Endnotes of Chapter Two
Written by Thomas Bjørnskau, Editor-in-Chief at Startjournal.org 2010-2013.
You can spend a lifetime trying to figure out what art really is about — you are not going to figure it out. What is art? What is culture? If you are able to define it, then you know you are in trouble.
You can look for all kinds of measuring tools — but there are no ways of measuring the impact of art.
Ugandan artist Sanaa Gateja said during the KLA ART 012-workshop that ”we are all humans, and every day we grow a little”. Maybe it’s like this: in a society without the arts you can only grow one day at a time, while in a society with the arts you can suddenly grow a whole year in a day.
It may happen when you hear that voice, see that image, feel that rhythm, sense those moves that connects an artist’s expression to your inner soul.
To Write About the Arts; What Is It Really About?
Arts writing may start with the creator, the artist, trying to tell us why they are here and what they are trying to achieve. It may continue with us, the audience, trying to describe how it affects us.
But it always gets real when the arts writer interpret what the artist actually is trying to tell us all — in a broader context — and maybe also dare to tell us how we really should feel about it. Constantly questioning the artists’ decisions; creatively searching for where this particular art expressions, these innovative ideas, all fit in; desperately trying to analyze if it really connects to us, to the universal part of ”me”.
On the surface, arts writing may be useless for the artists themselves. Unless it is a rave review, that piece of commentary on an artist’s work may seem like a total waste: the artist cannot use it for anything except fueling his/her anger.
But an arts writer does not write on behalf of the artist, he/she writes on behalf of the art itself.
Some have said that Ugandans are not ready for critical writing, mainly because critical writing often equals negative criticism. Apart from the fact that it is a myth that arts critiquing needs to contain negative or positive criticism, I would argue that Uganda is more than ready for serious arts writing. Any struggling professional in any art field deserve to be treated professionally. They deserve that serious art writers cover their efforts using the elements of critique.
In terms of visual arts critiquing, a much-used method begins with 1. description, ”tell me what you see”; continues with 2. analysis, ”separate the parts/elements and describe how they work together”; then 3. intepretation, ”explain the meaning of the work”; and finally 4. judgement, ”evaluate how it works for you, for others”.
I have had the pleasure to meet around 50 Ugandan visual artists, and I honestly believe that all of them want a writer with an adequate background to feedback their work in this way.
Criteria for Evaluation
Too often art writers feel that the evaluation-part of it all is about describing the quality of the art piece (or show or performance or book or movie etc), ranging from very good to very bad. But this only shows the lack of creativity within the writer herself/himself.
Evaluation criteria are multidimensional. On my own journey to learn how to be an arts editor, one theory I stumbled upon introduces four main criteria that are present in critiques from any art field (Per Thomas Andersen, 1987, supported by Monroe C. Beardsley, 1958):
- Cognitive/intellectual criteria; keywords knowledge, analysis, storytelling
- Ethical/political criteria; good vs. wrong, morale issues
- Genetical criteria; location, contextualization in time and/or space
- Aesthetic criteria; complexity, integrity, intensity
It doesn’t mean that the artists thinks about these criteria when making art; it doesn’t mean that an artist emphasizes all criteria in every artwork. But it can act as a reminder for the writer who wants to make a well-thought evaluation.
Discovering such criterias is also a way to appreciate the arts more. There are many stories to be told about Kampala, Uganda, East Africa, Africa, the World. There are strong messages about how to live, how to be human, what the authorities should do, to come forward with. There are so much local heritage, local culture, to tap into. And there are so many ways to show the beauty of it all.
Art may be intellectual, political, genetical, or aesthetic. Or, all of this at the same time.
The Essence is Really ’Really’
Who is going to tell you the truth? Who is going to show you the way forward? You may not hear it from the politicians, you may not hear it from the foreigners, you may not even hear it from the media. But I do believe you may hear it from a Ugandan artist.
It only takes one voice; one writer or one visual artist, one filmmaker or one playwright, one dancer or one singer or one musician. Or a composer, a director, a producer, a photographer. Or a graphic artist, an architect, a cartoonist. One creative. One artist.
Which brings me to this current edition of Start. For the July-edition of Startjournal.org I wanted to ask a handful of Uganda’s finest creatives in many art fields a similar kind of question: to write/paint/sing/dance etc — what is it really about?
We all have an idea of what writing, painting, singing, dancing etc is about. We have encountered it in school. It’s part of our society, culture, customs, traditions, daily life. When we start looking, it is actually all around us.
But; what is it really about?
I was hoping to get a handful of deep, personal stories, testimonials of struggle and desperation; and in the end, the moments that define you — the true artist.
As my final issue as the Editor-in-Chief of Startjournal.org, I am happy to present 8 excellent essays by 8 inspiring Ugandan artists:
- Read dancer and choreographer Samual Lutaaya’s essay about what a dance sector is about and how this sector needs architects of change.
- Read filmmaker Dilman Dila talking about the needs of managerial skills, diplomacy, technical know-how and collaborative strength in moviemaking.
- Read writer, photographer and — here — musician Serubiri Moses describing playing music as inhabiting another world.
- Read playwright Angella Emurwon telling that theatre is dialogue that must sound like an ordinary conversation but be so much better.
- Read the essay by Ife Piankhi, the poet that sings, in which she writes that singing connects her to a higher power.
- Read published writer Doreen Baingana explaining how a creative act can re-create the actor.
- Read writer AK Kaiza realising that writing on any scale that can be called art is not a tell-all.
- And read multi-artist Xenson’s poem Art, That that…
The Start of Chapter Three
And have in mind, there are many more essays by many more artists to be told in future editions of startjournal.org…
Thomas Bjørnskau arrived in Kampala as a travelling spouse in August 2010, looked for something interesting to do within the arts community, got to know the visual artists Daudi Karungi and Henry Mzili Mujunga, the web-expert Jantien Zuurbier, and learned about their plan to launch the paper magazine Start – A Journal of Arts and Culture online. He said he could help with that and act as the Editor.
Three years later he is setting the final punctuation mark in the article number 208 published on startjournal.org in issue 034 – July ’013. He is handing over the Editor’s Chair to a fresh team of inspired editors.