Monday, 4th July 2022
Breaking News:

Are you not an artist, too?

By Elizabeth Ifeyinwa Jibunoh
30 April 2022   |   2:40 am
The last article 'The Woman in Art' written in celebration of the international women’s month attracted a lot of responses that were quite diverse and has given me great insights

A holistic perspective on the creative personality

Elizabeth Ifeyinwa Jibunoh

The last article ‘The Woman in Art’ written in celebration of the international women’s month attracted a lot of responses that were quite diverse and has given me great insights into the mindset of my readers towards women’s issues. For me though, issues relating to women remain a developing topic that will be further revisited at another time as a part of this series.

The African-American educator and women’s rights activist, Mary McLeod Bethune, usually gave each set of new entrants to her school, the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls (now Bethune-Cookman University) in Daytona Beach, Florida, an unusual set of guiding principles and it more or less encapsulates the major thrust of this article.

She would say to them, “Whatever you do, don’t be a drudge; be an artist.”

Was Bethune’s charge simply aimed at producing a crop of ‘artists’ in the traditional sense of the word? Or was there an underlying message in those words. A lot of people may read that charge to mean the latter, but as I dwell on Buthene’s words and the success of her school in those early days, I found out she was demanding of her young female wards something much deeper and very fundamental to our very existence. By extension, our goal in life should really be to aim at becoming an artist and not a drudge.

But how does one become an artist? What does it really mean to be an artist without the acquisition of the knowledge to be a painter, a sculptor, a graphic designer, a textile designer, a printmaker, an architect, etc? How can you ‘become an artist’ when you’re a lawyer, a doctor, a pilot, a carpenter, a teacher, a nurse, an engineer, or a homemaker? How can you ‘be an artist’ when you cannot even create a simple exhibitable object? What exactly was Dr. Bethune saying?

What I believe she meant was that when you elevate your daily activities and chores from the realm of mere drudgery or the commonplace, then you are on the path to becoming an artist. When you improve or become conscious of the application of elegance in your engagement with others, then you are on the path of becoming an artist. When you approach life – including its most commonplace aspects, the aspects most people around you tend to overlook or dismiss – with a childlike sense of wonder, appreciating even the most mundane detail and seeking an elevation of that appreciation for your betterment or that of others, then you are on the path of becoming a creative or in other words, an artist. When you look forward to each new day, each new encounter, each new experience, with their potential twists and turns, with an eager sense of anticipation, ready to adapt with all the agility at your disposal to the challenges and opportunities of that day, that encounter, that experience, then you are becoming an artist. When you see the beauty and sublimity of God in both the majestic and the infinitesimal aspects of your existence and the world around you, when you recognise the divine spark in your own personality (that spark that attests to the truth that even in your flawed and imperfect state you were created in the image and likeness of the Supreme Being) and try to express that personality in all you do, say and think, you are definitely an artist.

Consciously or unconsciously, most of us express this artistic personality every single moment of our lives. Most of the time we are not aware of these expressions for they are all subsumed in our otherwise daily activities which most times have become robotic in nature. What with the daily rituals of waking up and preparing ourselves for a presentation (or an exhibition) to the outside world (colleagues at work or partners in commerce or other special groups created for our daily engagements), our outward appearance our physical selves in terms of care and grooming is so well curated and so personal that in that activity lies the individual creative talent that is so unique that no two individuals are the same.

In our unique ways, we create a nexus between the process involved in the realisation of an art form and the realisation of our presentation to the real world. For example, we combine the unusual articulations involved in the rendition of an art piece, with the careful and intentional selection of different pieces of garments meant to cover our nakedness, but harnessed with a unique dexterity to create a piece of an art form that has the signature of the wearer.

We are influenced by many factors in trying to make this creation, this wearable art form … the colour adaptation is made sometimes to suit the day, the event or just our mood, the texture, and the style of the attire, all come into play in the arrangement. Once we are satisfied that everything is in the right place for the particular occasion, we take time to prepare these garments by taking care that they are well laundered and therefore ready for the exhibition in the best possible state. Once a decision has been made on the appropriateness of the exhibit to suit the particular occasion, the next step is a careful and intentional and most personal combination of the final presentation with the right accessorizing to arrive at the delicate art object that is you for that particular occasion on that particular day.

In effect, what I am trying to project here is that once the need to cover our naked body does not remain in the realm of pure need, but ascends to the realm of a creative thinking process, we have inadvertently become artists without being conscious or aware of it.

And our choices in this regard differ from day to day – meaning that every day, we are creating (or re-creating) works of pure art, with ourselves as the canvas, and the materials we use to achieve this our desired look and effect the palette. We do it not just to suit our taste, but also to pleasure our audience at that particular time. If we were to sell the creative styles we wear daily, some of us will actually be billionaires for I have seen perfect works of art created and worn by people on a daily basis. Yet when confronted they vehemently claim they are not artists.

The same goes with other aspects of our lives, such as our homes both the interior and the exterior. Depending on our financial strength and our tastes, we organise and decorate our homes in peculiar ways. Again, just as it is with our dress code and grooming, no two interiors are the same unless they are specially curated by the same professional interior designer.

Even when one owns multiple homes, each home even when styled differently still manages to project a peculiar character, reflecting the particular taste of its owner. Each home, in other words, carries its owner’s signature – much like a painting carries the signature of the artist – as it signifies the creative intent of the owner.

Even within an individual’s home, it is not uncommon to find one part designed to be more modernist and the other more traditional. One side could have a minimalist feel, while another side is rendered with more flourish. These same applications are present in the same way with the artist in the various creations of their works.

Our innate artistic side also expresses itself in many of our other lifestyle choices. The choices we make for instance in the objects we own. But more importantly I want to look at the ways in which we prepare our food. Many people, including those who will strenuously deny having an artistic side, are absolute Michelangelos in the kitchen; they manipulate their spices and other ingredients weaving a delicate tapestry as they combine their grocery with the skill of an old art master. The results of their culinary dexterity in dining experiences is capable of transporting the eater to new and previously unknown realms of sheer pleasure. I should know for I am both a practitioner and connoisseur of the fine art of great cooking and elegant dining. I can tell you that the same rush I get when I stand in front of a masterpiece canvas in an exhibition is the same rush I get when I am in my kitchen or other kitchens, inspecting creations of absolute majestic and mouth watering dishes, especially when the presentation is as perfect as the taste of the dish.

Personally, when I cook, I wield my spoon like a magical wand ready to conjure culinary gems. The same pleasure that an art lover gets when he stands and appreciates a perfect work of art is the same pleasure I get when a guest enjoys the delights of my dish with undisguised relish.

What about our outward carriage and the image we wish to project to the rest of the world? The careful and meticulous manner in which we try to project a desired image, and the lengths to which we go in managing our reputation, is not just a mere pastime but it is an art-form. It is even more so when people become so conscious of this public image that they engage professional public relations consultants to help arrange and project their best face to the world. This in itself is an advanced well curated production of an art piece.

So you see, the fact that you do not draw, paint or sculpt does not in any way translate to the fact that you are not an artist. When you succeed in demonstrating the aptitudes discussed above, then certainly you are an artist.

The problem may be that you have not come into that reality or that recognition because once you do, then the
reality should be to make it as perfect as possible as the years go by. Same way a traditional artist matures and perfects his art as he grows older. An artist grows. An artist is shaped by his/her experiences in life, an artist matures into his style. Intentionally we all do same, for as we get older in life our choices also changes. It becomes more mature as we adapt to the various factors we are faced with as we age.

You will be surprised how deeply some of the most successful people in this world (whatever their respective vocations), are immersed in their artistic side. You may never catch these outstanding individuals with a pencil or brush in their hand, but their sensibilities, their approach to solving problems, their decision making and actions, even the business models and marketing strategies of their corporate enterprises and their policies as political leaders, are nothing short of the artistic and as they get older in their profession, their approach changes as it matures. The best of us are always consciously or otherwise striving to depart from the ‘drudgery’ of ordinariness and mediocrity into the realm of pure art.

Let me digress a bit at this point and excite some football fans as I use a football analogy to illustrate my point just a bit more. (You might ask: what does football have in common with art or an artistic expression? Quite a lot I can assure you).

Prior to the 2002 FIFA World Cup in S/Korea and Japan, the Korean football authorities were eager to avoid the pattern of abysmal failure that had been their lot since 1986 when they made their debut on the world stage. Since that time, they had played a dozen games without winning a single one. It was a record they wanted to erase on home soil in 2002 as hosts. So the first decision was to change their coach and after scouting for months, they settled on the veteran Dutch tactician, Guus Hiddink.

What Hiddink did was to take the best elements of the South Korean traits – their agility in such sports like Taekwando, Judo and Karate and so on, and ditch the traditional approach to mannerisms like uncensored respect to their elders, especially the need to bow at all times. He also studied and determined that an innate reward of loosing, which was considered a deep personal shame needed to be addressed. His reorientation of the team therefore included the removal of the fear of defeat.

Of course, they knew all about Hiddink’s reputation as an efficient, result-oriented taskmaster, from his successful stints with other top football clubs and national teams across Europe. What they didn’t reckon with, however, was his artistic that enabled him to depart from the ordinariness of football to venture into the adoption of the best character traits of the team ditching their worst traits.

It seemed eccentric and an unconventional approach to football. But his style was what changed the tide for the South Korean team. They accused the Dutchman of trying to rubbish their cherished ‘Asian values.’ Hasn’t he heard of the venerable Confucius and what he taught?

“Was Confucius a footballer?” Hiddink wanted to know. “Or perhaps he was a coach?”

“No,” they said. “He was a philosopher and a moral teacher.”

“Exactly!” thundered Hiddink. “What do you think I’ve been doing? I’m teaching philosophy here! I am the Confucius of football!”

The rest, as they say, is history. When the World Cup finally came around, South Korea was ready. A torrent of victories – over the likes of Poland, as well as powerhouses like Portugal, Italy and Spain – took Korea all the way to the semi-final. It was a purely artistic display, to say the least. Hiddink was right; he wasn’t just the Confucius of football, he was the Picasso of the game. And he turned a team which had never known victory at this level into a global referral point in football, a new way of looking at the game, and artistic application to the game gave a rebirth to a nation.

So what are you? Who are you creating? Are you becoming an artist or are u still in the doldrums of mediocrity? We are all artists in one way of another. It is an inborn trait. We are all born with all the skills, the quirks and idiosyncrasies of an artist. But as we grow in life, it is in the choices we make that we fully and finally come to the realisation of whether we are really true to those innate skills and whether we can recognise them and elevate them to a level where we finally becomes artists and live a life that is elegant and not just ordinary.

It’s time to reclaim the full measure of our artistic selves – our essential selves. Whoever you are, it’s time to rise to your full metaphorical height and say to yourself: I am not a drudge. I am an artist.

Chief Elizabeth Jibunoh holds a Master’s degree in Museums and Gallery Management from City University in London, United Kingdom, as well as a certificate in Floral Artistry from Boerma School of Floristry in Alsmer Holland An art consultant since the early 1980s, Mrs. Jibunoh is the founding director of Didi Museum, the foremost private museum in Nigeria. She is a seasoned international curator with an eye for the sublime, who has worked with the Smithsonian Institution to facilitate the repatriation of the Alonge Photographic Artworks back to their ancestral home in Benin City, Nigeria. An entrepreneur who deals in exquisite leather goods as well as health and wellness resources, Jibunoh is the CEO of both the Superlife Juice Limited, and the Ridgewood Wellness Sanctuary. She is also a social entrepreneur and Founder of the Strength of Women Initiative. An avid art enthusiast with an eclectic taste, she enjoys mentoring rising artists – a role Mrs. Jibunoh enjoys as much as her role as a wife, mother and grandmother.

Chief Elizabeth Jibunoh writes from Lagos, Nigeria.