Learning Journey: Art as Social Engagement

by Blaise Joseph

After my graduation in Fine Arts from MS University, Baroda, I dreamt of becoming a big-name artist who would engage in gallery-based art practice. However, in my search for a deeper understanding of art beyond the indivdual realm, I found tremendous meaning in becoming involved with the indigenous communities of Bihar. I spent most of my days in the most economically deprived villages as a Jesuit.

I now embrace a traveler’s life, constantly moving from community to community in different states, conducting art workshops. The workshops are formatted to allow the partcipants to create art without constraints. I never dictate what should be created.

Unfortunately, the capitalist era looks at art as a product with huge profit, competition, fame and glamour, rather than a process. There is so much competition in the whole process that the purity of creativity is stranded.

Perhaps this death of art and aesthetics begins from the moment they become a subject being taught in schools. Art has been misunderstood as merely drawing and painting. Children are being taught uniformly designed short cuts, which curtail their own possibilities for innovation. Schools have been using and standardizing these destructive methods. Are we not maneuvering the death of creativity in children?

Art, as generally perceived, is limited to fixed definitions of what is popularly considered as ‘good’, ‘right’ and ‘beautiful’. In my workshops, the attempt is to break these definitions and boundaries. My workshops basically address the human need for an open atmosphere in order to encourage a free spirit and creative expression. The atmosphere is grounded on a space of non-judgment and non-compulsive evaluation without a fixed time-table or a rigid format.

The origin of art practice is traced back to the cavepaintings by early human beings. Their art was part of their spiritual rituals and self-expressions. Even today indigenous communities are still engaged in art practices as a way of living and expressing the individual and the community, not as an act of competition.

I consider myself a co-learner rather than a resource person. It is not a teacher-student relationship; rather it is a relationship of co-learners. The workshop becomes a process of personal internal purification for me. I believe the workshops influence the participants, who may go through similar purification experiences at their own pace. Internal purification means questioning my own lifestyle, which has traces of overemphasis on my own ‘comfort’ and my own ‘success.’ This process allows me to assimilate the qualities of simplicity, honesty and sensitivity into my life. I believe in the importance of spending the entire time with the participants: laboring with them, eating and cooking with them, serving meals to them, singing and dancing, and even sleeping alongside them.

The art workshops have challenged some of my perspectives and strengthened my convictions. I realize now that anything we do from our heart is art. In order to acknowledge and appreciate the creator within, one has to become fearless of oneself and consequently of others. Becoming fearless means responding to the promptings of the inner self and accepting oneself as one is. To create art is to create oneself.

We are able to create communities because the creative force within us enables us to build relationships with oneself, other human beings, nature and the cosmos. Perhaps, this is the reason why artistic expressions are an integral part of the everyday lives of tribal communities. My workshops should be looked at from this larger point of view: as a means to regenerate the soul of the communities through their expressions.

Art can no longer be limited to creating beautiful objects. Rather it must involve creating good human beings: human beings as works of art and expressions of love.

I invite you to join me.