The unpredictable - accident and chance in traditional and contemporary African art

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Artists since the days of prehistory have been aware of the influence of chance and natural accidental occurrences. These may stir up immediate associations and serve as an inspiration to create, or repressed, may arise later from the subconscious level as the artist works, causing him to alter the course of his original plan. In their natural environment, the textures and amorphous drip-marks on cave a wall is were often a starting point for paintings and engravings. These effects suggested forms which the cave artists were used to seeing in their surroundings. Likewise, African traditional sculptors were aware of rite resemblance to natural forms suggested by the distortion of trunks, branches and roots of trees. Modern artists have deliberately exploited various techniques relying on chance results to arrive at effects which might enhance their works and evoke certain impressions. As works of art deteriorate over a period of time through handling and weathering, they may still be appreciated - even in this state - unpredicted at the time they were created. The creative process itself is unpredictable. The psychological implications concerning individual artist’s reactions to subliminal intrusions are discussed herein. These intrusions arise from repressed aspect of artists’ personalities which surface in their work without conscious planning. Their own mental background as well as their approach to the working process will determine how they handle such chance intrusions. Traditional African artists were bound by stylistic conventions, often based on religious beliefs. All the same, they could incorporate chance occurrences into their work - whether external stimuli from the environment or subliminal intrusions during creation — as long as these did not interfere with the required messages to be conveyed and were within acceptable forms. In fact, innovation occurred in spite of these conventions and it is possible even to identify the hand of a particular artist through his subtle stylistic idiosyncrasies.
A thesis submitted to the Board of Postgraduate Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the Degree of Master of Arts in African Art, 1991