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  • Ow Yeong Wai Kit

In turbulent times, the young need the arts more than ever

Disruptions caused by the pandemic should not diminish the importance of arts education

Boschbrand (Forest Fire) (1849) by Raden Saleh. Oil on canvas, 300 x 396 cm. Collection of the National Gallery Singapore. This work has been adopted by the Yong Hon Kong Foundation.

While it is tempting to relegate the arts to the periphery when other urgent priorities loom, that would be a mistake. It is my firm belief that all students deserve access to the fine arts, no matter how difficult the times may be, and regardless of students’ socio-economic status. My point is to make the case for greater support of arts institutions in Singapore that play a crucial role in widening the horizons of our younger generations and for the public at large.

While we may not be able to replicate the sense of wonderment and awe that an in-person visit can offer, at least virtual visits to the National Gallery Singapore would allow students to be acquainted with – and inspired by – more South-east Asian artworks that they would otherwise never have known about. Virtual tours could also be tailored and adjusted based on students’ interests, considering the Gallery’s experience in curating and selecting artworks that speak directly to younger viewers.

Far from being an optional afterthought, arts exposure programmes are indispensable for students. Years after my first few batches of students had graduated, I remember how pleasantly surprised I was to encounter them – some of whom I would never have imagined developing a fondness for the arts – at arts events like the Gallery Children’s Biennale.

As poet and dramatist Bertolt Brecht famously observed: “In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.”

The arts are an unquenchable flame that lingers, even at the edge of a precipice.

Check out the full article in the Straits Times (published on 21 February 2021).

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