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Everybody in Bali seems to be an artist. Coolies and, princes, priests and peasants, men and women alike, can dance, play musical instruments, paint, or carve in wood and stone. It was often surprising to discover that an otherwise poor and dilapidated village harbored an elaborate temple, a great orchestra, or a group' of actors of repute.

One of the most famous orchestras in Bali is to be found in the, remote mountain village of Selat, and the finest dancers of legong were in Saba, an unimportant little village bidden. among the rice fields. Villages such as Mas, Baiuan, Gelgel, are made up of families of painters, sculptors, and actors, and Sanur produces, besides priests and witcb-doctors, fine story-tellers and dancers. In Sebatu, another isolated mountain village, even the children can carve little statues from odd bits of wood, some to be used as bottle-stoppers, perches for birds, handles, but most often simply absurd little human figures in comic attitudes, strange animals, birds of their own invention, frogs, snakes, larvae of insects, figures without reason or purpose, simply as an outlet for. their creative urge. In contrast to the devil-may-care primitive works of Sebatu are the super-refined, masterful carvings from Badung, Ubud, Pliatan, and especially those by the family of young Brahmanas from Mas who turn out intricate statues of hard wood or with equal ability paint a picture, design a temple gate, or act and dance.

Painting,sculpture, and playing on musical instruments are arts by tradition reserved to the men, but almost any woman can weave beautiful stuffs and it is curious that the most intriguing textiles, those in which the dyeing and weaving process is so complicated that years of labour are required to, complete a scarf, are made by the women of Tmganan, an ancient village of six hundred souls who are so conservative that they will not maintain connections with the rest of Bali and who punish with exile who ever dares to marry outside the village.


If you are interested in this topic, we have a complete art tours just for you. We will take you to where extraordinary arts, paintings, sculptures are made or if you have other ideas, we can design the tour just for you. There are also lessons in carving and paitings and about balinese art

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The main artistic activity of the women goes into the making of beautiful offerings for. the gods. These are intricate structures of cut-out palm leaf, or pyramids of fruit, flowers, cakes, and cat even roast chickens, arranged with splendid taste, masterpieces of composition in which the relative form of the elements: employed, their -texture and color are taken into consideration. I have seen monuments, seven feet in height, made ~ entirely, of roasted pig's meat on skewers, decorated into shapes cut out, of the waxy fat of the pig and surmounted with banners and little umbrellas of the lacy stomach tissues, the whole relieved by the vivid vermilion of chili peppers. Although women of all ages have always taken part in the ritual offering dances, in olden times only little girls became dancers and actresses-, but today beautiful girls take part in theatrical performances, playing the parts of princesses formerly performed exclusively by female impersonators.

The effervescence of, artistic activity and the highly developed aesthetic sense of the population can perhaps be explained by a natural urge to express themselves, combined with the important factor of leisure' resulting from well-organized agricultural cooperatism. However, the most important element for the development of a popular culture, with primitive as well as refined characteristics, was perhaps the fact that the Balinese did not permit the centralization of the artistic knowledge in a special intellectual class. In old Balinese books on ethics, like the Niti Sastra, it is stated that a man who is ignorant of the writings is like a man who has lost his speech, because he shall have to remain silent during the conversation of other men. Furthermore, it was a requirement for the education of every prince that he should know mythology, history, and poetry well enough; should learn painting, woodcarving, music, and the making of musical instruments; should be able to dance and tosing in Kawi, the classic language of literature. There is hardly a prince who does not possess a good number of these attributes, and those deprived of talent themselves support artists, musicians, and actors as part of their retinue. Ordinary people look upon their feudal lords as models of conduct and do not' hesitate to imitate them,learning their poetry, dancing, painting, and carving in order to be like them.

Thus, not only the aristocracy can create informal beauty, but a commoner may be as finished an artist as the educated nobleman, although he may be an agriculturist, a tradesman, or even a coolie. Our host in Bali was a prince and a musician, but there were others of the common class who were among the finest musicians of the neighbourhood. Of the leaders of the famous orchestras of our district, one was a coolie, another a goldsmith, and a third a chauffeur.

Until a few years ago the Balinese did not paint pictures or' make statues without some definite purpose. It has often been stated that there are no words in the Balinese language for 919 art " and " artist." This is true and logical; making a beautiful offering, and carving a stone temple gate, and making a set of masks are tasks of equal aesthetic importance, and although the artist is regarded as a preferred member of the community, there is no separate class of artists, and a sculptor is simply a " carver " or a figure-maker, and the painter is a picture-maker. A dancer is a legong, a dancer, and so forth - the names of the dances they perform.

The artist is in Bali essentially a craftsman and at the same time an amateur, casual and anonymous, who uses his talent knowing that no one will care to record his name for posterity. His only aim is to serve his community, seeing that the work is well done when he is called to embellish the temple of the village, or when he carves his neighbour's gate in exchange for a new roof or some other similar service. Actors and musicians play for the feasts of the village without pay, and when they perform for private festivals they are lavishly entertained and banqueted instead.

Foreigners have to pay a good amount for a performance: from five to thirty guilders according to the quality of the show and the pretensions of the actors; but a Balinese who calls the village's orchestra or a troupe of actors for a home festival provides special food, refreshments, sirih, and cigarettes for them. If he pays a small amount besides, from a guilder to five, it is not considered as remuneration, but rather as a present to help the finances of the musical or theatrical club. Whatever money they receive goes to the funds of the association to cover the expenses of the feasts given by the club to buy new costumes or instruments.

Nothing in Bali is made for posterity; the only available stone is a soft sandstone that crumbles away after a few years, and the temples and relief's have to be renewed constantly; white ants devour the wooden sculptures, and the humidity rots away all paper and cloth, so their arts have never suffered from fossilization. The Balinese are extremely proud of their traditions, but they are also progressive and un conservative, and when a foreign idea strikes their fancy, they adopt it with great enthusiasm as their own. All sorts of influences from the outside, Indian, Chinese, Javanese, have left their mark on Balinese art, but they are always translated into their own manner and they become strongly Balinese in the process.

Thus the lively Balinese art is in constant flux. What becomes the rage for a while may be suddenly abandoned and forgotten when a new fashion is invented, new styles in music or in the theatre, or new ways of making sculptures and paintings. But the traditional art also remains, and when the artists tire of a new idea, they go back to the classic forms until a new style is again invented. They are great copyists and it is not surprising to find in a temple, as part of the decoration, a fat Chinese god or a scene representing a highway hold-up, or a crashing plane, events unknown in Bali that can only be explained as having been copied from some Western magazine. Once a young Balinese painter saw my friend Walter Spies painting yellow highlights on the tips of the leaves of a jungle scene. He went home and made a painting that was thoroughly Balinese, but with modeling and highlights until then unknown in Balinese painting. Artistic property cannot exist in the communal Balinese culture; if an artist invents or copies something that is an interesting novelty, soon all the others are reproducing the new find. Once a sculptor made a little statue representing the larvae of an insect standing upright on its tail; a few weeks later everybody was making them and soon the statue market was flooded with Brancusi-like little erect worms on square bases.

Unlike the individualistic art of the West in which the main concern of the artist, is to develop his personality in order to create an easily recognizable style as the means to attain his ultimate goal - recognition and fame - the anonymous artistic production of the Balinese, like their entire life, is the expression of collective thought. A piece of music or sculpture is often the work of two or more artists, and the pupils of a painter or a sculptor invariably collaborate with their master. The Balinese artist builds up with traditional standard elements. The arrangement and the general spirit may be his own, and there may even be a certain amount of individuality, however subordinated to the local style. There are definite proportions, standard features, peculiar garments, and so forth to represent a devil, a holy man, a prince, or a peasant, and the personality of a given character is determined, not so much by physical characteristics, but rather by sartorial details. The romantic heroes, Arjuna, Rama, and Pandi, look exactly alike and can only be recognized by the headdress peculiar to each. A strong differentiation is made between " fine " and " coarse " characters; Ardjuna, for instance, is refined, with narrow eyes and delicate features, while his brother, the warrior Bhima, has wild round eyes and wears a moustache. He is further identified by his chequeredloin cloth.

The Balinese obtain their artistic standards of beauty from ancient Java, and for centuries there has been only one way to treat a beautiful face; which they have, curiously enough, come to identify with themselves. Once, discussing the facial characteristics of various races with the Regent of Karangasem, a man of high Balinese education, he asked me how I drew a Balinese.

He disagreed with my conception and proceeded to draw one himself, a face from the classic paintings and a type that could not be found on the whole island. Within these conventions, Balinese art is realistic without being photographic -, that is, without attempting to give the optical illusion of the real thing. Thus there is no perspective and no modeling in painting and sculpture is highly stylized. They admire technique and good craftsmanship above other points, and when I showed Balinese friend a beautiful sculpture I had just acquired, he found fault with the minute parallel grooves that marked the strands of hair because in places they ran together.

Balinese art is not in the class of the great arts like great Chinese painting - the conscious production of works of art, for their own sake, with an aesthetic value apart from their function. Again, it is too refined, too developed, to fit into peasant arts nor is it one of the primitive arts, those subject to ritual and. Tribal laws, which we call " primitive " because their aesthetics do, not conform to ours. Their art is a highly developed, although in formal Baroque folk-art that combines the peasant liveliness with the refinement of the classicism of Hinduistic Java, but free of conservative prejudice and with a new vitality fired by the exuberance of the demoniac spirit of the tropical primitive. The Balinese peasants took the flowery art of ancient Java, itself -an offshoot of the aristocratic art of India of the seventh and eighth centuries, brought it down to earth, and made it popular property.

Although at the service of religion, Balinese art is not a religious art. An artist carves ludicrous subjects in the temples 'or embellishes objects of daily use with religious symbols, using them purely as ornamental elements regardless of their significance. The Balinese carve or paint to tell the only 'stories they know - those created by their intellectuals, the religious teachers of former times.


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