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Date Published: 10/23/09

Learning the Art of Artistry By Oghene Omonisa


Have you ever taken time to ponder what living legend, Chinua Achebe, would have been if he were to be born into a business family with a history of trading wizardry and with a very large family business empire? Add to that the fact that he was heir-apparent to the headship of the imaginary world-renowned conglomerate when he was born. Surely, the world would not have read of such classics like Thing Fall Apart, because Achebe would have been so guided towards sound business training preparatory to his future role, and any innate literary talent discouraged, that he would not have had the time to fully harness those natural talents in him. Welcome to the art of artistry!

Art has many forms, amongst which are mainly painting, music, acting and writing. Worldwide, there are many artistes who found professional calling in these varied forms, but understandably not all of them are as renowned as a few others. In the world of painting, the Italians gave us Michelangelo; the Spaniards, Pablo Picasso; and a host of other countries and talents; in the field of writing, the English dazzled and still dazzle the world with William Shakespeare the bard, and Geoffrey Chaucer; and there are other literary greats from across the globe; both in classical and popular music, over the centuries, the world has never been in short supply of great minds like Mozart, Beethoven, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, among others; and on the stage in the tube and, especially, on the big screen, the US has re-defined what it takes to be an actor or to be associated with acting, leading the rest of the world by the nose with the talents of Broadway, Americanised television series and the make-believe world of Hollywood, and – notably on the big screen – found following in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Hong Kong, Mumbai (the Indian practitioners want the world to know their movie industry as Bollywood, a coinage of ‘Bo’ from the city’s former and colonial name of ‘Bombay’ and ‘llywood’ from ‘Hollywood’), and of course, Lagos, ho, sorry, Nollywood,, the ‘N’ from ‘Nigeria’ or ‘Niaja’. But why not ‘Nollywood York’? After all, Lagos is to Nigeria what both New York and Hollywood is to the US. And how about ‘Abujaton, D.C’ for Abuja? The Nigerian political class can give that a consideration. Well, that was just by the way.


The most exciting aspect of these world-renowned artistes is that they did not recognise these bounty of natural talents and then go to sleep – they nurtured them over regular practice and exhibition till they mastered and grew on them. In 1938, four-year-old Wole Soyinka so astounded fellow actors, school administrators and his audience with his brilliant performance when he played the complex but lead role of a magician in a drama production at St. Peter’s School, Ake, Ogun State, that he was generally encouraged. And like every great artiste, he practised his act and eventually conquered the art world, becoming an accomplished poet, playwright, novelist, actor, both on stage and on screen, director and almost everything else, and ultimately to crown it all with the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.

When legendary Fela was sent to study medicine in the UK in 1958, he not only followed his heart’s desire by exchanging his medical books for musical books and picking a saxophone, he regularly blew into the instrument, practising with it and inventing new and sensational tones. And the world later took notice. Today, the world celebrate Achebe, but if, as a young boy after attentively listening to his eldest sister’s folktales at her feet, he had not slowly but steadily began building stories in his young heart and afterwards putting them into practice by writing early in life, nobody would have, perhaps, heard of his literary prowess.

Art is not for its sake – art is for artistry. Artistry itself is an art. And the only way to make art out of artistry is by the artiste learning his art, practising it, re-inventing it and creating his own unique style to make his mark. No great artiste, even when born of it, ever achieved greatness without learning what he had met and practising it.

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