Living Life Creatively
Published: Flamingo, February 2005
“It is more important to be skilful in thinking than to be stuffed with facts.” according to a famous quote by Einstein. Yet most of the traditional school systems still just pass on knowledge and teach the children what to think, instead of how to think. There are two important subjects, which teach us how to think, namely art and maths. While in maths we learn how to use the rational and logical facilities of the left-brain, art teaches us to think creatively and make use of the right side of the brain.
In maths you solve given problems according to strict rules, while in art you create something where nothing has been before. Art does not restrict and all the possibilities in the world are open to us, there is no right or wrong, often there is not even a clearly stated problem or question. This might seem quite intimidating at first, but in reality it is the only way to an open mind and a world with unlimited opportunities.
It is said that art is one of the most important subjects to prepare a young child for being a successful and independent entrepreneur. It’s lateral thinking skills helps you to create your own opportunities and wealth in a world where it is becoming ever more difficult to find employment and keep it.
Learning art at school does not mean a child has to become an artist afterwards. The lessons which art teaches us can be applied in every walk of life or any choice of career. Creativity helps one to adapt and excel easy and effectively in an ever changing and demanding economic environment. The German language describes a person who does not hold down a traditional job or follow an conventional career path, but still lives a good life, as “Lebenskünstler” (artist of life). This term beautifully illustrates the point, and is generally used with an envious undertone by people caught in the more acceptable eight-to-five job, feeling bored and unhappy.
It is sad that very few schools in Namibia offer art classes or have qualified art teachers but fortunately there are several alternatives on offer. Students can join private art classes in the afternoons, which are usually presented by qualified art teachers. Barbara Boehlke’s and the Helga Mertens’ art schools are just two examples who have proven their commitment to outstanding children’s art education over the years. Helga Mertens’ pupils showed off their achievements in an exhibition in the Omba gallery at the end of 2004. Such shows are a good way to see what the children can achieve under the right guidance.
Regrettably many parents from the lower income group usually cannot afford these classes or they are located too far from their homes and children cannot walk there on their own. The John Muafangejo Arts Centre, who offers art classes to young adults, has realised this and also found that they need to establish a closer relationship with the community, especially with the children, in order to raise awareness of what the Centre offers. JMAC is located in Katutura and has thus decided to extend their services to offer art classes to children from the surrounding schools. These classes are offered twice a week after school, and the children also have the opportunity to learn music, drama and computer.
“We try to stimulate the understanding of how visual art improves communication among people and also how children can start to explore their own potential.” says the dedicated young art teacher Fillepus Sheehama, who has taken it upon him to teach the children’s art classes. “It is also important that the children, through these classes, learn to be responsible for themselves, that they start putting more commitment and effort in their own development and that they can gain access to life by exploring and finding new ideas.”
That these are no empty promises, could be seen at the end of year exhibition of the “after school kids” as they are affectionately known at JMAC. The exhibition staged in their in-house art gallery, showed a vast selection of the works done by the children throughout the year. The quality and variety of different techniques are a testimony of Sheehama’s commitment and tireless efforts as well as the children’s enthusiasm and dedication. All works on exhibition were of high standard, technically well executed and beautifully finished.
It was not all smooth sailing reveals Sheehama and there are still many problems, which need to be addressed. “Many children have dropped out over the year due to high academic pressure from their schools and other commitments. I also struggled to stop children from simply copying or doing what they think is expected and to have them think for themselves and explore their own styles. This is especially difficult since these children are not exposed to any kind of art at home or outside of this centre. Our library only has a few old basic books and they are not sufficient. Most kids have never been to a gallery and we have difficulties to find assistance and transport to afford them such an opportunity.”
But the kids (together with their parents) have persevered and have been beaming with pride and a newfound self-worth at the opening of their exhibition. This is enough proof that the endeavours of JMAC and especially Sheehama are falling on fertile ground.
Art education and the development of skilful thinking have to start at an early age. In Namibia, where we cannot necessary rely on the government or other institutions for support, we depend on the vision and commitment of the few individuals or independent organizations, like Sheehama and JMAC, to uplift the community through quality art training. But all these efforts would be worthless if it was not for the parents and children who recognise the importance of art education and make use of these opportunities offered.
(c) Imke Rust