In the world of social media where people form a community and share their experiences through pictures, subcultures on Instagram and Tumblr have emerged. They all have their distinct criteria of beauty or what is ‘aesthetic’. One such ‘aesthetic’ is Dark Academia, which popularised learning of ancient arts and classics. The trend has also dribbled onto non-western audiences. Though the impact of Dark Academia is limited in India, a few aspects of it are picked up to make what is called Desi Dark Academia which has the potential of popularising Indian Art furthermore.
Influence of Indian Art on Modern Aesthetic Sensibilities
In Indian tradition, the magnum opus on aesthetics is Natyashatra, according to which every form of art, whether it is drama, poetry, or painting, should evoke rasa, the crudest definition of which could be emotion. Therefore, Desi Dark Academia often involves a degree of sensuality, along with the enjoyment of arts.
Indian paintings of the past to a large extent define what is aesthetic in Desi Academia. The background of the pictures involves royal architecture with intricate designs on walls, or old brick walls held together with mud paste, typical of the South Asian countryside. The main subject is often a beautiful woman in Indian attire, wearing delicate jewellery, who is engaged in artistic endeavours.
This painting is a perfect example of how modern sensibilities like to perceive historic and traditional life and art learning. The shades in the picture are overtly neutral. Brick wall, juttis, dress the woman is wearing and plate in her hand suggest Punjabi influence.
What is Dark Academia?
Dark Academia advocates for the pursuit of knowledge, a lifestyle that is immersed in higher education, arts, and literature. It romanticises everything that takes us to the old world of knowledge, early modernist gothic architecture, learning from books, typing on paper, and making friendships based on a shared love for poetry.
Since it is an Instagram aesthetic, fashion is the most talked about aspect of this subculture. Black, white, beige, shades of brown, dark green and navy blue are colours typically related to Dark Academia. And the activities that it promotes are learning calligraphy and having fineness with a pen to write letters and poetry. Pictures on social media depict paintings coloured with neutral shades, pocket watches, and old hard and clothed bounded books with their pages foxed. With a long list of accessories associated with Dark Academia, it is clear that this subculture is Maximalist and Nostalgic.
Besides Dark Academia, Instagram and Tumblr have romanticised Cottagecore. From living in the countryside, surrounded by greenery and trees and fruits, with the bank of a stream nearby, to wearing billowy white dresses made of organic fabric, and using jute baskets, the whole ‘aesthetic’ is associated with shades of beige and brown. Another sub-culture which is also very much in trend is Royalcore, quite prevalent in Indian movies with a historical angle.
What does Dark Academia tell us?
Dark Academia reveals a deep disillusionment with the current education model that devalues knowledge unless it could be used to generate profit. But the reason for its boost especially through Instagram and its influence on a section of youth in India, could be lockdown. Students saw their best years of learning and growth dwindling as they were shut within the four walls of their homes. Dark academia romanticised college life, its classrooms, libraries, bookshops, art galleries, and all the places where they could find beauty and insight, and live a carefree life where no work, no jobs, nothing else matters except restraint free pursuit of knowledge and beauty.
But what is in it for us, the art enthusiasts? Before we go into that, let us understand what this whole phenomenon, centred around illusions and fantasies, tells us. It shows us how rising commodification under capitalism and the breaking down of old community identity, especially in metropolitan cities, that whatever we consume, from songs we listen to, movies we watch, clothes we wear, books we read, to art we have on our walls, have become a matter of self-identification.
Obsession with Beige
The rise of Dark Academia and the popularity of the colour beige has happened simultaneously, both feeding into one another. The moment you enter ‘beige’ in the search engine, you will come across dozens of articles titled, ‘Why beige is the best colour’, ‘7 ways of using beige in the interior’, ‘What different shades of beige symbolise’, or ‘how best to use beige aesthetic’, and the list goes on. The number of such articles has increased tenfold in the past two years, and the global demand for beige clothes twenty-fold. Obsession with beige also explains Nostalgia, but unlike Dark Academia it is minimalist.
The pandemic has made every youngster grow so fast, that longing for simpler times is on the rise. ‘Nostalgia has always informed trends. The romanticisation of the past is as old as time’ says a trend forecaster Agnes Panzoni. ‘Beige and neutral colours performing well on social media are connected to audiences finding an emotional escape from a life saturated in noise and colours’ says, a colour psychologist in conversation with Time Magazine, ‘we live in a world of Noise, Chaos and Cluster.’
Earthly colours are in high demand. They appear eco-friendly and have a woody texture and give a calming effect. Since social media is shifting the taste of its audience towards a more neutral and earthy colour, the time is ripe for Indian art. Several art forms in India traditionally used organic paints. These organic colours, free from the lustre and loudness of artificial colours are ready to make a comeback.
Social Media and Desi Academia
With the influence of social media, visitors to art galleries now tend to share their experiences by taking pictures of what they like the best. In art galleries, paintings are arranged in a certain manner with certain light to create the best experience. Art gallery aesthetics have surged among students of arts, humanities, and literature, who live in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, or Bangalore. In the pictures they post on Instagram, they find creative ways to capture the paintings, along with capturing a part of themselves, as part of the artistic experience as a whole.
A blogger from Delhi, who has romanticised literature, and Indian art and simply enjoys old monuments, tea shops, and old buildings with paint peeling off, lays before us a perfect example of Desi Academia. He models himself after Saadat Hussain Manto and finds his reflection in the works of art. Gen Z often uses its phones to build their aesthetic feed, therefore, they are not concerned about rules of light or clarity and consider dark, blurry, or random pictures to be equally worthy of value.
Suggestions on how to Romanticise Indian Art on Social Media.
In our times, if a certain trend in fashion, art, architecture or reading a book is getting popular, all of it could be credited to Instagram, and how aesthetic it appears on this platform. Since much of our generation is interacting with the world outside with Instagram and other social media platforms, they must be given a glimpse of the aesthetic pleasure that a work of art is often associated with.
If we look at Indian paintings, beside the main subject there are objects or extra detailing that enhance the whole experience of the viewer. These details, whether the jewellery, mountains in the background, or filling extra space with patterns of leaves and flowers, make the subject to a certain extent come alive with aesthetic value.
As per Instagram aesthetic, if a work of art whether of the past or not has to gain the immediate attention of an Instagram user, who is remotely interested in art, an element of the present should be there. Another way to add to the aesthetic appeal of the artwork is by adding quotations of poetry along with it and allowing both poetry and artwork to complement one another. A lot of paintings in Indian Art History are inspired by poetry. Bringing out this connection would add to the aesthetic value.
Another way is through personal embodiments of subjects in the paintings, identifying very closely with the emotion or sense the painting is meant to evoke. Modelling oneself after artworks and acknowledging those artworks can boost the social media presence of Indian art.