Category Archives: Art

Showcase of Arjun Jain’s artwork.

What Then Must We Do ?
Solitude! If I must thee accept

There is a lot that could be said on the subject of solitude; my views on it, change every hour, suggesting, if I observe carefully, my reluctance with it, dread of it. It is like that, in my weakest moments, I imagine, as of a lamb having just realised, that it is being led to its slaughter, and which trembles and cries but in vain; its agitation is irrational, but it cannot see it. However splendidly supreme the acquiescing in it may be, in one’s loneliness, it is acquiescing nevertheless. This is the first picture I have made for which I find myself clouded in my mind to such an extent that words truly do fail me; producing anything less than tomes and tomes of the deepest poetry- the absolutely highest Romance, seems to be insufficient, lacking in the seething sharpness that is really felt. But whatever be the case, I am convinced, that it is prerequisite for many important things. All farthest-reaching significance can be achieved only by the true individual, who must not, never, despite everything, surrender truth for merely happiness. I’m afraid I can say nothing more at the moment, not because I have nothing to say, but rather too much, and not because I expect un-thought-out sympathy, but because I have begun to loathe it. It is only due to the last shreds of that delusion which sees art as a profession, I admit, left in me, that I make myself still public in this way, knowing in my more honest self, that it is not in fact much more than delaying what must be done. This, should be the last instance of such self inflicted humiliation; until I can see more clearly, there is no point in my sharing this pathological wallowing in melancholy. What has been seen, cannot be forgotten, but it can, I have faith, be transcended.

Featured image: Solitude! If I must thee accept (partial) by Arjun Jain

Medium: Watercolour on Paper
Year(s): 2016 (February)
Size: 56×37.5 cm

What Then Must We Do ?

It has been pointed out to me, by artists, that I give much more description of my work than is necessary, thereby decreasing its effect as work of art. And it has been pointed out to me, also, by non-artists, that description is just what is missing in most modern artwork; and, that they are being enabled to understand it, is a relief for them. From both of these I conclude that my work is weak in how it currently is. Compare with something like Dickens’ Christmas Carol or Tolstoy’s Gospel in Brief or Van Gogh’s Wheat-field with Reaper or Breton’s Song of the Lark or much by the Peredvizniki group of artists. Ambiguity is rarely a defining quality of these works; what is really ambiguous is left ambiguous and not attempted to be clarified, and what is clearly unambiguous is not purposely made ambiguous to impress. My painting is inferior in so far as being a work of art it requires words at all to be explained. Admitting that however, I must proceed as I have been.

The title I originally intended to be ‘Philosophical Confusion’, however, just ‘Philosophy’ is preciser. For a person seriously concerned with it, it is not punctuated, with spells of confusion, but consists solely of it- and the often torturous need to overcome it.

Philosophical confusion- I have used that phrase in almost every serious conversation I have had since some time. Trials of ridding myself of it, is what marks my days and nights. The picture may best be described to an uncomprehending (through no fault of his own) viewer as follows: ‘You remind me of somebody who is looking out through a closed window and cannot explain to himself the strange movements of a passer-by. He cannot tell what sort of storm is raging out there or that this person might only be managing with difficulty to stay on his feet.’ But let me not describe much further; I hope through what conclusions I am presenting now, and with what I have written previously, the mood I hoped to convey, and the spirit in which the work was done, would be clearer. What I’ve been struggling with since so long to get into words, and which I hope to be able to conclude with this very expression, let me summarise as follows:

  • ‘Everything is what it is, and not another thing.’
  • ‘Am Anfang war die Tat’ (In the beginning was the deed)
  • ‘I am my world’
  • ‘To suffer without complaining is the one lesson that has to be learned in this life.’

The first is possibly the closest to what the picture mainly conveys, warns against. The second, is in a sentence, Manifesto Part #7. The third and fourth may need further explanation. ‘Idealism singles men out from the world as unique, solipsism singles me alone out, and at last I see that I too belong with the rest of the world. In this way idealism leads to realism if it is strictly thought out.’ An eye in a visual field, it is part of it, and yet everything is seen by it. An honest idealist, strives to change himself to change the world; an honest realist is led to nothing other than stoicism. And how many great men have there been, who are both stoics and who look within for faults they find in the world. The last, has primarily to do with Satyagraha. In the realm of affection, it can be summarised by saying that what ought to be sought is to be able to give, and not to be able to receive. ‘And this giving is not giving up, not being deprived, sacrificed. Also, it is not where giving without receiving is “being cheated”. It must not feel like an impoverishment; it is the highest expression of potency.’

Wittgenstein describes as a quality of every great work of art, it having in it, ‘a wild animal, tamed’.

Consider as a final elaboration of this, and of Manifesto Part #7, the third movement of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. It is vulgar in its expression, and desperate; but necessarily so. It describes, exactly!, the wildness of the wild animal, restrained, striving to erupt into the open. A fracture in its cage, it has caught sight of.

Featured image: Philosophy by Arjun Jain

Medium: Watercolour on Paper
Year(s): 2016 (January)
Size: 56×75 cm

Ending video: Piano Sonata No.14 in C minor, Op. 27, No. 2, Movement 3, by Ludwig Van Beethoven, performed by Valentina Lisitsa.

Quotations are by Bishop Butler, Goethe (Faust, Vol II), Ludwig Wittgenstein,Van Gogh, Erich Fromm but the same have been expressed in multiple ways by multiple thinkers.

What is Science
The History Experiment

This work, even in how it was executed, was an experiment; the rationale behind it, was solid, but the medium, was completely new to me. Briefly, for lack of an expanded explanation, it is subtitled: ‘The ladder on which we stand, a reminder of the ever-indecisiveness to be faced; the identification of the personal within the philosophical; the need for simplicity and honesty; and the throwing away of that ladder, a self-declaration.’

Below I present the contained film, shot by then house-mate and film-maker Mateusz Żebrowski; and after that, some associated literature. The essay mentioned- I am as of now unsure of its value; and have thus not included it.

Evolution of the Experiment

  1. Was allotted three words: philosophy, painting, audio, to use for an artwork as part of my current course of study.
  1. First idea- Incorporating in some way another ongoing experiment where I was trying to live with different people each week in London in exchange for work. Abandoned due to having to pause this earlier experiment.
  1. Second idea- Differentiating between Newton’s and Goethe’s colour theories, using in some way the basing of Newton’s colour wheel on the seven notes of a scale and the concept on an octave in music. Unclear in intentions. Abandoned because of a loss in interest and an anticipation of not having enough time to study the two theories carefully enough.
  1. Third idea- Illustrating Leonard Bernstein’s ideas as described in his lectures ‘The Unanswered Question’ about the links between music and linguistics. Had no clear components of audio or painting as such, given that I did not want to distort the sense in which the word ‘painting’ was allotted to me. Inspired ideas about music being a constant stream of metaphor and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s remarks on culture and value. Abandoned because of a lack of time, and the project being too theoretical.
  1. Fourth idea- Focusing on Wittgenstein’s remark: ‘If anyone should think he has solved the problem of life and feels like telling himself that everything is quite easy now, he can see that he is wrong just by recalling that there was a time when this “solution” had not been discovered; but it must have been possible to live then too and the solution which has now been discovered seems fortuitous in relation to how things were then. If there were a “solution” to the problems of philosophy we should only need to caution ourselves that there was a time when they had not been solved (and even at that time people must have known how to live and think).’ Compiling list of events in history, strictly academic and artistic, particularly personally significant. Abandoned in original un-thought-out form, because it was too mechanical and devoid of affection.
  1. Fifth idea- Taking forward the fourth idea with the addition of an earlier print of mine titled ‘Water, Water Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink’ into it in some way, intended to convey a sense of chaos and inability in dealing with the multiple viewpoints presented by historical events to choose from. Completing the list of personally significant historical events- finalised at 160 in number. Confusion between various layouts possible- either a long chain leading to the print, or a large border bordering the print. Completing actual production of list in tangible form- on 160 5X5 cm khadi paper squares. Abandoned because of nervous exhaustion and sudden renewed understanding of personal situation.
  1. Final idea- Deciding to burn the 160 squares- the ladder on which I was climbing, kick it away- in the park near my home, perhaps video-recording it early in the morning. Presenting surrounding thoughts by way of essays and posters. Self-clarifying intentions with the course, and with the stay in London. Presenting also, the first part, the first chapter on history and the preface, of the book I had been working on since some weeks. Re-orienting myself. The viewer is supposed to take back from the piece, what one takes back from reading an honest memoir.


Conclusion of the Experiment

 Here, I try to, as best as I can, explain, myself as regards this work, how the experiment was concluded, and my thoughts leading up to the conclusion.

I would not be able to explain myself exactly of course, because as far as I could have, using words, I did, through an essay, which is in the process of being revised. If the explanation was to be done by way of words primarily, the work would have been a paper, not a work of art. And for the work to be a work of art, explanation, I think, should be kept to a minimum. It is the infecting of the viewer with the artist’s feelings, I believe, that is the mark of good art. If the work does that, it can be called a work of art; if it does not, no explanation will be worthwhile. I request you so, to read through the writing if something akin to an explanation is required, especially the end of the above-mentioned essay titled ‘History’, although it is not exactly that. Writing this, I must confess my inexperience in such things.

Leading to the night I would finally complete the experiment, several interpretations of it, acts, similar to what I was wanting to do, struck me. My aims had resemblance to parts of each one of them. The first, belonging to experiences in childhood, was the ritual of the havan, wherein offerings are made into a consecrated fire, the ritual symbolizing a rite of passage, and being potent, regardless of its apparent non-essentialness, in its getting etched on the subconscious of the performer. The second was an admired guitarist, Jimi Hendrix’ burning, ‘sacrificing’, of his guitar after an extraordinary show. There is an element of wildness, of breaking loose that cannot be denied. The third was the main theme of Goethe’s Faust, and the idea of the Romantic journey. The fourth was Gandhi’s public burning of the obligatory ID cards issued to Indians in South Africa. The fifth was a product of a conversation with a friend, of how people hoard, and how this hoarding leads to their unhappiness, and how one ought to always seek to give rather than collect. The sixth was the setting of the Bhagwata Gita, of Arjuna wrapped in moral conflict, and Krishna’s call to him for selfless action. The seventh was the burning of Raavana’s effigy on the festival of Dusshera.

To conclude the experiment, I carried out what had occurred to me during a turmoil filled walk through the park near my home one rainy afternoon. I had been thinking about what exactly I’d been doing those days, about my sense of lack of time, about the sudden un-structuredness in my life, and about this project. I had recently been deeply affected by some of Tagore’s early poetry, in particular the 41st of his The Gardener. At the end of the trail, opposite a bench, was a tree yellowing, between two, taller, green trees. I was listening to the 4th movement of Mozart’s 41st symphony then. I’d decided to rest. It was there that the thought struck. With a housemate of mine, who had experience in filming, I set out for the park, for that very spot in the park, the night before Nov. 9th. I had with me, the 160 square sheets with the descriptions, some with only names, of the works of art and science that had had significant influence on me. Fearful about being caught by the cameras in the park and stared at by passers-by, I nevertheless proceeded to set fire to the sheets. It was too windy however. After about half an hour more of trials, we returned, to try again, next to our house. I stood there watching the sheets burn, my mind wrestling between giving names to what I had done, computing consequences, and letting emotion take over, letting feelings of breaking free overwhelm me, recalling in metaphor what had led me to such a concluding. In an ambiguous but victorious state, I was reminded of my favourite lines from Whitman’s Song of The Open Road.

What Then Must We Do ?
The Tremble in the Soul of an Idealist

I decided, after reading through Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road for the fiftieth time in two days, that I just had to start making bigger works again- start working on my own ideas and not just go on doing studies. And this experiment of mine- to complete a picture in a day- entirely from imagination, with the condition that it had to be at least somewhat realistic, showed to me how far I am still in that respect. It is like my mind has transformed into that of a painter, but my hands haven’t.  Figure drawing in particular, when I draw purely from imagination, added with the complex compositional ideas that I come up with, I am utterly unable to handle with the degree of realism that I’d want. The laws of perspective too- my intuition has not yet become able enough in them. The work is in watercolour, and style-wise, may look like that of a child, of a child who has a great idea but is too impatient to work towards expressing it as best as he can. But of course, only practice is how he can improve. The circling prisoners in the high-hanging birdcage over the vast mustard field, and the officers and businessmen on the side, are after Van Gogh’s Prisoners’ Round (which itself was after Gustave Doré’s Newgate Exercise yard).

Here, I have tried to express the terrible inner conflict- the birth pangs- going on- absent at one moment, roaring the next- inside the mind of a person with high ideals; who having collected enough courage, is at the brink of breaking free and pledging allegiance to the truth, but pauses to reconsider.

The great works of art he has seen, the great books and poems he has read, the great philosophies of universal love he has thought through, all seem to be saying to him, ‘Come with us, do not be afraid. What we say, has been tried and tested by us, have faith. Jump. Stake everything on your values, take the plunge. You will not fall, we will catch you. Wings will erupt out of your sides and you will soar, high, high in the sky. We have spoken honestly, from the depths of our hearts! Have the strength to open your eyes; let the unimaginable glory you have hidden from yourself all this while flood them. This is how we all really ought to live.’

But just then, when he’s about to jump, ‘escape’ from his prison of lies and hypocrisy and thoughtlessness, he is struck by doubt again. Familiar faces, and his own stale, over-employed thoughts begin to vex him. ‘Practical’, ‘real’- these words annoy him when they come out of another person’s mouth; because he knows what he will be reminded of. That he may fall. That he may fail. ‘Granted that  life is meaningless here, and according to you, false and dull’, he is told, ‘ at least, every one here believes it to be as it is, and considers himself fortunate to have so much comfort and convenience all around him’. ‘What will you gain by going against everyone? Nothing. You will lose. You are deluded. Do you not want to be loved and respected by us? Like the rest of us? Why would you ever want to leave all that humanity has achieved- the heights to which we have risen in all these centuries? Do not be a fool! Look at how well your friends and family have done. Come back to your senses! Step back before you injure yourself.’

Still, the man waits- he cannot retreat now, he has so often been lead astray with such arguments- and tries to reorient himself. There are vast fields, fresh cool air, loving creatures full of life that await him, that call out to him. Yet, it is difficult to remain calm among all the discouraging chatter of the living but dead machine people behind him, bleating, one behind another, to the bang of a gunshot or the ruffle of banknotes. He cannot stay with them any longer; he would have liked to help them directly, but he has realised, that only by example can he make them understand. He must not get scared he says to says to himself. ‘There is much to be learnt; and I admit, I may be wrong, but I am willing to take all responsibility. And I have thought carefully, my decision is not based on a whim. Really, there is no other way now.’, he says to himself. The man might wait a little longer, but he has made up his mind. It is his own decision; he will jump.

Studies #1

It’s been eight months (as of July end 2015) since I last worked on a major artwork. I’ve been reading a lot, writing a bit, exhibiting, but as far as producing new works goes, I have indeed been slow. And that is not because I haven’t any more ideas- I have hundreds of them just waiting to be be done on paper, and some on canvas, but my previous techniques, which were alright for when I was using them, I have come to think of as too frivolous now. There is one more series that I might work on, which has even lesser purpose, but I will not, I think, have to proceed with it, if my studies progress fast enough, unless of course, I can attach more value to it, as it would be if I do get on with it.

I haven’t been idle however. In studies, one of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo, very wisely says, referring to Delacroix, one finds food for one’s imagination in reality, in order to make it more exact. If that alone were the lesson I’d learnt in these eight months, in exchange for my not having done anything very serious, I would have considered those eight months completely well spent. But that is not all, luckily. I rediscovered Rembrandt, and through Ruskin, learnt, by actually experiencing it, how wonderfully substances display their particular material qualities by the way in which they gradate light falling on them. There are no tricks whatsoever, in the old masters’ paintings, except that the old masters had learnt to see correctly. By merely noticing how an object distributes tone or shade on its surface, one can tell what it is. And there are no outlines in nature- another big discovery- where by outlines I mean delineation of boundaries of objects by tones noticeably darker than their immediate surroundings. Solidifying that in my mind, and I do still need a lot more practice in that, along with observing how important tone is, in depicting nature, has been hard I admit, but the effort, I feel, and the significant concentration and vigilance required in improving how I see,  ultimately, will pay off much more that what I’m spending on it. Below, I present some of my studies in chronological order; I feel proud to have finally overcome my fear of drapery:

Featured Image: Study of gradation in plants with pen #1 by Arjun Jain

What Then Must We Do ?
Cotton Fields at Sunset

I lose myself sometimes, in fields of some sort, cotton I imagine, at sunset. A familiar kind of fear overwhelms me, and temporarily at least, I am filled with seemingly incurable doubt. But I then see, if even after some  while, that the cotton field in which I find myself is really quite exquisitely beautiful; it is only that it is night right then. Morning will surely come, as it always does, and smoldering white brilliance will abound.

For I wander lonely as a cloud
That floats on low over gullies and knolls,
When all at once I see a crowd,
A host, of snow-white cotton bolls;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretch in never-ending line
Along the margin of a day:
The billion see I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them sway; but they
Out-do the sparkling waves in glee:
An artist could not but jump with joy,
In such a cheer-filled company:
I gaze and gaze but little thinking
What wealth the show to me was bringing:

For as now, when on my bed I lie
In vacant and in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with courage rolls,
And dances with the cotton bolls.

-I wandered Lonely as a Cloud by the late great William Wordsworth, adapted

Featured Image:  Cotton Fields at sunset (partial) by Arjun Jain

If you’d like to see the work in person, kindly check the upcoming page for a listing of future exhibitions. Shown above is only a fraction of the complete composition.

Also, If you’d like to buy them, prints are available here.

The Classwork Series: Exhibition Description

The Classwork Series of artworks is a result of five years of extreme anxiousness and boredom concluding with the decision to change careers.

All works, except one, are made up of stuck on small pen drawings and subsequent painting with ink. The drawings, about five hundred in number originally,  were all made in classrooms while listening to lectures. The work is mostly of fine detail that is lost on electronic screens, and can be much better appreciated in person. The main drawing, in graphite pencil on canvas, was made continuously over a period of four years, bit by bit every evening.

The creation of these works was almost always accompanied with a sense of restlessness and confusion about the future- the desire to get out and start afresh but needing to stay on for a little more time.

The collection, except maybe the canvas,  of course betrays my manifesto and is not immediately more emotionally infectious than cerebral; but due to the long term nature of the work and considering the emotional state I was in, it would be a bigger betrayal if each work conveyed a singular feeling. Still, because of my recent coming to terms with myself, I’ve tried to give a general meaning to each work by accompanying it with explanatory text while realizing that the constituent drawings, if considered individually,  might convey even contradictory meanings.

The work may seem most affecting to college students and people thinking about change in hope of leading a freer and more meaningful life. These works are about the search for solitude and silence in a world of confusion- where the most common problem is that of chaos- of being unsure about what to do with our lives, fearful of wasting opportunities and afraid of not accomplishing anything.

The exhibition intends to ease people into identifying their problems and not losing hope in the face of adversity. Yes, the magnitude of the problem is enormous and the number of alternatives to choose from many, but even a little more clarity gained should be considered an achievement. As I myself have learnt, with much difficulty, that logic might not be able to solve everything, the audience should try to listen to their conscience and sit in silence and try to make an effort everyday.