‘a small lateral or terminal protuberance on the stem of a plant that may develop into a flower, leaf, or shoot’ 

I am still cranky from being away from the wordmachianikon for most of this year but the writerly bug juice beckons; the writing about nothing or everything or something gropes around. There is just a myriad of experiences that flood my psyche. To log into one is to gingerly watch every step of where I am going because everything is so muggle lest I get lost in the byways. So perhaps I should use a delicate scalpel to slice off this little tale…  

Sometime this past winter I was privileged to be part of a selection panel for 2019 art students’ intakes of on of this city’s Universities. I was invited because of my attachment to the art museum, as an ‘industry insider’ as the invitation highlighted. Uhmm, not as a writer as I like to think of myself. Looking for a piece of action to a rather dull start of the year I was happy to receive the invitation. At least it is not an adjudication role in an art competition of some sort and it was just for two separate dates counting to a few hours I reassured my self as I accepted the invite.

The reader should understand that while I do acknowledge the immense role that art competitions in particular play in the visual arts industry in this country many years ago I made an oath not to be a judge in any of them after being part of about two prestigious ones, I have had my fill of the blood sport that takes place to decides who should be the winner. The present invitation was a refreshing. In my own opinion you can’t race a Super car with an ordinary car. It just wouldn’t be fare, that’s what art competitions can be likened to if you keep in mind the disparities of the competitors and the people who are roped in to decide who is cool. We shall have room in a separate piece of writing to elaborate more on this in subsequent writings should the writerly bug juice bite.

On a beautiful Saturday morning kids who had an interest in studying fine art lined up to be interviewed by a panel that consisted of five people, mostly lecturers and one industry insider in the visual arts and a postgraduate student from that very institution. It is a rigorous process. I rolled the thought in mind as I pummeled some tobacco into my pipe. When I had the oak fuming I took in the harsh sun rays of that mid-winter’s morning. I could have been anywhere in the world except here, blamed it on curiosity, I mused to myself. There was a slight regret especially after a few of the kids have had their portfolios inspected beforehand and subjected to a nail biting interview process that consisted of an analysis of a random artwork given to them. A steep climb for a kid who has never had art as a subject in high school but has screamed and kicked at their parents’ furniture that they wanna study art or they’d rather have a gap year than dive head first into a course they didn’t like. A classic case of an artist wanna be. Bathong the emotions! It was mostly females who have come to the den to be tried with an exception of one gentleman who came on my last session of the gig. I must bring this character to life in one of my writings I thought to myself as he was being grilled. Strangely though I could not help it but remember a matric exhibition that I adjudicated sometime in the early 2000s at a private girls’ high school.

‘Miss. So-so, good morning and welcome to the _University department of the Arts’ leads the chair’s opening words warmly. ‘Good morning’ trembles a voice. The kid might be approaching seventeen or eighteen. They are synonymous with newness. Their eyes looks about them, taking stalk of the strangers in the room. Each of the interviewing panelist have a question that they had to fire at this fragile being otherwise the clockwork wasn’t oiled properly. And to be fair the candidate is also given the chance to ask a question or two of their own either to the lecturers or the art student.

‘We have looked at your portfolio, it looks quite impressive’ intones panelist number one. ‘Thank you’ answers the artist-wanna-be in a whimper. Some of these kids’ portfolios are great. You can see that they have had a good solid foundation already. They understand what they are getting themselves into. Such pedigree of prospective art students are from private schools mostly or just schools with a good art educator; such prospective art students are a university art teacher’s caviar.

I kick a small rock away from me as I come to the last puffs of my pipe and look around me as a stream of thought that morphs into a question enters my mind as to what kind of a place this is when the art students are attending classes? They are on recess at the moment. They too have been subjected to the proceedings that are underway presently and have earned their right to be here. They ‘belong’.

Quite a few are not so promising. The students who have already passed through the panelist are a mixture of sorts, some are not so promising even if you were to implement some kind of a quota system. You can see they are self-taught and have not had any training whatsoever. Here the maturity of the candidate in terms of their age might just help them jam a foot through the doorway if their portfolio shows versatility in terms of their understanding of the different genres within the visual arts, material handling, self initiated themes or projects that illustrate the candidate to be more independent in their creative thinking and their ability to include unique features in their artmaking processes. It is a tight affair. There is also a myriad of nonsensical images given to them to construct an image. This is to test their conceptual thinking.

As I cock the bowel of my pipe against one of the iron arm rest chair’s wroth I exhale in an ambivalent contentment. As lethargy cuts my frame I think it is a consolation that a lot of applicants have been females and that there were a number of blacks amongst them. Those fortunate to be accepted by the institution will endure three to four years of university pedagogy and practical instruction in the visual arts. When the time comes for them to leave Uni’ they would either have to consider studying one more year or so on a postgraduate level or face an uneventful life or perhaps, just perhaps, if they are part of a smaller percentage of emerging young artists they might have a career in this harsh industry.

One can imagine how at the time when these interviews occurred other universities and tertiary institutions were engaged in similar activities of interviewing potential art students. This is one aspect of a construct of the visual art’s extreme, at the other extreme is the un-diversified art market whose appetite for new art is insatiable and its memory of the emerged artist short term.

The big question to be posed by everybody who is part of the visual art industry from the art teacher to the gallerist, from the cultural entrepreneur to the artist is when are we going to rigorously grow the art market such that new students who are entering the construct have a potential to make a living from their art when they leave academia? Following establishment of traditional art galleries, art museums, art competitions, art fairs, art residencies and art project spaces that doubles up as artists studios the next frontier is the development of an art marketing within the new moneyed people of our country who have never seen the visual arts as an investment area «


13 December

mmutle arthur kgokong 2018