NEWS 95 - Symposium 5b - museology and museography
Using drawing talent for collection of rock art samples for museums
Abstract.Despite the most sophisticated mechanical devices, the manual method or an artist seems far satisfactory and scientific in recording the age - old rock art samples for museum purposes. When an artist reproduces rock figures he has to devote more time in understanding deciphering the individual items from the jumbles of overlapped figures on rock. Thus the artist reaches very close to the creators of rock art. Contrary to it, the "shooting" of rock drawings with mechanical devices does require very little time. During an Indo-French field mission for rock art research, the common eye could see only three layers of figures in a composition in a rock shelter at Jhiri in Central India. With the help of very sensitive cameras, filters and theodolite lances, two more underlying layers of figures could be located. But when the same composition was copied down through the manual method as many as eight layers of figures could be discovered, for the artist had to devote over twenty hours in understanding and reproducing the figures on paper. Psychologically too, it is quite natural for an artist to grasp the feelings of another artist, better than a scientist or a technical expert.
As in many other academic fields, in the field of rock art research too, it is generally thought that the free-hand-drawing talent has left very little role to play after the advent of mechanical devices of reproduction; that the artist cannot compete a machine whatever natural gift, vocation and maturity he has obtained. It is true that most of the areas of visual art, where artists had a monopoly till a century ago, the photographic process has replaced the manual work of art entirely. The supersensitive devices, the ultra-violet and infra-red photo techniques, the microscopic and x-ray methods, the tele-photography and slow-motion and speed photography have all helped man in capturing the images, their details and nature's ever-changing subtle moods more faithfully and easily. There is no doubt that science has helped an ordinary man, a non-artist in quenching his aesthetic thirst through the invention of photographic devices. After all, neither all men can be the born-artists nor can all get training in the art of drawing. In fact, the scientists, scholars and writers have very little time for the practice of art.
There is hardly any field of knowledge where the art work is not required to make the subject intelligible. Even a dictionary is not void of illustrations. Yet there are certain disciplines directly associated with the aesthetic world of art. Since the discipline of rock art deals with the works of artists of yore, it requires aesthetic sensibility and artistic imagination to understand that art in depth. Scientific search and intellectual logic may help in determining the material aspects of rock art. its antiquity, use of pigments, state of preservation and the impact of decaying agents on age-old creations, but cannot touch the core, the soul or the inner world of that art. Even for a faithful recording of images from rocks for museum purposes, the manual method of an artist is perhaps more scientific and satisfactory. When an artist reproduces rock figures he has to devote more time in understanding and deciphering the individual rock drawings from the jumbles of overlapped figures on a rock surface. Thus he reaches very close to the creators of rock art. Contrary to it the "shooting" of rock drawings with mechanical devices does require far little time. The benefits of mechanical method are in saving of time. One can record or store a heap of visual and vocal images within a short period or time. But the recorder sometimes bothers the least to understand the items on the spot. He is so busy with the handling of devices that he literally forgets the original items. During an Indo-French field mission for rock art research, the common eye could see only three layers of figures in a composition in the wall of a shelter at Jhiri in central India. With the help of very sensitive cameras, filters and theodolite lenses two more underlying layers of figures could be located. But when the same composition was copied down through the manual method as many as eight layers of figures could be discovered. For this artist had to devote over twenty hours in understanding and reproducing the figures on paper. Psychologically too, it is quite natural for an artist to grasp the feelings of another artist better than the scientist or a technical expert.
Photographs of a single rock picture taken in different flesh lights with different apertures and on different films are found dissimilar in their hues and tones from each others and naturally from the originals. The main limitation with mechanical method is its "single-eye" coverage of the subject. Rock pictures generally executed on an uneven surface, full of depressions and bulges cannot be photographed in their entire compositions. Even after joining several photographs together, we cannot get all the figures of a composition with out distortion and fore-shortening. In the caves and rock shelters where paintings are found in several superimposed layers, the older specimens are generally noticed partially visible, faded and mutilated. Sometimes only a small portion of an animal drawing remains on the rock. It requires an artist's imagination and knowledge of drawing to visualise the animal in its full length and breadth. Once you visualise the body contours of animal you find the other remains of the animal dimly visible at probable places. Thus an artist can see far deeper the drawn figures than a photographer whom a drawing fragment is an unintelligible fragment only. The artist can identify all the figures of a particular composition dispersed over a wider space and intermingled with other figures of different dates. The artist can also avoid the vandalistic markings left by the visitors over the rock paintings.
Perhaps the most secred aspect of manual recording is the oneness felt by the recorder with the creators of rock images. When a painter copies figures from rock surfaces he has to go step-by-step alongwith his lines and pigments on the peculiar canvass full of irregularities. He feels that it was he who had drown these figures on rock, long back. This oneness unveils to him many unknown aspects of art world. He visualises the drawing material used in rock paintings, the capacity of brushes in holding the pigment easy to run over the rock and the tediousness of drawing a forceful stroke on a dry surface which is almost vertical and sometime hanging over his head. Without being a painter one can not sense the pains suffered by the great master Michelangelo in painting the ceiling of Sistine Chapel. Can the motherhood be realised without being a real mother? Once you are in the trance of authorship of rock art you will reproduce it most faithfully.
In the mechanical process too the brain and aesthetic maturity of the recorder is more important than the equipment used in it. Twenty-five years ago when I started my career as a rock art recorder I made eye-copies of paintings mainly because I was not having than a good camera. At that time I did not imagine that these reproductions of rock art paintings from Bhimbetka, the foremost Indian site, would "themselves become works of art", a remark commenced on them during the first World Archaeological Congress at Southampton in 1986. Similar remarks had been from a senior professor of Prehistory at National University, Camberra. In his remarks he says "I believe that no scholar has attempted a more detailed and exact record and it will prove an invaluable source of information not only for Indian scholars but for students of prehistoric art around the world. I have visited Bhimbetka and I was impressed by the accuracy of Mathpal's record including comprehensiveness, coloration and scale". Identical were the remarks from the doyen of Indian archaeology. With the pace of time I have been more confident of manual recording than the mechanical method despite my growing physical weakness and fading eye-sight.