- Issue March 18, 2018
Art is Yours. Art is Mine
By Maya Mutesi
Think of a time before literacy, before man could sit by the water, gaze into the distance and let the mere motion of his hand recount his mood. Or paint the beauty around him. I wonder how he survived. Did he get overwhelmed by the emotions, the urge to let out something, just anything? I truly wonder how the Neanderthal lived not knowing the feeling of writing a love letter to his loved one. Nevertheless, it didn’t take very long for man to find a way to get creative with what he had around him.
There is evidence of “artistic activity” from as far as 500,000 years ago: writings, figurines and pottery which later progressed to metal work Until a few weeks ago I never took the time to question the genesis of art, not critically at least. Being your regular and typical christian I had rationalized the birth of art: God is the ultimate artist, he created the earth comprised of us and much more, ergo, man only had to look, listen or touch to get inspired. It was only a matter of time till the sub-creator in us woke up.
However, a long talk with a friend shook my concept of man being inspired by his surroundings only. She said : “There is no artist without society…one can’t exist without the other.” Then I dragged the logical side of my brain into this; initially artists were storytellers people who documented what they deemed important, beautiful and they were also rebels, visionaries uncovering certain truths that governments and power houses kept under the rug. Artists were innovators, finding ways to paint the dull in a different light, transcending the mind’s confinements. In a lot of ways an artist was a product of those same confinements, a maverick. In others, he was an outcast with a vision so ahead of everyone else’s reality that they were labelled crazy.
I went on to speculate on how the first words came to. Was it a sudden epiphany or was it years of trial and error? Another friend presented a theory: “Man was frustrated, he was so frustrated that he groaned and grumbled helplessly until the words came out. Words to name what he saw but couldn’t designate…”. I am not implying that’s how speech came about, or that the art of conversation began this way, but it is an interesting theory. I tend to see a similar process with art, some art pieces I see evoke so much in me that I can only imagine withholding such emotions within was excruciating for the artist.
There used to be a limited number of art forms, mainly carvings of different sorts in caves and on rocks. Today, there are: sculptures, photography, performance art, installation art, design, painting, craft, architecture, drawing, ceramic art, conceptual art, digital art, and printmaking just to name a few! At this stage I think man is overwhelmed with the number of art forms he can adopt, consequently indulging in all that he can. Many believe that we are all artists inside, however others may argue that there are artists and admirers. That we can’t all be talented enough.
Kitsch: “art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.” Things like the lava lamp, a six year old’s painting, or trap music.
Artists like Banksy create pieces that resonate with the public largely due to the important and serious message behind them. But not all art has a meaningful message, hence kitsch.Terms like kitsch are a necessity in a society that needs to label every single aspect of every single thing. With fast development and commercialization in the study of art and art critics, it was imperative to proclaim art that wouldn’t be relevant to the sophisticated art industry. An industry of elitism. Yet art is subjective, by nature open for interpretation and adaptation.
“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” -Banksy
Art went from being a luxury that only the rich and elite could afford, to a sort of commodity that everyone can get. With technology today I can download a song without having to wait for a an often expensive and exclusive live performance. At a small price or sometimes for free I can go to a museum and marvel at countless pieces of art by different artists from different cultures and eras.
I listen to a song for the first time I hear what I need to feel in that moment, I go back to it and realize there might be a concealed meaning, then I read the lyrics on Google with the artist’s very own interpretation and I see just how one piece can evoke absolute polar feelings. I look at a painting hang on a museum wall and marvel at the skill of the hand that carefully sketched the image, while the person next to me is concerned about the design of the frame. Then I check the price and it costs a fortune because of the type of paint used and the drying process.
The human mind is absolutely intricate, in many ways this nurtures an endless array of art and similarly, different responses to the art.
“Today, it is argued that public art shifts its focus from object to process, from artist to audience, and that the artwork becomes part of city development policies, approaches to people’s everyday life.”
“I am afraid the assumption that art, and in particular, so-called avant-garde art, is by definition of high moral value is also erroneous. To declare art a value per se fosters a devotional rather than critical attitude and ends up in pseudo-religion…”
“Even bad art is better than good bombs”
According to the late John Perreault—an art critic—every dollar spent on art is one less dollar spent on bombs. It is true that our society today pushes art forward on a whole new level, some are happy about it, but some feel that it dwindles the quality of the art. Also that art indulgences absolves the guilt of those with excess capital. Art has become part of our everyday life in the most superficial and insignificant ways, inducing art pollution. We have infused art in the way we dress down to our bathroom decor, but does it make it any less art? Most 21st century artists might argue that verily that is art’s essence, that it can be yielded in every aspect of our lives.
“Friends, fans and artist must meet. Which one of you which one is me.
Friends fans and artists must beat which one of you which one of me…
Folk in the face like she ain’t the same
She don’t really like to hang around with us no mo ‘
Wasn’t nothing like that back in ’94”
All I wanna do is give the world my heart
Record label trying to make me compromise my art
I wanna say wait, but I’m scared to ask
Try to stay sane, it’s the price of fame
Spending my life trying to numb the pain
Liberate the mind and I go on home”
This spoken word piece by Erykah Badu is an accurate description of the general relationship between the artist and the fan today. There seems to be a sort of resentment from the “friend” which I reckon is rooted from jealousy. Growing up, I too dreamed of the flashing lights, the fancy cars, the expensive clothes but it becomes hard to accept when it’s one of our friends under the spotlight and not us. The pseudo-religious approach we have adopted puts artists on such a pedestal that we envy them yet, constantly criticise them. Regardless of how much we bad-mouth them, whatever hairstyle Drake has today will be the next “Fresh trim” for a while. Our day to day life is heavily influenced by our “role models” the same people we bash and dehumanize on a regular basis. We often aspire to be like artists: cool, carefree, talented, bold, confident, rich and by copying and monitoring every single detail in their lives we delude ourselves into thinking that we can somehow look like them and eventually be part of the exclusive circle.
“We showed the industry that female artists could attract the same audiences as the big male stars.” -Sarah McLachlan
Evidently a lot has changed in the art industry. The same way it took forever and a day for women to get accepted in schools, get the right to vote and even drive cars without a fuss, the same goes for art. For the longest time to be a woman and an artist was nothing short of helpless, thus, many women adopted pseudonyms in order to get their foot in a publishing house.
Author J.K Rowling explained that before publishing Harry Potter her publishers asked her to change her name from Joanne to something with initials in order to attract boy readers. Similarly, the authors of Wuthering Heights, Mary Poppins, Fifty Shades of Grey and many more used pen names either ambiguous initials or straight up male names to overcome sexist readers and publishers. Regrettably, the art industry, the most authentic and natural industry in my opinion is not void of sexism, racism nor elitism. Though things are evolving we still have long ways to go. Put “ism” words aside, there are still many reasons for one to adopt a pseudonym. The social pressures that come with the label “artist” are momentous, the responsibility of using your platform not only for yourself but those who know you and support you are heavy on the soul. Some argue that it’s cowardice, to purposefully detach yourself from your art in order to avoid criticism and accountability. Others say that to let art be, by removing the artist brings value to it all the while supplying it with neutrality. But there can never be total objectivity.
At its core that’s what it’s all about: expression, creativity, communication and vision. Art is timeless. It knows no logic, no reason, no formula, it is supple in all forms. A constant source of support and encouragement that relieves many of themselves. We obsess with artists’ essence, often forgetting that we are one of the many stimuli to their genius. Without the devotee there wouldn’t be an artist, we are art. The gifted and the admirer. Without the enthusiast who spends time, energy and money on art, it would be just another thing, ordinary and useless. The admirer appreciates the work of art giving it value, usefulness and worth.
I strongly believe that we are all art, but I can’t discern/ resolve that we can all yield it in the same way. Still, to restrict art to a specific group of people would be a crime. Art is yours, art is mine.