While reading about artist Vishnu Chinchalkar’s inspiring work in the area of art and education, an article by George Monbiot caught my eye. Monbiot would have been pleased to meet Mr. Chinchalkar. “Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection.” [Monbiot, G. 2012, November]
Translation: ‘जो लोग प्रकृति के संरक्षण के लिए निरंतर झूंझते है, उनके ज़िंदगी में, ख़ासकर बचपन में, प्रकृति की भूमिका काफी एहम रही होगी. उनमें प्रकृति के प्रति एक संवेदनशीलता होती है जो जीवन के शुरुआती अनुभव के बिना पनपना मुश्किल है. और बगैर इन शुरूआती अनुभवों के, इस संवददनशीलता के, प्रकृति संरक्षण के प्रति प्रवृत्त हो पाना मुश्किल है’.
That intensity of engagement Monbiot speaks of is what artist teacher Vishnu Chinchalkar a.k.a Guruji had been making possible for forty years since since 1959; to help children see the world around them, immersed in nature and creating objects of beauty and utility.
Given the present day state of art education in particular and education, lifestyles and the world in general (Monbiot’s article provides some statistics on the world’s state, which by now may have worsened still), I hope this post on artist Vishnu Chinchalkar’s work, offers educators engaging with young children, a broadening of perspective and practice.
“I haven’t given up working with colours. I still do, just with those that nature has provided in abundance. I have nature’s palette open in front of me – there are infinite colours and there are shapes! What else does one need to make a painting? But when do we ever look at what nature has in store? Instead of imitating sights in nature with factory made materials, I prefer using material available in nature to celebrate the beauty of nature. What I would do on canvas earlier with paints, I now do with leaves, flowers, flower petals and pigments and shades therein.” [Video. Gupta, A. 2012, October]
Having studied art alongside other recognized artists such as M.F. Hussain, producing landscapes, portraits that demonstrated his own signature style along with a mastery of techniques, Chinchalkar ultimately turned to creating art of a unique kind; one that sought inspiration in nature. Crediting Mahatma Gandhi for his changed point of view, “he relinquished traditional medium for nature. (…) His range of materials spread beyond driftwood and twigs to all things organic, natural or man-made which included from plywood to algae growing in stagnant water, cobwebs and damp spots appearing on walls in wet weather. Vishnu saw lively form where others viewed those objects as inanimate and waste.” [Website. “Biography”, n.d.]
Through his nature inspired art, unique perspectives on art in education and engagement with children, Chinchalkar sought to help the child discover the resources hidden deep in nature and within her – the ability to see, observe, imagine, explore, experience and create! He facilitated children’s relationship with the environment and let them experience the inspirational powers of nature – of the skies, trees, leaves, twigs, flowers and myriad other naturally available material. Chinchalkar helped many children discover the hidden artists within them and he relied upon nothing other than proximity to nature in order to do so!
Lamenting children’s deprivation of exhilarating outdoor, natural experiences, Monbiot writes in his article, “There is no substitute for what takes place outdoors; not least because the greatest joys of nature are unscripted. The thought that most of our children will never swim among phosphorescent plankton at night, will never be startled by a salmon leaping, a dolphin breaching, the stoop of a peregrine, or the rustle of a grass snake is almost as sad as the thought that their children might not have the opportunity.” [Monbiot, G. 2012, November]
Surrendering himself to nature, having established a strong friendship, a harmony with the artist within him, Chinchalkar believed that, if nature could nurture this sensibility and sensitivity in him, then it must be possible to nurture the same in children and felt it his duty to do so. “… बच्चा तो खुद एक प्रकृती है। बच्चों में सारी की सारी प्रकृती ने दी हुई चीज़ें बिलकुल ताजा होती है।” [Video. Gupta, A. 2012, October]
“प्रकृति ने खूब सारी बातें, प्रवृत्तियाँ हमारे मस्तिष्क में दे रखी है. वो सारी सुप्तावस्था में होती है. हमारा बाहरी वातावरण, उसमें होनेवाली प्रत्येक छोटी बड़ी चीज़ उस प्रवृत्ति को जगाने, उकसाने का काम करती है. उसके उकसावे में हम किस तरह आते हैं, किस तरह प्रतिक्रीया करते हैं, ये निर्भर करता है हमारी संवेदनशीलता पर.
वातावरण में पायी जानेवाली बातों को सुनकर, देखकर, स्पर्श करके हमारे अंदर का सुपत चित्रकार, नर्तक, गायक, कवि तथा वैज्ञानिक जाग उठता है और अपने अपने ढंग से प्रेरणा पाता है. सही मायने में हमारा वातावरण और उसकी हर चीज़ हमारी शिक्षक होती है. वो अपनी कार्यकलापों से हमारी जिज्ञासा जगाती है, हमारे चिंतन तथा कल्पना को चालना देती है, हमारी संवेदन क्षमता के अनुरूप हम जो अनुभव ग्रहण करके अपना निष्कर्ष निकालते है वही हमारी सही शिक्षा है.’ [Video. Gupta, A. 2012, October]
The above sentiments of nature’s centrality to human life and its flourishing are echoed by several thinkers. Edith Cobb (writer, educationist) has proposed that contact with nature stimulates creativity. She reviewed the biographies of hundreds of “geniuses” to reveal that ‘animals and plants, are among “the figures of speech in the rhetoric of play … which the genius in particular of later life seems to recall”‘. [Monbiot, G. 2012, November]
It is with the help of perspectives and work of artists like Vishnu Chinchalkar can one hope to correct the loss that Monbiot speaks of in his article; that of generations of children sans an immersion or intense engagement with nature. Aesthetic explorations, when rightly facilitated, can help bring children back to the natural world. And why is that important? Because all the inspiration and lessons to be found for our flourishing, can be found in nature.
 One can see how Chinchalkar interacts / facilitates learning with children and also view some of his creations in this video. (12:41 on wards)
 One can view his paintings here
 His work with natural materials here
 Get introduced to some Kabir Dohas in the voice of Kumar Gandharva used as as soundtrack to the above videos.
 Monbiot, G. 2012, November. If children lose contact with nature they won’t fight for it. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/nov/19/children-lose-contact-with-nature
 Gupta, Arvind. 2012, October. Vishnu Chinchalkar – Story of a creative artist. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fA8HrAIshuQ
 Biography, .n.d.. Retrieved from http://www.vishnuchinchalkar.in/biography.html
 Chinchalkar, V. (2007, 7th Edition). खेल खेल में शिक्षा (Khel Khel Main Shiksha). New Delhi, Delhi. Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti.