Cristine Legare, The University of Texas at Austin

The Larger Significance of Miniature Art

What if we understood how creating art impacts spirituality?

What if cognitive science can help us understand artistic traditions in new ways?

What if studying the process of mastering ancient art forms could inform our understanding of cultural transmission and preservation?

Grant Title
The Process of Spiritualization Through Artistic Activity and Training
Legal Organization
The University of Texas at Austin
Project Dates
Start Date: 01 June 2022
End Date: 30 November 2023
Grant Amount

Why do some ancient art forms become a vibrant part of the modern imagination rather than merely a historical footnote? Indian miniature painting originated in the manuscript traditions of the Mughal, Rajput, and other North Indian dynasties and has a history spanning over a thousand years. This art form thrives in Rajasthan, with artistic communities dedicated to its maintenance and evolution. Renowned for their elaborate detail, rich color palettes, and sacred themes, miniature paintings transcend aesthetics by integrating religious rituals and spiritual devotion into artistic creation. Miniature paintings hold a place of honor in spiritual observances and temple rites. Beyond their religious significance, they are also celebrated in cultural ceremonies, adorning the festive occasions of housewarmings and weddings with their holy resonance and timeless beauty.

Art holds culture.
Cristine Legare

For Dr. Cristine Legare, a professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin and the director of its Center for Applied Cognitive Science (CACS), the practice of miniature painting, as it exists today, presents a unique opportunity to study cognitive and cultural co-evolution. “Our overarching objective is to examine how the experience of acquiring mastery of miniature painting supports cultural transmission, influences spiritual understanding, and religious meaning and practice,” Legare states.

This project was funded by Templeton Religion Trust and directed by Cristine Legare. Faiz Hashmi implemented the project in collaboration with Dr. Alejandro Erut, Zachary Taylor, and Akash Sharma. Two hundred and seventy Rajasthani miniature artists participated in this research, including novices and experts with up to six decades of experience.

Spiritual and Cultural Implications of Mastering Painting

By studying living artists and their practices, we gain a dynamic understanding of how art evolves. This research focuses on the artists’ perspectives — their creative processes, their work intersects with spirituality and religious beliefs, and how they weave these elements together.

For many artists, creating miniature paintings is like a religious rite; it includes purification rituals, prayers, and a profound sense of connection to the divine.
Faiz Hashmi

Mastering miniature painting requires meticulous procedural rigidity and strict adherence to process, the hallmarks of ritualization. Ritualization has cultural and psychological significance; it ensures that knowledge, skills, and traditions are passed down with high fidelity. It is through ritualistic practice that the aesthetic continuity of art traditions is maintained. Moreover, this commitment to ritual is integral to mastering the art form, often a lifelong endeavor for miniature painters.

Beyond Aesthetics

The research focuses on the interplay between artistry and spirituality. Insights gathered from artists reveal that religious inspiration is often a critical driver in the pursuit and creation of miniature painting.

The motivations and purposes behind the creation of miniature paintings are not merely aesthetic.
Cristine Legare

The artists are not just creating art in the material sense; they are engaging in a form of spiritual devotion. Their meticulous techniques and the use of traditional materials are acts of reverence that elevate their creations beyond mere beauty, embedding them into the spiritual and religious tapestry of Rajasthan, India. This art form is an intrinsic element of the community’s ethos, representing the divine, bringing sacred texts to life, and enhancing celebratory occasions.

Miniature painting illustrates cultural values and communal identities, weaving tales of divinity with Rajasthan’s collective history.
Faiz Hashmi

The Future of Miniature Painting

Miniature painting is revered for its contribution to maintaining religious history, supporting economic development through tourism, and representing societal enrichment. This project underscores art’s profound capacity to illustrate the richness of human experience and reveals its indispensable role in preserving culture. Yet, like many traditional art forms, the future of miniature painting is uncertain. In the face of a rapidly changing, increasingly globalizing world, there is a pressing need to retain the cultural, religious, and spiritual roots that define communities.

Dr. Legare states, “Indian miniature painting is more than an ancient art form. It is a vibrant part of preserving the cultural and religious heritage of a community, culture, and country.”

To learn more about this project, watch the documentary below.

Watch Video

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