Visual art exhibition is paramount to the practice art, not only because it provides an avenue for the artist to meet the audience but also, it promotes the artist beyond the confines of his/her immediate practicing environment. However, the concept of art exhibition in contemporary Nigerian art circle can only be understood when one knows the stand point of the exhibiting artist. As an art historian, my continuing interaction with artists over the years has made me to identify two kinds of artists with different approaches, perceptions as well as views toward exhibition. In this article, these groups can be discussed as pure business artists and none-financial motive artists.
The first group can be described as artists who have strong financial motive behind their exhibition are often looking for what type of art concept that is highly priced or well demanded in the existing art market of a particular area. They may be constantly making enquiries from gallery owners or art collectors to know the kind of art to produce so that it may be sold during exhibition. This set of artists sometimes allow their business mind to limit their creativity by restricting themselves to either a one or a few concepts, style or trend of art expression. They may use art styles that are more or less attracted to those who have perception of visual (art) appreciation in order to gain market or patronage from them. By this, such artists may choose realism as a convenient style to express their works, or produce decorative designs using motifs that are of immediate recognition or things like trees, flowers, or other simple concepts that can be employed to achieve a rhythmic effects which may be aesthetically appealing especially to those who their sense of art appreciation is tied to uninformed background.
Exhibition to these artists is highly depending on the financial factor. As such, they tend to weigh the success of the exhibition on the number of works sold and or, in terms of the commissions which they get after the exhibition. Artists within this circle do have a pre-conceived audience for an intended public art show (exhibition); as such, publicity may largely cover those who are in love with the kind of works: styles, concepts, or forms that the exhibiting artist is going to showcase. This is intentionally done to ensure a flourishing state of the exhibition as well as make it look like a strictly money making venture.
The second group of artists on the other hand do not consider money as a leader factor to affect of limit their creative expressions. They produce art works that are truly inspired by thought, feeling, imaginations using a variety of concepts that are ever-changing to show their growth in the practice of their profession. Such artists constantly experiment with new/foreign materials, make use of new ideas as well as employ strange concepts that can best express their feelings about the society they are living in. In view of this, they may not keep to one style, concept of trend of art irrespective of the demand in the society. To those artist, bringing to fore what they are doing is in the studio is the first motive before anything and by doing so, they look forward to criticism in order to enable them improve in their practice of art and consequently serve the society better.
They may not make sales during exhibition, yet the true identity of their feelings, thought, or perception about the society they live is well express. The interaction of such artists with audience during exhibition is more like a teacher and students, where the artist spends time to explain the relationship of a particular artwork to the environment of the audience as well as issues/messages contained in the work for the audience understand the purpose/relevance of the work to the society he/she lives. In view of this, this kind of artists may prefer to create works that represent various events on cultural, political and social background.
Their works sometimes may aim purely to enlighten the public on issues that are of great importance to the progress of the society like the evils of terrorism, the importance of global warming, and other environmental issues. In this way, the artist may use unfamiliar concepts that are not easily understood (such as abstract or stylized forms) to convey his/her message to the public. In painting for example, colours may be used to achieve abstract designs either by way of sprinkling diluted paint on canvas to create images or dropping some brush strokes of unrelated colours to create an idea of chaos in the society. In sculpture however, the artist may decide to use found materials (used objects) that best convey the meaning of the art work as well as its significance to a target audience.
It is important to mention here that, most of such works are hardly appreciated by a good number of Nigerian populace who patronizes art exhibition, hence, such exhibitions record minimal sales. The stand point here is that, the artist has satisfied his/her creative drive as well as achieve in touching the society in such a way that change is inevitable. The change may not be immediate since the work needs subsequent societal events or issues to make reference to by way of emphasizing its relevance to people. This is because in every work of art, there is a hidden truth about the society embedded in it. The public may not easily come to terms with the realities of such truth until further interpretations are offered by art historians or critics who are familiar with past and current issues in the practice of art in a particular society.
On the whole, a good percentage of artists in the first group (business minded artists) discuss above often rely only the returns they get through the sell of art works to sustain them economically. The second group of artists (none-financial motive artists) however, most of them do not depend on art practice alone to survive but also engage in other things like teaching art in tertiary institutions. On a broad base view, majority of artists in Nigeria produce two kinds of works during exhibition: Works that can sustain an artist’s economically and works that can truly offer comments/views about the society they live for a desired positive change.