Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The meaning and purpose of art can be traced back to man’s earliest quest for survival. Thus the meaning, function and purpose of art in those days were quite different from what we would know of it today. Then, art only played a functional role. Early man learnt to fashion out tools, weapons and body coverings. Even the drawings done by the wizard artist were for magical purposes.

But as man developed further he even became superstitious, and thence emanated the ritual or religious purpose of art. But the most outstanding form of early-man’s art is the cave art: featuring drawings, paintings and etchings on the walls of caves. The purpose of these people for doing what they did have no doubt become different from what their legacies are for us today – hidden treasures of invaluable records. The artists were totally unbiased and true to their natural callings; responsive to their every social activities and events surrounding them. Art, be it as practised in the early times or as of today, would normally function in various ways. A piece of art work could perform social, domestic, religious or aesthetic functions.

Benin bronze head - an example of  traditional African art

But the question is – does African art perform different functions from European art for example? Are their roles supposed to be delimitated or specifically targeted towards a particular purpose? I would think that early-man art, and traditional art – being its immediate successor, could play the same roles be it in Africa, Europe, the Far East, the Americas or Oceania, etc.

Because of man’s level of development at this time, encumbered by superstition, animism crept into art. And also due to the level of interaction and non-commercialisation of man’s early art forms, there was maintained a strong level of seeming conservatism and therefore marked differences, and demarcations arose. And so one would want to ask – what is the noise all about African art? This is to say, looking at the concept, from the perspective in which the term is popularly viewed even in today’s modern world. I submit that there is African art, and there is also traditional art of Africa. So, if we set apart traditional African art, do we still have what is popularly touted as African art?

All in Your Eyes