Art is as old as the human race for this reason and it is believed that since all art forms come from a direct or indirect mimicry of the society, there exists a symbiotic relationship between Art and the Society which supplies its raw material. To buttress this stance, Shakespeare said:
The World’s a Stage and we’re all Actors
We also have various mass communication theories to support this of which the “Rear-View Mirror” theory is apt.
By this, we would say that art is a product of the society where it is replicated. Truth or Lie! Yet we can’t be so quick to accept that submission if we had a foreknowledge of the different forms of art expression available to the artist who serves as the primary embodiment of the art craft. When we look at the forms of expression available to the artist, we can clearly sight a deviation from the first paragraph.
Take the form, Expressionism for instance, this is an art form that puts the artist, artiste or dramatist on the spot light, right at the centre of influence. Expressionism whether in painting, writing, aesthetics or drama focuses on the perception of the artist, author, critic, director etc. They have all ground to create from their imagination the kind of reality they want irrespective of what is obtainable in the society around them. They influence the art that influences their society instead of the other way round.
When we look at this instance, we may be torn between different school of thought, does art arise from social culture or is it subject to the creativity and ingenuity of the artist?
Centuries past were either for or against the artist but in the case of an era where the true value of art seems to be a mirage, who would we really say influences the work of art? Take our society for example, who influences Nollywood stories? Who influences the painters work? Who influences the Writers craft and so on?
Is Art a take-off of society, solely dependent on what each society has to offer or is it a pure artistic expression independent of what is obtainable in the society? Can one pick a work of art especially literature and film and declare “this is a pure work of fiction devoid of any interference from the play-out of our sociopolitical environment?” i.e the work was purely created by the imagination of the writer. Or are they just all a replica of the society with the artist serving as the servant of the society and the Arts? Is the artist really but a servant?
To answer this question, I will have to say the Artist is the real agent that transforms and informs society through his art. Not to bore us with history and debates but a brief glance back at the aftermath of Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the forest shows us that an artist is more than a photocopier, I believe a prophet is more fitted. Look at that play, A Dance of the Forest, long before some learned political folks saw the state of our nation, a dramatist like Soyinka foreshadowed it and that insight resulted in the play. And not to mention the attack it got from the government of the day when it was first staged for Nigeria’s Independence Celebration in 1960. Can an artist influence Art and Society? Yes he/she can.
Another case is Nollywood and the music industry, I ask where do we get the trends we follow from if not through the media and crafts of powerful directors. Art is one with the society but society doesn’t lord over an artist because he has dynamic tools with which he can create a reality for the society where he lives. The reality he creates becomes a trend and if it garners much influence it turns into a lifestyle overtime.
For an amateur it would appear as if the society influences the artist (in some cases true if money is a motivation but not always) but if we have a grounded knowledge of the various expression forms available to the artist, this view will change.
In conclusion, I will like to add that there is no clear-cut-line between when an artists expression becomes a societal trend (except we monitor the process) and when a society’s norm influences the artist. The issues in the society is always tool for an artist’s creation but that is what it is, a tool in the hand of the artist.
Check in for a follow up post on the different forms of expression in theatre (which is related to all art forms- visual, literary and performing)
© SL Kreativez, 2017.