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Tagore on Art

From Tagore’s essay, The Meaning of Art, originally published in 1921, reprinted in Devi Prasad, ed., Rabindranath Tagore: Philosophy of Education and Painting, New Delhi: National Book Trust, 2001

The world as an art is the play of the Supreme Person reveling in image making.

So life is Maya, as moralists love to say, it is and is not. All that we find in it is the rhythm through which it shows itself. Are rocks and minerals any better? Has not science shown us the fact that the ultimate difference between one element and another is only that of rhythm? . . . There you find behind the scene the Artist, the Magician of rhythm, who imparts an appearance of substance to the un-substantial.

. . . when we talk of such a fact as Indian Art, it indicates some truth based upon the Indian tradition and temperament. At the same time we must know that there is no such thing as absolute caste restriction in human cultures; they ever have the power to combine and produce new variations, and such combinations have been going on for ages, proving the truth of the deep unity of human psychology.

From Tagore’s lecture, The Centre of Indian Culture, delivered in 1919, published in The Center of Indian Culture, New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2003

There are some who are insularly modern, who believe that the past is the bankrupt time, leaving no assets for us, but only a legacy of debts. They refuse to believe that the army marching forward can be fed from the rear. It is well to remind them that the great ages of the renaissance in history were those when men suddenly discovered the seeds of thought in the granary of the past. The unfortunate people, who have lost the harvest of the past, have lost their present age.

From Tagore’s letter written in Shelidah, 1894, published in Glimpses of Bengal: Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore 1885 to 1895, 1920

The day world seems to me like European Music—its concords and discords resolving into each other in a great progression of harmony; the night world like Indian Music—pure, unfettered melody, grave and poignant. What if their contrast be so striking—both move us. This principle of opposites is at the very root of creation, which is divided between the rule of the King and the Queen; Night and Day; the One and the Varied; the Eternal and the Evolving.

From Chitralipi 1 & 2, Calcutta: Visva Bharati Book Shop, 1940

Love is kindred to art, it is inexplicable. Duty can be measured by the degree of its benefit, utility by the profit and power it may bring, but art by nothing but itself. There are other factors of life which are visitors that come and go. Art is the guest that comes and remains. The others may be important, but art is inevitable.

. . . one thing which is common to all arts is the principle of rhythm which transforms inert materials into living creations. My instinct for it and my training in its use led me to know that lines and colors in art are no carriers of information; they seek their rhythmic incarnation in pictures. Their ultimate purpose is not to illustrate or to copy some outer fact or inner vision, but to evolve a harmonious wholeness which finds its passage through our eyesight into imagination. It neither questions our mind for meaning nor burdens it with unmeaningness, for it is, above all, meaning.