Review of Asian Studies Volume 18 (2016) 213-222 Richardson: Subramanyan

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Art Language
Accepting the modern situation as eclectic, Subramanyan realizes the need to place these eclectic cultural facts into a meaningful framework. To accommodate the changes that characterize modernism and its many eclectic forms, Subramanyan proposes a hierarchical structure, which encompasses different levels or “work circuits” of skills, symbols, and concepts. To create this structure, Subramanyan explains that eclectic elements must first be related to artists’ own personal and cultural experiences so that they can utilize foreign techniques, forms, or motifs “by the facts and experiences that are familiar to us.”10 In other words, eclectic interaction is most meaningful for artists when contact with another mode of expression activates something within their own culture or provides an alternative to that culture. To illustrate, he cites well-known examples of meaningful interaction in European art: the influence of Japanese ukiyo-e prints on Impressionism and primitivism in 20th century modern art. The works of his mentors and his own work also reflect this kind of exchange which resulted in the development of their own art language.
According to Subramanyan, each artist must construct his or her own art language composed of the many influences and forms to which that artist responds. Once these forms have been filtered through one’s own cultural experiences, they should be organized based on their expressive potentials. For Subramanyan, this structure is linguistic, a “creative circuit,” which is “a many-tiered structure of visual devices and symbols, each tier corresponding to a layer of human experience or communication need, but each interlinked with the others in many ways.”11 Since all cultural facts have varying impact on the artist, they form a hierarchy of visual information. Within this system, seemingly contradictory genres of cultural forms can be related and then integrated into one comprehensive system that arranges European modern art, village folk arts and crafts, popular urban images, and so on according to the artist’s expressive needs, creating an art language. As part of a creative circuit, these elements are neither arranged according to a qualitative aesthetic standard, nor seen as exclusive categories; they are the semiotic devices at the artist’s disposal.12
This language structure provides the artist with a means to define a “basic position” within both his particular cultural situation and the “cultural heritage of the whole world” because it allows him, “on the basis of his need and priorities” the “freedom now to seek resources from whichever area of his heritage he responds to.”13 According to Subramanyan, art is thus a language that grows out of a community with common experiences, problems, fears, and hopes. Since today’s communities are both local and global, Subramanyan’s system allows the individual artist to be relevant to his or her cultural environment while speaking to the rest of the world.

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