Dashiki Dialogues: A life lived for art is never a life wasted

2013-11-12 10:00

Why are arts and culture important?

I’m often asked this question by people from various walks of life. Some do it as part of a way to suggest this sector of our lives and economies are not essential.

More often than not, it comes from people who are outside the liberal professions.

It’s a debate that usually starts when these types, who are generally visually illiterate and can hardly tell the difference between timbre and tempo, want to offer pedestrian appraisals of historic artworks.

Now there’s nothing wrong with people peddling their opinions.

In fact, this is exactly what we need: audiences that are bold and interactive.

The problem is the tendency for cheap chatter. It includes comments like: “Oh, but I could splatter paint just the same. There’s nothing special about your Jackson Pollock,” or, “It’s just noisy trumpets, I could do that!”

Well, I’ve always given a simple retort to these misplaced statements. You couldn’t do what Pollock did and, no, you couldn’t blow just as good.

But the importance of culture lies in the much more subtle

parts of our lives. It’s felt in that place where our material flesh connects with our propensity for the ethereal.

It’s the almost eucharistic moment, that transubstantiation where the poetic word becomes flesh or the sounds of trumpets can break down walls.

Those who know it feel it.

For many, the meaning of culture can only be explained through how it was ploughed into their lives during childhood. It’s the same with me.

As a child, I discovered a capacity to express myself through art before I understood the power of words to do the same.

This was in Ga-Rankuwa, a township, which was a hotbed of anti-apartheid art activism and shebeens to the North West of Tshwane.

I found that pictures – whether drawn, painted or cut out of magazines – held a fascinating propensity for creating meaning beyond other methods of expressing the self.

I was born into a segregated country and raised into a nation that was beginning to experiment with notions of discovering itself across racial lines.

So it makes sense that the first substantive interactions across the race line was in the context of studying art.

This was both at Saturday school as a teen and at university as a young adult. It was through art that I first crossed race, gender and other lines for all manner of human reasons. So it was culture that gave my biology its humanity, so to speak.

As we go through life’s rigmaroles, we are advised and implored to carry ourselves with care and keep ourselves alive and healthy. But few will tell you why.

So with my dashiki nicely starched, I offer that we stay alive for these

creative human dialogues that only the arts can articulate.

»?Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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