 1930s and 40s and was made up of visual and theatre artists as well as writers that identified themselves as socialists. Artists such as Krishen Khanna and Gaitonde were its prolific members.
Another movement called the ‘Progressive Artists Group’ with artists such as M.F Hussain and S.H. Raza were among its founders. Though not unified by a single style or aesthetic, these groups of artists wished to transcend the academic style and the nationalist style of art – and looked at contemporary international art for exposure.
In 1957, the ‘Baroda Group of Artists’ was formed by a few prominent artists of Baroda – including the likes of Bhupen Kakkar, Ratan Parimoo, and Vivan Sundaram at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda University.
After this, there was a rise in contemporary artists exploring their ideas in a sea of interpretations, theories, and concepts.
The subcontinent has seen a wide variety of styles and art forms, as well as a constant evolution of ideas and interpretations, one so diverse that it becomes almost impossible to coherently collate. Lately, traditional, and folk art have been finding newer perceptions and interpretations too. We continuously move towards more diverse forms of not only painting but also sculpture and making art through other mediums, one that is forever evolving.