When, during the first half of this century, art surrendered to a revivalist ethos because a subject people had to cling to memories of past greatness to forget their current humiliation, art criticism mostly amounted to singing the greatness of the legend, poetry or epoch of which the paintings were illustrations. Later, when the windows of the country were flung open to the winds from everywhere—as Gandhi wanted, but forgetting his caution that we should not be swept off our feet—art criticism became polarized, some defending a misunderstood traditionalism with all their might, others upholding an equally misunderstood cosmopolitanism.
The dust seems to be settling now. And in this book by Geeta Kapur, criticism has become professionally mature, a serious enterprise to which the critic comes equipped with thorough grounding in aesthetics and art history and with patient research on the personal data and the inner evolution of the artists. But sophistication, occasionally amounting to unconscious sophistry, can be found in all professional advocacy; words mean a lot, perhaps much more than the image, in modern art as Tom Wolfe showed in his devastating expose in Harp’s; therefore occasionally we have to be as wary of what Geeta Kapur says as she herself generally is with respect to the masks and pontifications of the artists themselves.