Thursday, January 8, 2015

Social Re-Engineering and the Need for a National Policy on Art

  • Culled from an essay first published in The UNION Newspaper (Sunday March 9, 2014) by the same author  

The business of art is a topic that is hardly discussed or considered in corporate or investment circles in Nigeria. This is evident of the level of unawareness that pervades our entire society. However, it is also a fact that a depressed economy is not exactly a fertile ground for the flowering of a robust art culture; hence it is popular knowledge that art is mostly an elitist meal. A patron of art must have the power of purchase as it were. But that is speaking in the formalistic sense. Suffice it to say however that in everyday human existence there is art, and so in that sense we all are indirectly and unconsciously involved in the patronage and usage of art and artistic creations.

Dr. Nnamdi Asikiwe by Ben Enwonwu

But the issue is that our society is still a fledgling and so we are still grappling with the pedestrian issues of survival and consumption culture. As a people, we wallow in a self imposed life style of distractions, anxiety and disorientation. Among the signposts of development and I dare say, civilisation and modern development, is the level of artistic nay creative awareness and cultural values. By the time a conscious awareness and orientation is built into the system by purposeful policies, it generally rubs off on every sector of societal developmental machinery.

It is sad to say that the spirit and power behind our great artistic heritage and civilisations of the world renowned Igbo Ukwu, Nok, Benin and Ife cultures, etc, were lost somewhere along the line in the course of time. The instrument necessary for the quest for societal change and leadership thrust lie in the letters, art, and an informed sense of aesthetics. The leadership will necessarily employ the instrumentality of these tools in galvanising society. Thus scientists, engineers as well as designers, and technocrats alike, etc, are put to work by a consciously defined timeless philosophy that is built on beauty and taste.

In the advanced climes it is normal, and it is also a matter of policy that every public building have in its plan and construction, provision for artistic embellishment. It is a part of the architectural policy; it is also a part of the landscaping, and tourism policy, for all that it matters. And these will generally include historical, aesthetic, monumental, cultural, and economical considerations and all their implications.

Ideally in this manner, every civic project development ought to have a certain portion (at least one per cent of the total budget) allocated to fund art that will be incorporated into it. A reserve fund also should always be in place at the local council, state, or central government authority, for the consistent fuelling of this vital ingredient for a harmonious interior and public ambience. And the ramifications and advantages are awesome.

Art appreciation and the value of aesthetics as a matter of conscious policy decisions must be inculcated into our leadership and the citizenry to birth this revolution. And by the time this is done, we will begin to see a great attitudinal redirection and changes that will on their own begin to fashion our existence as a civilised people and nation.

Public Sculpture

For example, artworks in public places increase the liveability and the cultural richness of our society, especially the urban centres. Art around us make us think, and they help to transform our work and play environment. It is an integral part of a living and creative society. In terms of economic value, art transforms and becomes a store of value and therefore an item of investment.

Here, for example is the worth of an artwork: Mona Lisa (1503-7), measuring 77x53cm – is the portrait of the wife of a local Italian peasant painted by Leonardo da Vinci. Today it is arguably the most important singular piece of artwork in the world, both in terms of value as well as popularity. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Mona Lisa was assessed for insurance purposes at $100 million in 1962, but insurance was not concluded because the cost of the strictest security precautions was less that of the premium.  But due to our level of development however, we are still not able to see art as an investment as is the case in the developed world.

 Again let us look at another typical scenario: A compilation of original manuscripts, sketches and studies carefully put together by the same artist during his life time, comprising of architectural studies - the elements of mechanics and human anatomy are now hungrily collected by museums and individuals. Bill Gates some years back plunked down $30 million for the Codex Leicester, one of the documents! Thus artworks can be valued and recognised, as well as accepted as collaterals by banks, etc.

However, it is gratifying to recognise that one of the leading banks in the land has started from way back in the nineteen nineties to spearhead a visionary diversion from the albeit nonchalance of the rest of corporate society. This organisation has a sense of perception and vision that is beyond the rest in this sublime disposition; while in some quarters, promoters are gradually eliciting and stepping up their game by getting the works off the studios and galleries, and into the auction houses both locally and even abroad.

By Morgan Nwanguma

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