When art Wakes Up

Last week, after having watched the stirring BBC documentary on Picasso’s Guernica, one of my more intense young men in the Visual Articulation and Drawing course at university (UNAM) had a seeming epiphany. Eyes all fiery with indignation at the injustices committed by man against man (and woman and child), he voiced his determination to create Art with a Purpose. But a few minutes into the discussion about art, politics and Modernism, he visibly faltered in his resolve, tripped up by the concept of Beauty: How do I know something is beautiful? And can I make something that is both beautiful, and has the power to change people’s perceptions? How can people like and buy art that I consider bad?

To fully appreciate this situation, you must know that most of the students in this Visual Arts department come from a dysfunctional third world schooling system, and struggle to write and speak more than a pretty basic English. How they gain admittance to a tertiary educational institution is a mystery to me. But hey, this is Africa. We wing it mostly, we’re dismally short on good museums and galleries, and when kids show determination and a willingness to work, we are excited and grateful.

Well, it got interesting. For a generation whose role models are Rihanna (yes, the US of A is ever present even in deepest Africa), Kanye West, and hip hop culture, it’s a stretch of the imagination to appreciate, let alone understand, the twists and turns of art history. And when we get to Picasso’s mangled forms, they find it hard to reconcile their standardized cultural tastes with such aberration. Yet Guernica managed to get under some skins, especially since the history of Namibia and South Africa is not short of injustices of many kinds…

Eventually we agreed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yet truly great art transcends subjective taste and achieves value beyond aesthetic achievement. I’ll spare you the long of it, as it’s a discussion I believe that can last a lifetime. What excites me is that this young student- hopefully multiples of him or her- cannot now go back to his previous views on the world and art, and more specifically, the purpose of his art. He must move forward from this point, and I’m proud and moved that I was around when he woke up.

What is your take on this topic? All comments welcome…

I’ll keep you posted on the young revolutionary’s progress 😉

Scenes from the Historical Event at Guernica during Spanish Civil War

Info about Guernica: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(painting)

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2 thoughts on “When art Wakes Up

  1. This is an interesting discussion, especially in Namibia I think, where the concept that art should be a “retty picture which you can safely hang above your couch” is most prevalent and other forms or purposes of art are almost non-existent. Surely their is a space for decorative arts, but there is so much more than that. And even a serious subject matter can be presented aesthetically pleasing and interesting if necessary ie Guernica. It is great if the young students become more conscious of what art can be and do… and start questioning everything! :o)

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