Art Attack: Reclaiming Art

Art is not a preserve for those who fail or aren’t good at ‘everything else’! Art is the revolution!

If nothing else sinks in, let this be the take away!

Society has been perpetrating this notion that the pursuit of career or livelihood through artistic ventures should warrant a pity party, is the work of the idle, maybe even the hopeless, or a conclusion that those who dare try are people who failed at all else; they didn’t excel in the ‘subjects that lead to meaningful careers’.

It’s time we paused and questioned why we are sacrificing the beauty of art at the altar of ignorance.

Art is what it is to be human, first and foremost.

Let’s explore some definitions of art, shall we?

  1. The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power
  2. Works produced by such skill and imagination
  3. Subjects of study primarily concerned with the processes and products of human creativity and social life, such as languages, literature, and history (as contrasted with scientific or technical subjects)
  4. A skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice

Many more exist, but let’s work with these. Worth noting here that a person who is skilled at an activity is an artist. If you consider yourself skilled at something, congratulations, you are an artist!

Artistry, therefore, doesn’t solely apply to the production or skills in art works, such as painting, singing, writing, and any other endeavour we typically consider art. Art involves connection (an interaction with a recipient/someone who notices it) and generosity (sharing it for it to be noticed).

Art is not a gene or a specific talent. Art is an attitude, culturally driven and available to anyone who chooses to adopt it. Art isn’t something sold in a gallery or performed on a stage. Art is the unique work of a human being, work that touches another.

This ought to be our point of departure when discussing and imagining art,artistry and artistic works.

So, when we (sub)consciously look down on ‘art’, or artists, what or who are we really looking down on?

It’s looking down on your dreams. The very thing we all desire deep down; to live out our dreams. It’s condemning thought and imagination; elements that produce creative solutions to complex issues. It’s  looking down on the courageous and daring among us; those being the change we always say we want to see. They’re doing their bit, and we are making it all the more difficult by not being supportive, or at the very least not one of the obstacles they have to face.


Art Is Frightening… there’s no doubt about that!

Art isn’t pretty. Art isn’t painting. Art isn’t something you hang on the wall.

Art is what we do when we’re truly alive.

If you’ve already decided that you’re not an artist, it’s worth considering why you made that decision and what it might take to unmake it.

If you’ve announced that you have no talent (in anything!), then you’re hiding.

Art might scare you.

Art might bust you.

But art is who we are and what we do and what we need.

An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it (all of it, the work, the process, the feedback from those we seek to connect with) personally.

Art isn’t a result; it’s a journey. The challenge of our time is to find a journey worthy of your heart and your soul.

Art is difficult and risky, especially in a world conditioning us to be averse to such. It’s also the only option if we choose to care. Art is not for ‘other people’.

Art met Industrialization, and Art was systematized.

We live in a world of industry and systems that offer us skills, job security and some form of stability. In many instances, not much of you is required to meet job targets. In fact, we now have devices that can do most everything, all we have to do is show up to the office, fire them up, pull out templates and models, cut,copy and paste. In such situations, which happen to be a reality for a significant number of people the world over, not much of one’s art is evoked. Not much of your creativity, imagination, insight nor ideas is required. And that is where art goes to die.  A slow, painful death.

The education that is supposed to support and nurture art was also systematized. The Kenyan education system, for the most part, only requires one to exercise the commitment of chunks of information to memory, long enough to pass an examination, that entry barrier to ‘having a good life’.

It’s not art that is to blame here. That would be to fault an essential part of what makes us human beings. Nor should we be in the business of blaming or condescending. A lot more people need to engage in the business of reconnecting with art, and all the wonderful complexities it’s out to bring. I dare say that the societal angst looming over us is frustrated art within people, art that is yearning to be exercised!

The ‘industry’ that systematized art, in and of itself, was a creation of art! Any industries that have, can and will emerge to sustain careers in the arts are/will themselves be…you guessed it…works of art.

On realizing that art could and should inform everything we do, regardless of profession,interests or skills, we will be a step closer to shedding away the patronizing and condescending attitudes we hold towards those who’ve made art the core of who they are and what they do.

Leadership for instance, not only requires leadership skills or some professional expertise, it requires art as an adhesive; that commitment to brave through uncharted territories towards creating opportunities for others to excel. Tactics are no replacement for art. I can’t imagine a more beautiful existence, than one in which leadership is ASSIGNED (not abandoned) to one artist by a society of artists, a people who embrace imagination, creativity and innovation. A society, or a critical mass of people who acknowledge vulnerability, uncertainty, who are restless under a status quo…that is a society well on its way to excellence, because art is not relegated or delegated to a few, it’s a reality and the only  choice for most.

Art has no right answer. The best we can hope for is an interesting answer.

So instead of looking down on or being afraid of art, try embracing it. You’ll come to admire those who make it their daily mission to share their art with us – bills, financial obligations and uncertainty (unassured stability) notwithstanding.

Thoughts are inspired by, and most quotes are from, Seth Godin’s book: The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? 

By Nanjira

Perched at the intersection of tech & governance, media, culture.