Art is an expression of creativity that a gifted few seem to possess the ability to produce. Whether it is through the paints on a canvas, the lyrics of a song or the twists in a work of fiction ÔÇô art comes in many forms but when it is done well, it has the unique ability to move and inspire whoever is exposed to it. The question is; can artistic ability be instructed in a classroom? Are all the different schools that teach literature, music and theatre simply an exercise in folly or can creativity be taught? This is a question that can be best explored by none other than the artists themselves.
“School is the place where you discover your talent and the moment you discover it I recommend that you leave school immediately and pursue your passion.”
This is what the eminent painter, Wilson Nguni, has to say when questioned about the relationship between education and art. He continues, “I always feel that education is a way of limiting us because someone has limited themselves to feel that this is the way things should be. So they limit everyone.”
“I actually find that academic art is weaker than my own art, my own inventions, my own discoveries with paint as I practice. Besides man, looking at most of these lecturers, these professors, they cannot even paint like I do. They don’t even understand…” Nguni pauses and looks around at the walls of the gallery he is seated in for a moment and continues, “I doubt even the manufacturers of this paint understand how this paint behaves like I understand it myself from practice.”
Not surprisingly, Tiro Sebina, the writer and poet who moonlights as a literature lecturer at the University of Botswana, holds a different view of the relationship between education and art. “Education provides an enabling environment in which talent can be nurtured and people can be encouraged so I don’t think the two are in any way opposed ÔÇô in fact I think they compliment each other.” Sebina goes on to say, “Education comes from the Latin word to educere which means to lead out ÔÇô you just take out what has always been there so it’s not about changing a person, it is about cultivating the talent that has always been there.”
However, Nguni seems to somewhat contradict his stance about education merely being a starting point to be abandoned when he says, “I would like artists from all fields and everyone with talent to read a lot because it will help them to think in a very critical and creative way. In my youth, I was a bookworm and still am to this day. I read everything I come across and would not miss an opportunity to read about the great masters such as Michelangelo and Picasso”
This is a point on which Sebina and Nguni can agree as Sebina emphasises the need to expose oneself to a diverse collection of work from other artists. “When you are into writing or any artistic pursuit for that matter, it is important to have as wide as possible an exposure to the works of many different artists in your field. Otherwise you will have a narrow base to start with and this will be reflected in your work.”
For his part the musician, Kabo Leburu, who is completely self-taught in singing, as well as guitar and harmonica playing, emphasises the need for music to be shared. “I believe music is for sharing. Often we have this thing that I don’t want to teach you because I’m afraid you’ll be good and outdo me. I don’t have that attitude. So, there are a lot of youngsters who want to play what I am playing and I’m willing to give them a push.” Leburu recalls the many times he united to jam with another musician and how they were able to teach each other a few tricks and improve each other’s ability. He says that those jam sessions are actually the very thing that put him where he is today.
A bit surprisingly for a self-taught musician he does insist that education is important as, “With what you learn in class you can do exactly what you set out to do, you don’t just trip on them. You say I want to suspend people and you actually know exactly how to work their mood and suspend them with music. So I don’t think that education is irrelevant in art, in fact I think it is something that enhances your talent and creativity.”
Sebina sums up his opinion of the relationship between art and education when he says, “I think we are all born with innate natural talent of some kind but unless you get an opportunity to develop your talent, it will remain intrinsic rather than being something you can physically express.”
Nguni provides illuminating insight as he concludes, “Every gallery is calling me but they do not request to see my certificate or even a CV. They just want to see my work so it’s very important for an artist, whether they are educated or not, to produce. ’cause if you don’t produce a thing when you’re an artist, then you’re deceiving people. People want your work, they don’t want you. And if you produce good work, genuine and original ÔÇô people will accept you.”