When we are born, life usually starts up on a rather definite path especially regarding our education and parental or family expectations. We start off sure of our next steps. We graduate from infancy into childhood and after this comes the drama-laden teenage years (more troubling for those of us who would go on to become drama Kings and Queens).
Then we become young adults – alive, vibrant, eager to do, and to be and to become. Then we become mature adults – being, doing, becoming…and that’s where the certainty seems to end. We settle into our daily routines enduringly believing it to be for the greater good. And all we have left is whatever spontaneity that springs up from our daily routines.
It’s much the same with our education. For the average Nigerian youth, the first twenty years at least, of your teenage life is spent actively in academic confinement. Here in Nigeria, you don’t wake up one morning and decide to “drop out of college or high school to figure your purpose in life”, especially when this “purpose” has something to do with the arts.
When an average Nigerian parent takes their child to their first school or class as a toddler, they do so in hopes that for the next decade or thereabouts, the education of this child becomes routine to them. They do so in hopes that there’ll be teachers to talk about, and friends or seatmates that will be complained about and bullies to be reported about and this, for a long while.
Unfortunately in Nigeria, we exalt the sciences. It’s always been the “in-thing”, for the smarter kids, was always a distinguishing mark amongst peers. If it had to do with the medical sciences, oh! What honour and prestige! We downplayed the arts. We discouraged our children from pursuing art-inclined careers.
We brainwashed them into believing that it amounted to nothing, it paid no bills and it was for losers. What a shame! Because even the architect of the universe had to be a master artist to have created such a living piece of artwork that has outlived time and reason. Surely, he must be a loser? No?
Here we are though, centuries down the line with no jobs for the science jerks and no space left for “honours” and “prestiges”. The halls are empty, the stage is battered and the ovations have long receded. And guess what? The art losers have taken centre stage! And the science jerks are competing with the art losers for some audience!
I am a Microbiologists and I can tell you a number of ways (not a few by any standard) in which science has bettered the lot of man in life. But there are subjects and concepts that science alone cannot fully explain. Albert Einstein once said that it would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described one of Beethoven’s symphonies as ‘a variation of wave pressure’.
Art takes human emotions and captures it in a tangible form that we can relate to, share in and store for later reference. Whether it’s the lyrics of a song, or the rhythm of a dancer, the lines of a poet, the tales of a storyteller, or the beat of a song, we realize that somehow, even when we don’t personally know the authors, we can share the emotions behind the art because in one way or another, we all feel the same basic emotions known to man. And the truth is, we are all born artists, because we are all emotional beings.
We’ve made a lot of scientific and technological advancements in the last century, which is good and very beneficial. But our advancement is still incomplete. A man who is unaware of or indifferent to his emotions and how he expresses them is incomplete. If we want grounded youths and wholesome adults, we’ve got to stop stifling the creativity in our youngsters with the ridiculous notion that art is for losers. We were born creators.
It’s our highest calling in life. Whatever we create is up to us. But anyone who must create anything immortal, be it a song, or an article or a play, or a choreograph, must do so from the inside – from emotions. That is what great artists like Da Vinci and Picasso did with their art. And that is why we still remember them, centuries later.
I might be a Microbiologist (a science jerk, yes), but I’m a proud artist too. I create. And I create from my emotions. Kurt Vonnegut says, “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art no matter how badly is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower, dance to the radio, tell a story, write a poem to a friend. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something”.
He also said, “If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts.” He was talking about our Nigerian parents for sure.