Second Take: Good art is open and it accepts criticism

2012-06-09 14:58

It was around February, after fetching my daughters – six and nine years old – from school. After we settled down and the three of us had lunch, it was time for homework.

The elder daughter has made it her responsibility to help her sister with homework, and on that day it was no different. The school work for the little one was to complete a family tree.

The work was to be completed with pictures from magazines, and off went the nine-year-old to fetch magazines.

The first picture they came across was of a middle-aged white male.

The ­nine-year-old asked her sister “who can this be in our family?” and the ­six-year-old answered “daddy”.

As I sat silently across the table and watched the two interact, I nearly ­interrupted to say “but we are black”.

I did not as I quickly realised that my prejudices should not be passed on to my children.

Just a question in passing: how many of us – parents – actually choose what we think is correct for our children for their school work? And does this type of school work teach them who they are or just stereotype them?

By the time they were done, they had a family tree consisting of black, white, Indian and Chinese faces on it – ­bearing testimony to the fact that children see no colour. A perfect and harmless art at the end of it.

Good art does not insult, it understands the cultures, traditions and ­religious beliefs of the environment it operates in.

Art does not ridicule, it does not seek to hurt.

Good art educates and empowers the mind to think.

Putting together a hate-based painting and calling it art defeats the ­purpose of art.

But then again, it’s even concerning to listen to informed minds defending artist Brett Murray’s The Spear artwork.

It was author Max du Preez who said: “We speak reconciliation and in our private ­spaces we speak and preach hatred.”

Although we are a constitutional democracy, we remain extremely diverse in our religion, cultures, values and ­beliefs.

It is reported that Murray sought legal advice before publishing The Spear, and I agree that the artist without an independent mind on the legality of his work is definitely not worth his salt.

As South Africans, we are missing an opportunity to use art to build, unite and strengthen stability as a ­people. Good art tackles issues and is not meant to ridicule or mock.

First National Bank used to ­facilitate a programme for its staff called Vuka.

It focused on getting employees to understand and tolerate each others’ cultural and background differences.

It is an eye opener to know how diverse we are. It’s a pity the programme was not open to all South ­Africans.

Good art is often open and accepts criticism, and when criticised it does not play the victim.

» Phakathi is a private consultant in ­Johannesburg

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