His hands move with expertise along the soft paper, the tip of the pencil clutched in his tiny grasp sometimes creating a train, at other times a house. His brows are knitted in concentration, unaware of the onlookers mesmerized by his work. “Your son is really gifted,” one of the onlookers comments as she cranes her neck to get a better view. “Have you ever considered taking him to an art school?” another inquires, directing the question to her beauty stylist who also doubles up as the boy’s mother. The woman humphs in disapproval before commenting that she would never encourage her son to waste his time with such frivolous matters. Her son will be an engineer, she says. Just like his father. The subject of discussion, a boy of around six or seven is too young to comprehend the complexity of the adults’ conversation.
This scene that takes place in a beauty salon along one of the busy streets of Nairobi, Kenya portrays a skewed mentality owned by a majority of society’s population. It is quite common for individuals to consider art as a last option in courses, perhaps even a waste of time or a mere hobby conducted to while time away. When an artist introduces themselves as such, most people are usually tempted to query what else they do besides art, unaware that art is a full-time pursuit. According to Oxford languages, art refers to a diverse range of human activities involving the use of creative imagination to express technical proficiency, beauty and or conceptual powers. The different forms of art include but not limited to: painting, sculpture, literature, architecture, music, dance, theater, photography and film.
Art is an integral part of life that surrounds human beings without us even being aware of it. It could be that painting erected at the entrance of your workplace, or that mahogany chair you purchased at the flea market, or even that table centerpiece in your living room. All these, albeit being perceived as decorations are all forms of art. Human beings are naturally artistic and this lies in our capability to conceive creations. This explains why children draw on walls and react to music even though they are yet to be exposed to the concept of art. Despite this, parents, teachers and the society at large have glamourized STEM courses as opposed to art courses. STEM courses-an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -have often been viewed as a more viable option in lieu to art courses due to their marketability. Tertiary institutions have also contributed immensely in fuelling this myth. A student gifted in STEM courses is more likely to get a scholarship in a tertiary institution as opposed to another gifted in an art course. This situation gets worse in a majority of the African countries where art courses are heavily dismissed. What we as a society fail to realize is that art is equally as important. This begs the question, what is the essence of art to human beings?
First, art is a universal form of communication whereby it functions as a platform to share thoughts and ideas. Aside from that, art is also essential for your physical, emotional and mental being. We have heard of cases whereby people listen to music to battle depression and their spirits are uplifted when they visit that local antique shop in their hometown. Art also influences society by instilling values and changing opinions. One such example is a case in Kibera, Kenya whereby a group of youth used graffiti to communicate information about the Corona virus on the walls of the estate. This served as a reminder to the community about what they needed to do to protect themselves from the virus.
Art also affects the fundamental sense of self, serving as a reminder to who you are. Besides being a form of beautification and inspiration, art has also been used as a source of income to many. Most of the highest earners in today’s world stem from the field of art: Elton John, Antony Gormley, Stephen King, Kanye West, just to mention but a few. A paradigm shift is required for a society that is yet to take the art sector seriously. We need to remember that without art, we deny ourselves the freedom of expression. That we can give the boy in our story the chance of exploring this field without the need to feel that one has to supplement it with ‘a real job’. After all, there is zero correlation between pursuing STEM courses and one’s success.