Art as a daily activity

Learning from folk art

Photo: Diti Kotecha

Last week I was invited to talk on ‘Culture, Art and Architecture: The Folk Cosmos’ at School of Planning & Architecture, Vijayawada. My talk was focussed on ‘Art as a daily activity’ to encourage students of architecture to create public spaces where anyone could engage in the creation of art.

I spoke from my own personal experiences. Over the past year I have tried to dedicate myself as a full time artist. I have had to deal with no income for 6 months and the high cost of art materials. This was when I looked at folk artists who continue to make art despite not having any sponsors or patrons. I realised that folk artists sustain themselves by working on other jobs like tending to their farms, growing crops or doing odd jobs. They live humble lives.

Folk art or indigenous art is free from external influences. It is naive, simple and honest. It has an almost child like innocence. Folk artists convey simple themes and events from their daily lives. They depict stories which speak of their community and shared values.

Jhoti art practised by women in rural Odisha, India — Photo credit:
Semi liquid rice paste is used on the wall with gentle strokes using fingers. — Photo credit:

I shared my learnings so far as a student of art.

Create art for yourself
Tell your own personal stories and be honest
Use your own tools & raw materials

After the talk, the students were given a short exercise. They were asked to form small groups of five members each and each team was given a single drawing sheet. They were asked to think of a very simple theme and draw their very intimate stories related to that theme. All participants of a team were to draw together with their eyes closed. They were just given water colors but no pencils, erasers or brushes.

Many of them were reluctant to close their eyes at first. Others refused to draw with their eyes closed. Finally they were persuaded to not worry about the outcomes and simply put paint to paper. Also it took a while for the teams to come up with simple themes.

Childhood in school

Despite repeatedly asking students to not open their eyes, they seemed too conscious of how their drawing would end up. Some teams wanted to be sure their collective drawings would be homogeneous and beautiful. Some were worried about proportion and devised ingenious ways of measuring proportion using their fingers while their eyes remained shut.

One of the first teams who finished drawing their stories together showed their work — ‘Dream’. Other teams followed by sitting around their final work and narrating their individuals stories to their team mates.

Dream: “I saw this dream yesterday. I don’t know why … but I was running towards a train and waving my shirt.”

The second team told stories of the most memorable events from their ‘Childhood’.

Childhood: “I had a favourite swing tied to a tree near my school. I would play there whenever I got time.”
Childhood: “I had a best friend and a favourite doll. I had a very happy and blissful childhood.”
Childhood: “I had a fight with my aaya in school and she was beating me.”
Childhood: “Sleeping on my bed beside the window was my favourite pass time.”
Scary dreams: “I was scared and cried a lot.”
Scary dreams: “A childhood friend got lost once and was always scared afterwards.”

At the end of an hour the students started to enjoy the whole exercise. Some chose to pick a new sheet and draw again.

We ran out of time and the students had to rush back home before it got dark. Overall I felt happy with the outcomes of the exercise. We wanted the students to shed their inhibitions and be comfortable drawing freely without their regular tools. They were free from the pressures of proportions, color, form, composition and comparison with others. Instead they were now fully immersed in EXPRESSING themselves.

We wanted them to take away the below lessons from folk art.

Be free from influences
Narrate simple stories
Build a collective narrative

We couldn’t take up the other exercises around building community spaces for art but hopefully that can be done some other time.

My sincere thanks to Anil for organizing the event and proving the opportunity to interact with the students.