To avoid any confusion, there are two ways to view the concept of the arts. One could interpret the term arts to refer to subjects that can be studied at school or university but are not scientific and do not use scientific methods. Examples of appropriate subjects include languages, history, religion, literature and so forth. It could also be used to refer to a broad range of creative activities that include the imaginative expression of ideas and feelings as well as actions and events. The arts include literature, music, theatre, art, and painting (in the senses of drawing, painting, sculpture, etc). This discussion will focus on the second definition of arts, as described above.

These arts can be divided into literary arts (poetry and prose), performing arts, music, dance, theatre, and visual arts. This encompasses all creative activities in fine and applied arts such as drawing, painting and sculpture, graphics and textile.

The question of whether the arts are useful or irrelevant to daily living in developed countries is no longer a concern. American citizens would flock to Bard College’s auditorium to hear Chinua Achebe read his Things Fall Apart. They don’t care that they’ve heard it over and over again. The same goes for the English audience who would gather at The Royal Theatre in London to see the presentation of Wole Syedinka’s The Trials of Brother Jero, or any of Shakespeare’s plays, despite the fact that Shakespeare wrote them centuries ago. The same thing happens with the Italians, who, despite being long gone, would spend their last lira on an exhibition of their artworks.

Our own situation has meant that few people have been able to appreciate the arts as they are. The problem isn’t whether the arts have a practical value or not. It is clear that the arts can be applied to everyday life in the same way as any other profession or more. People are often too busy or hungry to appreciate the true value of the arts. If a man has seven children and a low monthly income of ten thousand naira, and has to pay for his living expenses, it may be difficult to afford five hundred naira to see a drama production. A Nigerian graduate would have to know how to spend the money on landscape paintings, while a young man without food for three years would struggle to find a job. Can arts still be considered relevant if they don’t satisfy hunger and thirst?

Relevance is a presupposition of usefulness and value. The right questions to ask are: Are the arts useful? Our answer is yes. Are they valuable? Again, the answer is yes. The arts can be considered relevant if they have value and use, which is what relevance means. This conclusion raises a crucial question: In what ways is the arts relevant to society? These are the areas where arts have relevance.

Entertainment/Relaxation: The various forms of the arts mentioned above provide one form of entertainment, amusement and relaxation or the other. David played his harp when King Saul was being tormented by evil spirits and the spirit of God left him. David’s harp produced music that kept Saul at ease. Evil spirits returned whenever David wasn’t around to play his instrument. Griots, or court poets/historians from ancient Mali, were also known for entertaining the public during national festivals with long narrative poems that recounted the heroic achievements of their predecessors. Court jesters were used to entertain the king and queen by telling jokes and stories (as seen in many of Shakespeare’s plays). Moonlight stories were an excellent source of entertainment and relaxation in traditional African societies. During communal ceremonies, praise singers and dance troupes entertained the crowd.

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