Exploring any folk art is incomplete without arriving at some understanding of how we view the ‘folk arts’ in general. This might involve understanding the context of a particular art form; the way that art form is used by a specific community, the common, shared understanding held by people about its creation and symbolism etc. A discussion on the above can make the curriculum and the learning experience much more meaningful. [Chalmers, G. (n.d.]
Prachi Dublay, exponent and scholar of tribal music and a singer, has remarked, “tribal music or folk music is shaped, influenced and is in constant dialogue with its surroundings. It is a response of humans to their environment and is a product of that very environment.” Even though Prachi speaks of music, what she says can be applied to the entire gamut of folk arts. K.G. Subramanyan (who we sadly lost in June 2016), in a 2003 talk titled, “Relating art and the environment” echoes a similar sentiment. He speaks of folk art forms being an evidence of a live nexus, not only between man and man but man and nature, a quality absent in modern societies. According to him, serious art is one that grows out of and takes support from the environment and in return refines, enriches and safeguards it. [Subramanyan, K.G. 2003] As per this description then, the folk art forms such as Madhubani paintings become art forms to be evermore specially nurtured.
Before moving on to teaching and learning, I will, very briefly, touch upon the value in the practice and exploration of folk art forms:
- What are some of the common features in the paintings falling under the category ‘Madhubani paintings” or, can one identify features that can be said to be essential for a painting to belong to this category? It could be , for instance, elements that make up a painting: a madhubani painting is rarely complete without a border, flora and fauna, intricate patterns that fill up the surface etc.
- What are some of its striking characteristics that one has noticed?
- Is there a painting that seemed different than the ones seen so far? If so, why? Does it still fall into the category of Madhubani paintings? If so, why? Are boundaries of the art form changing?
- Intricate border on every single painting.
- Side profile of human forms was depicted majority of the times.
- Almond shaped eyes of humans and other creatures. White eye with black eyeballs.
- The paintings not very refined in appearance, the figures appearing crude. This reminded me of Gond artist Venkat Raman Singh Shyam’s narration of a story, During an exhibition of his works at the Jehangir art gallery, a woman visitor exclaimed his work was so simple that even her child could do it. The artist is said to have replied, “Yes. Anybody can do it. There’s an artist in everybody.” As Picasso is known to have said, it took him four years to learn to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. There is an organic informality in the paintings.
- Highly intricate paintings with lots of detailing. Very little empty space in the paintings. Emptiness is considered inauspicious, I found out as I read more about the art form and how it reflected people’s lives and beliefs.
- Lots of flora and fauna (no matter what the story or theme), animals especially fish, birds, tortoise symbolizing fertility, erotic love etc.
- Depiction of religious, mythological themes with contemporary artists depicting current themes.
- A narrow but vibrant palette (Not that one cannot experiment with colours) Given that this art form used natural dyes and raw materials from nature to make paint, the colour range was limited. The colour palette is one of the defining features of this art form.
2. Simultaneously, reading literature (books, articles, websites), meeting artists if possible, meeting people of the community in order to understand the history, socio-cultural context of this art form and its iconography is extremely critical. This is a very crucial step in order to bring authenticity to one’s work and make informed paintings. One can better understand, for instance why in a painting depicting marriages, fish or a clay elephant are an integral part, what does the bamboo plant stand for, what is the significance of the lotus etc. Every painting depicting a particular theme has elements in whose absence the painting would be considered incomplete.
To know more about this aspect of the art form you can access an article here. (You can access several other resources about the art form through this article)
3. Training one’s hand to draw the intricate patterns special to Madhubani paintings: The oft seen detailed patterns and shapes in Madhubani paintings can be made easy, fun, helping the practitioner to focus attention, gain steadiness of hand as one loses oneself in the mindful making of scallops, lines, dashes, dots, waves etc. What helped me tremendously was a website that showcases typical patterns that make up Madhubani paintings
[Love Madhubani (2013) Blog Post]
The above resource helped me practice and familiarize myself with the range of shapes and patterns that I can refer to during making of a painting. I have made three such sheets full of patterns, that acts like a Madhubani painting vocabulary, and at times when I feel I am unable to think of new designs or patterns to fill up my paintings with, these sheets comes to my rescue giving me ideas and helping me move forward.
4. Practicing Madhubani on a presented outline:
A facilitator could provide students with outlines, that students can practice filling and adding color to. Example:
5. Choosing to make one’s own painting:
Steps 1, 2, 3 and 4 may not necessarily happen in a linear fashion. They can happen simultaneously. However, it is important to understand and build upon one’s knowledge of the culture and context of this art form at all times.
Finally a student can choose her own theme to paint. She might benefit from planning her painting thus:
– The theme
– Size of the painting and the surface to be used (whether paper, cloth, wall, furniture etc.)
– Orientation of the surface (vertical or horizontal depending on the theme and elements to be included)
– Border pattern
– The various elements and their placement in the painting (Example: Trees, Peacocks, 2 women etc.)
The Mithila Art Institute’s core team designed a curriculum to train young people in this art form. “The first six months focus on control of materials, figure drawing, Maithil culture and command of the traditional iconography. In the last six months, students are free to paint traditional or contemporary subjects. Most do both”.
The Institute’s curriculum focuses on classic Maithil aesthetics, care of execution, and on encouraging students to think of themselves as artists. The goal is to develop the students’ skills and to use the distinctive Mithila aesthetics and iconography to create paintings that are rooted in the tradition but that also express the artist’s interests, experiences, and concerns.
The students are asked to write brief descriptions of their paintings in Hindi or English on the back of their work to facilitate discussions with visitors and potential buyers. They are also encouraged to visit local cultural sites, meet with established artists, and participate in the Institute’s professionalization workshops. Run by visiting artists, these teach the use cameras and computers, and how to document one’s work, improve presentation skills, and combine art and family life.
 Chalmers, G. (n.d). [Presentation]. How to teach folk arts to young people: The need for context. Retrieved from http://locallearningnetwork.org/index.php/download_file/-/view/280/
 Subramanyan, K.G. (2003). [Talk]. Relating Art and the Environment. Retrieved from http://www.aaa.org.hk/Collection/CollectionOnline/SpecialCollectionFolder/2144
 Mishra, K. (n.d.) Mithila Paintings: Past, Present and Future. [Government Report]. Retrieved from http://www.ignca.nic.in/kmsh0002.htm
 Thakur, U. 1982. Madhubani Painting. Abhinav publications.
 Love Madhubani (n.d.) 43 Madhubani Border Designs. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://lovemadhubani.blogspot.in/
 Mithila Art Institute. Website. Retrieved from https://mithilaartinstitute.org/Home/Index
 Subramanyan, K.G. (1976). [Talk]. Art Education in India. Retrieved from http://www.aaa.org.hk/Collection/CollectionOnline/SpecialCollectionFolder/2144