In praise of those who create

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
The writer
The writer

I can’t draw anything to save my life. I can’t draw a football, a bottle, a face, a table, a plant, a snake or whatever the simplest thing is that I might be asked to draw. I can try and I have tried, but it simply won’t look like whatever the object is that I am trying to draw.

It isn’t a question of me not being an artist, I was simply not present when the artistic talents were being shared. I am no good at all in the artistic department.

I have never got over the misery of Art classes in Mawuli School. In six years of Primary and two years of Middle school, I don’t remember what happened during Art classes except for the time when we were given clay and supposed to make a bowl and I realised pottery wasn’t for me.

Art wasn’t a favourite subject but it didn’t stand out as a problem area at that time. Once I entered Mawuli school, however, and under the expert eyes of Mrs Grace Kwami, the Art Teacher, (widow of Robert Kwami, the great musician who taught in Achimota School), my handicap was mightily exposed.

I shudder to this day when I see her in my mind’s eye, walk up to me, take a look at the paper in front of me, at the paint, the pencil, charcoal or whatever we are using and she would ask in despair: “what ARE you doing?”.

I know that teachers never forget the bright pupils in their class but I wonder what they make of the ones that are no good at all at the subjects. Did she shake her head every time she thought about me?

I am forever grateful to her, of course, that despite my distinct lack of talent, she succeeded in imparting to me an appreciation of Art and Art History.

I know about the great Masters, I spend money on paintings and I encourage young artists by patronising their work.

But I digress. What sparked my musings this week really was a new jacket that I have got. Now this was a creation by my young designer Tetteh Kwashie.

There was absolutely nothing special about the fabric and yet he managed to turn it into something spectacular, and it reinforced for me once again the importance of those who have creative talents, those who do things with their hands, those who are imaginative and make the world beautiful.

Another class I was not happy in at school was something that used to be called Needlework. Mrs Haizel would make me undo the stitch a hundred times and I quickly came to the conclusion that sewing was never going to be one of my strong points.

I admire all those who take what looks like ordinary things and turn them into spectacular creations.

I am in awe of those who make clothes and I believe their talents should be properly acknowledged and they should be accorded the recognition they deserve in society.

Of course, there are tailors and there are tailors. You can tell the difference between the ordinary and the talented when you look at the kente fabric; in the hands of a great weaver, this already rich fabric becomes a true work of art that you feel must be displayed in a museum to be visited and examined and enjoyed by millions rather than kept in one person’s closet to be worn once a year.

In much the same way as there are carpenters and there are carpenters. A beautifully crafted chair gives satisfaction way beyond any amount you might have paid for it. There are two chairs placed in front of the desk in my study.

The lines on one of them are not quite right and somehow or the other, my eyes are forever settling on this chair. It is an adequate chair and does its business of providing a seat, it is simply that it is not a thing of beauty.

This difference I refer to is very easy to tell when you get two gardeners, both have learnt all there is to know about plants and landscaping, one has a creative eye and wonder fingers and the other one is technically sound but lacks romance and a creative touch. The reaction to one is: “wow” and to the other is: “that’s nice”.

The same difference can be seen in the work of architects, there are those of them who have learnt the trade and are technically sound and then there are those who love what they do. When an architect who loves what he does, designs your house, there is love in every curve and it is a work of art.

Nowhere is this difference between loving what you do and simply doing a job better displayed than in the kitchen.

There are those of us who go through putting the ingredients together as it says in the recipe or as we remember our mothers taught us.

The outcome is fine, the food is edible and, on some days, it might even be really good, but there is no guarantee it will attract any wows. When I am in the kitchen, food is fuel, I know what to do, but I don’t enjoy cooking.

When I stand at the stove, I am not tempted to try anything dramatic, nothing new or out of the ordinary, if the truth be told.

The kitchen is definitely not a place where my imaginative or creative juices flow, I simply go through the motions and it is usually enough to provide a passable meal.

It is the equivalent of the outfit that is sewn for you by the young woman who went and learnt how to sew because she had finished school and an aunt suggested dressmaking as something to do. Then there is food prepared by someone who loves to cook.

It is the difference between palm soup made by an ordinary cook and the one made with love by a connoisseur.

When someone creates an outfit with love, it shows in the attention and detail and the person deserves respect.

Your tailor might not have the name or label of a famous designer but you can tell when a master craftsman has been at work and you must be ready to pay a sum that acknowledges the talent.