History can be a hoax; it can in the right hands turn myths into subtle realities and realities into uncertain myths. It begins from stereotypes which begets banal platitudes and gradually graduates to relative truths, what truth is, I really wonder. Leonardo da vinci would come to be a man with so much appraised story in the art world with a mix of fantasy, mystery, subtlety making up his story. One can never deny that he was a genius, but if you understand the politics of art, you would come to know that many times such stories are told to hold the minds of men, to hold true and dear, something approved by the powers that be- for whatever reason. The truth remains that there were African masters who were and are more introspective and creative, but I must say their crime was to have come from Africa, the third world and wretched of the earth. There are less myths about our very own Ben Enwonwu and KOFI Antubam or other African masters, and if there come to be any at all, it was something less motivating, less frugal and capable of damaging the skinny image of them in our heads- Africa never tells her stories.
But without deviating much, I want to remind us all of a constant truth that disturbs the mind. I have come to understand from a very long history that a greater percentage of artists usually die wretched or in misery. This is basically because of the reckless lifestyle associated with the art. We were thought and groomed into this lifestyle as we begin to practice, because we have the almighty perspective of the artist. The artist forgets, like any other profession or way of life it is greatly affected by the environment it thrives. Let’s take for example, that recession hits Nigeria. There are basically things that would hit the art:
Low sales,under representation of the art, broke artists, hungry artists, expensive art materials, high productivity and less returns et cetra.
This year for example, recorded a lot of fall in art sales especially in Nigeria. I attended a lot of shows from January, and for those I didn’t attend, made inquiries. The sales dropped. Even at auction houses. That’s an example.
I have been around a lot of contemporary masters, and to tell you the truth they have all made lots of mistake because of the “The almighty artist” thing. Now, no one can rule out that the artist is powerful, but so is the politician, the lawyer, the doctor and in fact a whole lot of others. But our uniqueness is like that of the scientist, which is, creating something from nothing. But we should not forget we are humans too. I have seen painters work with harmful chemicals with no safety measures- and I have seen painters die from the after effect. Most importantly artist out of carelessness do not care for their health among other things. Like the Americans would say, they just wing it. Jean Micheal Basquiat died at 27 and Massacio 27 too, Yves klein 34. There are others maybe to mention also that van Gough only added a decade on 27.
Doesn’t the knowledge of the fallibility of the artist discourage Artistic prowess?
I would be straightforward in answering this question.
Let me put it in a quote properly.
“Courage is not fearlessness, but knowing what to fear”
Knowing your limits doesn’t mean you are weak; on the contrary, it means you are strong enough to acknowledge them, and by acknowledging them you find a way to overcome them- For one cannot solve a problem he doesn’t acknowledge exists.
This year, I had a talk with master artist Demas Nwoko and from all he said I picked something:
“If what you have to offer to the world is of the mind, then do not live in the body” simple but loaded with unanswered questions. I have also met some people who knew Christopher Okigbo, they described him as the most creative of them all. But he died with all that because of recklessness.
-Know when to play safe.
-Keep your body and mind safe at all times
-Apply safety cautions in using materials especially toxic ones.
I watched an interview by a popular 90 years German writer and his advice was simple:
“The most important thing for the artist is to stay alive”
Do not die for what you are willing to live for. You better stay alive and watch your works sell millions than be in your grave to answer the most creative of them all. Be wise.