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Discovering Your Artistic Voice: A Traditional Twist in An Age-Old Tale

Untitled by Bhuri Bai. Discovering your artistic voice is a journey that all artists take.

Art is a form of expression that we can see, hear or touch. Though it is an external objectification or abstraction, its roots are embedded in the internal thoughts and emotions of an artist. The artistic voice is, thus, the unique ‘voice’ that each artist expresses in their art form, style, theme, technique, and more. Discovering your artistic voice is one of the fundamentals on which the artistry and creativity of the artist depend, as well as evolve. But of course, it’s no easy task to find one’s inspiration for expression. The artistic self-discovery journey is a long and continuous road, albeit with several satisfactory rewards along the way.

Why Is Having an Artistic Voice Important?

A unique individuality is what every artist seeks. A stamp of their distinct craft and understanding of the art form. Very often, even if the theme or style is tweaked a bit, the audience can still gauge from the essential core elements that the piece of art belongs to a particular artist. The artistic voice is, therefore, like a nameless signature that the artist signs, knowing or unknowingly, on every piece of creation. What is the artist known for? What is the style, colour pattern, subject matter, symbols, and perception that the artist expresses through their different works? Their artistic voice is the answer!

Also, the artistic voice is not only important for the artists themselves. For viewers, too, knowing the artistic expression and voice of the artists plays an essential role. Audiences fall in love with the unique personality of an artist’s work. They admire art, whether it is a painting, sculpture, photograph, or performance because it connects with their thought process. Or it stimulates their intelligence or emotional imagination and knowledge.

Additionally, for society as a whole, the artistic voice is beneficial. Art is but a reflection of our times, as well as social and cultural surroundings. For instance, traditional art forms manifest the rural lifestyle. Artists such as Abanindranath Tagore or Nandalal Bose, through their paintings, inspired the idea of the Freedom Struggle. Young artists today are using street art to express their artistic voices. Their themes vary from politics to social commentary. Thus, the artistic voice stems from the soul and mind of the artist. But its influence and impact are far-reaching.

"Bharat Mata" is a very famous Indian painting and is Abanindranath Tagore's attempt of humanisation of ‘Bharat Mata’ where the mother is seeking liberation through her sons.
Bharat Mata (Mother India) by Abanindranath Tagore. Source: wikiart.org

How to Find Your ‘Artist’s Voice’?

Finding one’s ‘voice,’ whether for an artist or anyone for that matter, doesn’t come easy! It entails several moments of talking to oneself and understanding the basic meaning and purpose of pursuing art. It involves a gut realization of what inspires you and what means the most to you. However, it also depends on practical aspects, such as the skill and training of an artist.

Also, the artistic voice is not a stable concept. It is not something that you wake up one day and find embedded or sorted out. In fact, it is a process that evolves and even sometimes changes with experience and time. The more the artist hones their skills, practices and improves their art, meets different people, and encounters situations, the more likely the chances for their artistic voice to shift too.

A great example of this is when we view the paintings of Amrita Sher-Gil. During her initial young years as a painter, Western and European styles were her primary influences. Many of her paintings were self-portraits, portraits of her friends, nudes, and more. However, later in life, her paintings had a definite and distinct ‘Indian voice.’ Her travels across the world, especially in rural India, as well as heritage sites, such as Ajanta Caves, impacted her second phase of paintings. She then started depicting village scenes and women in rural areas and also experimented with traditional Indian art forms, such as the Pahari style of miniature painting.

Amrita Sher-Gil's later work was influenced by her travels through rural India.
Woman on Charpai by Amrita Sher-Gil. Date: 1940. Source: wikiart.org

Artistic Voice in Traditional Arts

Traditional arts in India have been passed from one generation to another in a specific geographical location. Whether it be Madhubani paintings or Warli paintings, or Kalighat paintings – each has a characteristic theme, style, approach, and technique. All these art styles hail from a particular region and reflect the cultural landscapes of their spatial worlds. Hence, it might seem unnecessary to associate the artistic voice with traditional arts because the collective thought and understanding of the art are what matters more than individual idiosyncrasies. Also, the traditional arts are bound by a heritage of style and technique that artists over the years have been following.

Yet, surprisingly, in spite of limiting their artistic expression within the boundaries of traditional arts, several artists have found their personally unique ‘voice.’ Their artistic voice takes flight within the parameters of traditional arts. They keep the heritage alive and yet find contemporary and distinct styles, themes, and nuances of their own.

Living a Life of Creative Exploration

Discovering artistic voice by traditional artists has been a heartening blend of the universal and unique. For example, Jivya Soma Mhase, one of the greatest Warli artists, once said, ‘There are human beings, birds, animals, insects, and so on. Everything moves day and night. Life is movement.’ It was in these words that he expressed one of his basic beliefs that are manifested in his paintings. He found his artistic voice in the movement of life, wherewith his style, intelligent compositions, and deep thought, he was able to paint with lines and dots the impression of vibration.

A family with five children going to attend the festival of Bhagoria that begins around eight days before Holi.
Untitled (c 1980) by Bhuri Bai. Source: openthemagazine.com

Bhuri Bai, the first woman Bhil artist, started out by painting on the walls of her house. She drew inspiration from animals and nature, as is the norm with Bhil art. However, as she travelled and collaborated with other artists, her artistic voice channelled her toward one of her best paintings to date – Bhuri Bai: My Life as An Artist. This autobiographical series of paintings included the essential elements of Bhil art but also told her personal story. From being a daily wage labourer to a Padma Shree awardee, her artistic self-discovery journey is a shining example for all young artists.   

Kalam Patua was born into a family of Patachitra painters. He learned the traditional art form and soon started assisting his uncle. His reputation grew with time, and he became a recognized artist in his state, West Bengal. However, his artistic voice found a new calling when he realized that the Patuas or painters of other districts were not too happy with his fame. Kalam then decided to break away from Patachitra and found his voice in the Kalighat paintings. He continues to revive this art form that depicts the daily urban life of the people of Kolkata.

The master Gond artist Jangarh Singh Shyam’s artistic voice led to the foundation of a new school of art called Jangarh Kalam. He used tiny ovals, tight comb lines, and irregular shapes along with the dotted colours of Gond art to put his unique art style on canvas.

Jangarh’s are made up of numerous intricate and luminous dots, dashes, squiggles and waves. The bright and unconventional colours and textures in Jangarh’s artworks were distinctive of his style, which came to be known as the ‘Jangarh Kalam.’
Gond goddess by Jangarh. Source: scroll.in

Similarly, discovering the artistic voice in contemporary times is also witnessed in artists incorporating current topics, such as environment, women-related issues, political affairs, and climate change, in their paintings and art forms.

Summary

Transforming inspiration into art is the hallmark of great painters. And discovering artistic voice is the requisite for finding greatness, both in art and life. Legends such as S.H Raza, Raja Ravi Verma, M. F. Hussain, and many others are inspirational for young artists who are struggling to find their artistic voice. These artists are regarded as pioneers and torchbearers for patronizing their unique style and subject matter. Undoubtedly, the most renowned artists have been those who have the most clarity. They know what, why, and how they want to represent their ideas and expressions for the world to see.

Expressing personal thought through creativity is another hallmark of great artists. Clarity in purpose, along with skills in execution, are the basic requirements for doing true justice to the artistic voice. But finding your artistic voice doesn’t essentially mean breaking all stereotypes or traditions. It can also mean, as seen in many traditional artists, finding the right scale of balance in theme, style, colours, and lines. Your artistic voice is a parallel entity to your own self. It may evolve alongside you and change with your experiences and interactions. But it still stands out – because it is the inward guiding light that inspires your art and creativity for the world to see.

If you’re eager to broaden your skillset and enhance your art portfolio, look no further. Rooftop hosts exclusive workshops and courses on traditional Indian art, including Warli, Pichwai, Cheriyal, Mata ni Pachedi, and much more. Download the Rooftop App from GooglePlay or AppStore and enroll today!

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