Art is education
The next few days will see the Jo'burg Art Fair taking place in Sandton. The theme for this year’s fair appears to be centred on encouraging the engagement and interpretation of art by ordinary people and in so doing illustrate how much art is effectively a matter of subjectivity – allowing it to be claimed by any person who interacts with it.
Essentially, an aspect of this year’s fair appears to be arts education which at least, means that the fair will be a little more than just a meeting place for those who assume a cultured disposition.
This aspect of education brings to mind a thought that has been with me for a while. What benefits can be had from art in a young developing democracy such as ours? I began to ask myself this question about two weeks ago, days before the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz kicked off, at a small colloquium held in Pretoria. The point of the colloquium was to extol the way in which jazz is and can be an incredible educational tool as well as an innovative source of study and analysis regarding the way in which people work together.
As I listened, in my head, I kept replacing the word "jazz" with "art" in the belief that if we are going to say that creative activity is significant to educational development than it is surely not too farfetched to use art as the rubric term. Unsurprisingly, there was not a single delegate or representative from the department of education at the colloquium, something that the speakers bemoaned and through which a disconnect between the various institutions was glaringly highlighted.
It would appear that in South Africa, a department such as that of education is unaware of the importance that art can play within the broader framework of its mandate. It is thus troubling when one considers that in a democracy such as ours, art literacy is hardly given the attention that it deserves. With all the drama that has unfolded this year, from Murray's Spear to Mabulu’s latest Umshini Wami, it has arguably become easy for politicians to brush aside the significant role of art, especially when criticism and scrutiny of those politicians themselves is its subject matter.
But arts education goes way beyond that. The crux of it is the espousing and entrenching of creative thinking as well as approaching issues within our society from positions that are unconventional. Arts education can provide the building blocks upon which ordinary citizens learn to see the world around them as more than just black and white.
More importantly, it can serve as a catalyst for these very people to resist being the characters in political narratives that are not their own.
We know that government has a strategy, under the title of Mzansi’s Golden Economy where the arts are seen as critical in the creation of thriving cultural industries. It also states: "The new vision of arts and culture goes beyond social cohesion and nourishing the soul of the nation. We believe that arts, culture and heritage play a pivotal role in the economic empowerment and skills development of a people."
Noble as this strategy is, one cannot help but think that in many ways the groundwork has or is not being done.
This groundwork, to put it loosely, is the insurance that education at the lowest level includes art within its curriculum so that the same children, who become exposed to the wonders of the art world, can one day be the people who sustain these cultural industries.