When I returned to India in 2001 after being away for twenty-two years I felt compelled to write about the situation I found in the contemporary art scene and in school art education. It seemed that contemporary art was lurching imitatively into western art constructs that had little relevance, and simultaneously the broader and integrative art traditions of India were being abandoned thoughtlessly.

Initially I wrote articles for the Hindu newspaper. This led to regular columns in two monthly magazines: First City and Design Today and I wrote several pieces for Resurgence magazine in the UK. In 2005 Penguin India commissioned me to write my first book on a rethinking of Indian art and aesthetics, Towards Ananda. My second book Artistic Visions and The Promise of Beauty, where I was a co-editor, is a cross-cultural study that brings classical Indian and Asian views on art practices and beauty into dialogue with their Western counterparts. And now a third book The Promise of Beauty & Why it Matters. I continue to write, as it helps me think, share and engage.


  • The Promise of Beauty and Why It Matters - Cover

    The Promise of Beauty and Why It Matters

    HarperCollins, 2017
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    'A concern for beauty would certainly make us better shapers of the world.' - Roger Scruton

    The idea of beauty is highly conflicted terrain. Does it only have to do with how things look? Is it merely prettiness? Is it entirely subjective? Does it serve a function? Historically, beauty has been held in high esteem: 'beauty is truth, truth beauty,' the poet Keats wrote. Why then do the high priests of the arts and the arguably progressive socio-political thinkers of the day shun it? Shakti Maira explains how the problem lies with the confused understanding of beauty and with beauty becoming superficially located: quite literally, on the skin. What would happen, he asks, if beauty were to become central to every aspect of our lives: environment, education, economics and governance?

    Maira engages eighteen eminent thinkers in a series of conversations around the difficult, enthralling notion of beauty. Scientists explore whether there is an evolutionary purpose to it. Philosophers examine its relationship to truth and goodness. Artists speak of beauty and its rejection. Brain-mind experts consider whether the experience of it strengthens certain neural pathways connected with the qualities of balance, harmony, rhythm and proportion. Activists probe how beauty works in the context of social systems. What emerges is a deeper understanding of beauty and how it is a key to our world: a radical new way of evaluating problems and finding solutions, from the personal to the political, the individual to the universal.

  • Towards Ananda - Cover

    Towards Ananda

    Rethinking Indian Art and Aesthetics
    Viking India, 2006
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    Anyone who knows India is aware of its sophisticated aesthetic philosophy and equally rich history of making everyday things beautiful. Yet, many people have also experienced the great contrast between its ingrained beauty and its contemporary ugliness. This book looks at the many reasons for such a paradox, with particular focus on the visual arts: the impact of colonization and industrialization; the split between the practical arts and the fine arts, which diminished the crafts and made art a plaything of the elite; the movement towards ‘brand-name’ art; the influence of Western art movements and the quality of art education.

    Unlike most books on Indian art and aesthetics which emphasize the glorious past? of the classical traditions, Towards Ananda is centred on the present and the future on contemporary art and its place in the emerging global art world. The author explores ancient theories of aesthetics in the light of contemporary challenges, and journeys across the country to distil the complex forces which have shaped Indian aesthetics. He also gives us an overview of Western ideologies and art movements, and their conflict with Eastern perspectives. In the course of the narrative, he illustrates the application of the aesthetic values of balance, rhythm, harmony and proportionality in art as also in economics, development strategies, health, education, city planning, architecture, and product design. Though the primary focus is India, the issues discussed, of purpose and practice, content and context, market forces and institutions, extend to all societies that are becoming homogenized by globalization.

    A book that engages the reader both intellectually and emotionally, Towards Ananda is a seamless chain of ideas about the production and consumption of art in modern times. As an insider’s view of the art world, it offers valuable insights into how artists see, think and work. And since art can never be separate from the experience of reality, it is also a provocative commentary on the state and society that we are a part of.

  • Artistic Visions and the Promise of Beauty - Cover

    Artistic Visions and the Promise of Beauty

    Cross-Cultural Perspectives
    Springer, 2017
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    This volume examines the motives behind rejections of beauty often found within contemporary art practice, where much critically acclaimed art is deliberately ugly and alienating. It reflects on the nature and value of beauty, asking whether beauty still has a future in art and what role it can play in our lives generally. The volume discusses the possible “end of art,” what art is, and the relation between art and beauty beyond their historically Western horizons to include perspectives from Asia.

    The individual chapters address a number of interrelated issues, including: art, beauty and the sacred; beauty as a source of joy and consolation; beauty as a bridge between the natural and the human; beauty and the human form; the role of curatorial practice in defining art; order and creativity; and the distinction between art and craft. The volume offers a valuable addition to cross-cultural dialogue and, in particular, to the sparse literature on art and beauty in comparative context. It demonstrates the relevance of the rich tradition of Asian aesthetics and the vibrant practices of contemporary art in Asia to Western discussions about the future of art and the role of beauty.


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