A Different Life is possible
Why art means so much
Start simply by looking at it.
What is it a painting of? An object? A person? A group of people? A place? Or maybe it’s more complicated than that. Maybe the painting makes a statement — something literal. Like The Treachery of Images by Rene Magritte.
Or, then again, maybe it’s abstract and not quite as discernible as saying that it is a painting of something.
There are many ways to find the emotional resonance or meaning behind a piece of art. This is not of course to say that art always has emotional resonance or meaning. Sometimes art means only to be beautiful and sometimes it means only to exist.
But a lot of times, art does have meaning. And the meaning can come to you simply by looking at it if you can be patient enough. There are other instances where the meaning will not come to you, you will need help and research. Sometimes, to understand the meaning of a piece of art, you need to know the context around it. Why was it created it? Who created it? What was happening in their life when they created it? What was happening in the world when it was created?
Then there is meaning that has little to do with the art itself and everything to do with the owner of the piece of art.
Much of what I know about appreciating and articulating art I learnt from youtube channels like The Art Assignment and The Nerdwriter. Some of it I learnt from having artists as friends. Much of it I learnt by myself through my own life experiences.
There is a recent articulation I learnt from Opemipo in an article he titled the Curator’s Flat. It had something to do with a piece of art I owned and what it meant to me. It already had its meaning, I just needed Ope's help in articulating it.
On July 15th, 2021, I published a reluctant-sounding essay about how my first trip out of Nigeria had opened my eye to a certain distinct dissatisfaction.
It had been a trip to France but even from the layover in Morocco, I knew that I was unhappy with the version of life I lived in Lagos. I wasn’t only unhappy with its quality but I was also unhappy with its totality. Until that moment in July, I had not known that life and society could be anything else. I mean I knew it could, in theory, I had seen much of it through the internet and media and I had friends that were born, or currently lived in other parts of the world. There was just a difference when it came time for me to step into it myself.
Not much of it was startling or jarring. Even the languages (Arabic and French), although I did not speak them well enough, I had great familiarity with and could understand in certain contexts.
From the very beginning of the 12-day trip, It was clear what it would mean to me forever. It would be the moment that solidified my need to find more in life — more in the world — just more.
There was something very specific that happened on my last day in Paris. Paris, a city I hope (read as intend) to visit again and live in for a year. I was in Paris for only two full days. On the day of my return flight, I went to L’Atelier des Lumières. Before going, I had no idea what it was but I was with companions that did. This visit changed my life. I say this as I know I cried real tears in that room. I could describe it to you in words but I simply do not believe it will do justice so I don’t care to try.
When I came out, I was changed (for only the first time that day, I proceeded to eat Japanese food that would change me again.) I stood in the souvenir shop thinking of what would be a good takeaway for my friends but also maybe for me. My companion told me, as we stood deliberating, about how in her primary school growing up, her teacher hung a painting at the back of the class to remind the students of what they could grow to become. I am misremembering the exact detail but not the essence of it. The painting was their north star. I wanted that. So I bought a painting from Dali’s collection.
I did not buy it because it was a painting of a person or a thing or a group of people. To be honest with you, the painting’s actual visual composition was of little significance (although I will say it is a very nice painting.) What mattered about this painting was its meaning.
I bought it and when I got to Lagos, I taped it over my dirty wall with four pieces of tape. To describe my life at this time. I was in the middle of my first year of unemployment (or put in a fancy way: freelancing.) I had barely made any money in those first six months and would not make any more in the final three months of the year. I had set my mind on building a career in audio storytelling and I was finding it to be quite tough. At the same time, I was making progress. I was working as an audio producer on a new podcast. I had produced a number of stories that I was interested in personally and I had produced some that I wasn't so interested in.
The painting hung on my wall the entire time and I think its meaning gradually began to fade in my memory.
A few months ago, I took it down. The cardboard frame around it was dirty. The pieces of tape had fallen off and I was struggling to find a good place to keep the painting. It simply didn’t feel right in my room anymore.
Then, I read Opemipo’s ‘Curator’s Flat’ and I was reminded why I bought that painting and what it meant to me. I was reminded in new words. In the final paragraph of Ope’s essay, he writes:
“Graham’s Year of the Rooster, a memento of The Curator’s flat, now hangs outside my apartment. It reminds me of many things: London, Keeling House, Mark, Graham, Flat 27, Tom (the cock), my friends visiting the house, and me excitedly showing them around.
Most importantly though, it reminds me that a different life is possible.
A different life is possible.”
A different life is possible.
That’s it. That has always been it. A different life is possible. That had been the thing I was trying to tell myself. That was what I needed the painting to remind me of. Of what I had learnt on that trip.
A different life is possible.
I didn’t have to be dissatisfied with this one. There were more. There is more. And I can have it. I responded to Ope’s essay
“This reminds me of a painting I got at the merch shop outside L’Atelier des Lumières in Paris. It was my first trip outside the country and it had me believing for the first time in the most vivid way that a different life might be possible. I recently took the painting down from the wall in my room. I like this reminder. I will be buying a frame for the painting and hanging it up in my new apartment.”
I spent the last three months looking for a place. It was treacherous and expensive and the place I found has brought me new anxieties (but that’s a story for another day.)
The story today is that art has meaning. It means that a different life is possible.