(by Andrew Kendall)
As contemporary art progresses, the modern artist is still struggling with the dilemma of creating art for a society which does not feel that art and artistic institutions are of intrinsic value.
Guyanese, award-winning artist, Carl Anderson mentions that art is everywhere.
“We cannot run from it,” he told Insight in a sit down with him at his Durban street home which doubles as his studio. “The problem with the artist in Guyanese society, though, is that’s he’s struggling against people who don’t understand and care about the purpose of art.”
And what is the purpose of art? For Anderson, it’s “to make one’s life more complete.”
The real question, though: How do you change the psyche of a society into convincing them that art makes their life more complete when they’re not even paying attention to the craft?
Elfrieda Bissember, director of Castellani House which is the national art gallery noted that the main challenge with art appreciation in Guyana is making people aware.
“It’s a challenge getting people to readily come into the gallery to peruse artwork both because many Guyanese lack the leisure time to do so and historically we’ve never been a country prone to gallery visiting.” she said.
The persistent problem is not peculiar to Guyana, though.
Bissember relates an incident with a like-minded curator in another West Indian country where the issue of getting locals into the national gallery was similarly challenging.
The scenario of foreigners being more invested in local art trickles down to the more mundane. One of the craftsmen who frequents the Main Street Avenue between Church and Quamina Streets noted that his sales are highest during the “holiday season”, that is when tourists– Guyanese born and foreign – want to take some part of Guyana away with them.
Stanley Greaves, award winning artist,poet, musician, art critic and historian of Guyanese art says that there is no reason why Guyanese children – like others– cannot be taught from a young age to foster an appreciation for artistic expression.
“The impetus has to come through our education system and if those who are in charge of our education system and our educators are not legitimately invested,it’s not going to happen,” he said.
The point so many naysayers are missing, Greaves argues, is the role of art education at the school level.
“It’s not about teaching children to be artists it is about teaching them to appreciate art,” he said.
For Greaves, art appreciation is imperative to a society because the human whose eyes are open to the wealth of artistic expression around them is lucky enough to appreciate the nuances of the world.
In July, while making a presentation on his forthcoming “Art in the Caribbean” (a collaboration with Dr Anne Walmsley), an audience member quipped that if the average Guyanese citizen was inclined to be art appreciative then Georgetown wouldn’t be subject to so many grotesque buildings popping up or slews of unsightly garbage piles on the road.
The aside is mildly humorous, but beneath the humour a more salient point emerges.
Anderson points out that in so many of the other countries he’s visited (he’s lived in Venezuela, spent time in Malta and other parts of Europe, the United States) appreciation and ownership of artwork is considered as an indication of stature but in Guyana it’s not the same.
“Without the ability to appreciate the value of art we’re little more than savages,”he asserts. A statement of presumption from an artist? Possibly.But it’s not one completely without merit.
Right now the Guyanese problem may be that not enough persons are convinced of that rewarding nature, but when one observes the love for the profession the fraternity has, the road ahead seems less thorny. The journey may be slow, but things are improving.