Art is one of those things that I have always loved, but never really understood. The idea I have had about art is that it is largely a function of the creativity of the artist. You know, painting, sculpting, drawing, making random pieces into creative works that are relatable to others who happen to have minds fluid enough to think like the artists themselves – people who can understand or even appreciate your work. I felt that art was majorly reliant on the creative imagination and technical skill of the artist that created it. So, it is supposed to be creative, have a meaning beyond it, and tell a story.
But then, I have a portrait of myself I wake up to everyday. A friend of mine took out his time to recreate a phone picture of me on a canvas – for money though (some friend right?). I mean, I love this picture. I would get more but then I would be at the risk of seeming vain or thrasonical, whatever those mean. However, is that the same as art? Can any tyro who can recreate pieces on paper to a considerable extent, call himself an artist? Isn’t art is supposed to tell a story? If so, does every art tell a story?
African Art has been a force to reckon with for such a long time. There is, of course, the confusion that comes with who you consider to be African. Black Americans, even with African descent may not be considered as Africans in this regard. Various definitions of African art, never hesitate to explain the uniqueness of each piece. This is entirely true because of our very buoyant cultures and traditions. African art shows a lot of culture. It shows the difference in the passing of time. It shows religion and war. It shows the way of life of a people, and it shows a whole lot of history. Abstract paintings are, however, just abstract and left to the intuition and perception of the beholder.
Be that as it may, the greater questions are centred on what truly African art is and who it is created for. I mean, who is it telling the story to? When you run a search on African art, what comes up are countless pictures of historic pre-colonial works of art with masks, sculptures, and portraits that depict more of what used to be and less of what is currently obtainable.
I would have quickly placed it as one of those anti-westernization sagas and such. But if you then go on to run a search on American art, most of what you would also find are paintings that tell old stories of past conquests and the old way of life. Of course there are brilliant African paintings that show culture, food, textile, and other relatable things – those are just perfect. Still, is the duty of art majorly to reflect history and old stuff?
In seeking these answers, I reached out to a friend of mine, Pelumi, who is very keen on art and who is an artist himself. Responding to my initial questions, he says:
“Any art that doesn’t have a story is just a drawing. Art has to speak for itself. The piece should be able to pass a message.”
“If your friend draws a picture of you, that’s just a normal drawing and not art. A lot of people can draw but only a few know what art means. If your friend decides to draw you and fuses something into the drawing like African inscriptions and patterns, then it becomes art. The word ‘art’ could refer to music or speaking too. Just as long as it is passing a message in a way different from the norm in a way that is also pleasing”
In explaining why pre-colonial art is the dominant part of African art, he says:
“In my opinion, we have pre-colonial art all around because it is the true foundation of art and it is art itself. Most of the reasonable art these days are coined or designed out of them or in reference to them.”
“African art is the foundation of real art. A lot of people draw and fewer do art. Of the few, very few are creative. There’s basically no story to tell again these days. Africa in itself depicts religion, slave trade and all. Africa is just about history, that’s why whenever you search for African art, you see historic art. There is so much emphasis on them because that is the real African art.… We cannot talk about what we are currently experiencing because it is not the full African story – civilization has mixed with it.”
From all these, I figured that new African art does not exist and African art is somewhat living in the past, maybe. I am probably one of those people that always believe in the greater story of anything, and art is one of those ways we tell our stories. I know art, at some time, used to have higher meaning. Some cultures worshipped certain sculptures and so on. Now, are we truly telling our stories, retelling the same stories over and again, or merely drawing? What do you think?