Updated: Jul 6
For the longest time, artists have been enthused by nature.
Both media and muse to man’s intangible ingenuity, the very origin of the ‘Artist’ can be attributed to nature’s charm.
Hence, nature is hardly the bystander when fable and creative flair coalesce.
Human beings have lived by their desire for self-expression, and art has been an ever-present manifestation of this need.
To them, folk art has served as the avenue through which they passed on traditions, beliefs, and attitudes in manners that transcend generation.
Spanning all the centuries of existence of humanity, from the curious daubs in Stone Age and the remains of the Indus Valley Civilization to the breathtaking folk art from Mughal, Rajput, or Mysore, the scape of Indian history has centered vividly on art.
However, on said canvas, nature is omnipresent, the theme or merely backdrop to a larger picture, realistic or stylized.
Amongst the earliest traces of art in the Indian Stone Age, the cave paintings at Bhimbetka speak of a life immersed in nature sketches themselves abound with diverse species and ways of representing them. Thereon, art became more stylized, developing a distinct religious symbolism that gave nature a sacred stature.
The prehistoric cave paintings gave way to breathtaking rock carvings, a plethora of which have representations of nature, attributed to religious significance.
Amongst the oldest and most prevalent forms of religion, icons derived from nature, ranging from trees to pagan deities, made their way into the art forms from the earliest days.
Very little art survived the post-Indus Valley era, patently so since most of it used perishable wood, bamboo, etc. as media.
A noteworthy shift from the previously widespread sculptures is observed in medieval art, encompassing elaborate frescoes, paintings, and illuminated manuscripts.
Paper, a relatively new invention, was less perishable and laborious to paint on, giving artists more space and freedom to experiment with themes outside religion.
Known for its opulence, the art of this period focused not just on devotional themes but also on beauty, gallantry, and romance.
Nature now formed the backdrop; the renderings, though more elaborate, were not as naturalistic.
However, although in the background, artists were still keenly aware of natural phenomena.
The artists, inspired by emotions, were not blind to the natural environment, offering it not just as ornamentation but also as a context and a historical reference to the environmental condition at the time.
A convergence of art, poetry, and classical music, the Ragamala paintings are also noted for an unexampled portrayal of nature from the styles of the time.
They captured the changing seasons, times of the day, etc., each inspired by different musical melodies or ragas, ultimately creating art that is sublimely complex but in all aspects complete.
Among modern folk art styles, the Bengal school draws inspiration from traditional and modern styles prevalent in the subcontinent.
Although individualistic, environmental representations in the art of this time come as part of romantic landscapes and depictions of daily rural life.
Rooted in ageless traditions drawn from community and culture native to different places within India, Madhubani, Kalamkari, Warli, Gond, and Kashmiri art styles, are each known for their own distinctive representation of flora and fauna.
Folk artists draw their creative inspiration and raw materials directly from nature.
Consequently, their art contains stylized forms of birds, animals, sun, moon, plants, trees, etc., in natural colors, focusing alternatingly on the natural elements or complementary to a central image.
Contrastingly distinctive are each of the styles, with nature rendered in abstract geometric forms and two-dimensional patterns, in bright, natural pigments, or in plain monochromes. However, the bold and vibrant scenes of folk art were developed not just as expressions of beauty but also to address a community's very real needs and desires.
Once this need is forgotten, the relevance gradually diminishes, and with further discontinuation, vanishes within the annals of history.
The growing environmental deterioration is one such cause of a significant dent in the sacred relationship between folk artists and their inspiration, nature itself.
Many such artists lament the loss of creative imagination, recreating past works when unable to draw new imagery from nature.
As a result, fundamental shifts in understanding what constitutes art today have been observed.
However, in each piece, each borrowed motif, and stylized flower, nature comes through, continuing to mesmerize, more present than ever before.
editor: Diya Mondal