What’s The Point Of Art?

Along the way, we all lost touch with our inner artists. But we don’t need to fear art: here’s a guide to getting reacquainted.

At one point in each of our lives, quite early on, every one of us was an artist. We covered papers and walls with drawings of what we saw around us, even though they weren’t quite Van Goghs. In school, we were given artistic freedom: making our own papier-mâché, cutting and pasting scraps of magazine tear-outs together…but somewhere along the way, everything simply grounded to a halt. We left the art to professional artists, giving self-deprecating warnings about how bad our drawings are just before we present a hand-drawn diagram or chart at work. What happened?

For most of us, now that we’re all grown up, a lack of understanding of art stems from a fear of art; or, rather, the fear of being perceived as shallow or uncultured if we don’t “get” an art piece. We fear being mocked if we claim ourselves to be creative or artistic, yet, we can’t draw an apple. But we shouldn’t forget about all our inner artists—the ones who drew the world as we saw it, squiggly rainbows and all. In light of the Singapore Art Week, which runs from 22 to 30 January, perhaps it’s time to take that approach to seeing art again—here’s our guide to getting you reacquainted with art.

Why does art matter?

Over time, art has shifted from being a mere form of documentation of events and history; art today can be social, political, cultural, and religious commentary; it can inspire curiosity, self-reflection, and change. They say that a picture speaks a thousand words, and it is precisely because art speaks directly to the heart that it can be so invigorating or outrageous, profound or moving. Beyond its societal importance, art engagement has also shown to alleviate anxiety, depression, and stress, while expressing yourself through art has been linked to improved memory, reasoning, and resilience. Yes, we know—art isn’t technically essential to life, not when there are other more basic needs like food, shelter, health, or the community. But it’s not that we can’t live without art—it’s that life would be much more vibrant with art. 

For further reading, we’d recommend this article, which delves more deeply into the importance of art. 

“Old Lyrics with New Melody” by Goh Beng Kwan at Ascott Raffles Place Singapore

What is art? What does art mean?

We don’t often initiate conversations about art, but what most artists love is that their art is able to create such conversations and dialogue—ask any artist, curator, or gallery sitter and they’d be more than happy to tell you what an exhibition is all about. Ultimately, though, art is subjective—a piece of art could hold completely different meanings to you and someone else. And that’s what makes art so exciting! At the same time, it’s okay to not have a deep understanding of every piece of art and just appreciate the technical mastery of the old greats, or have fun in an interactive, immersive installation. But if you’ve ever wanted to dig a little deeper, here’s a simple guide you can follow to kick-start that internal conversation in your head when you approach any artwork:

1.  What is it?

  • What medium is the artwork? Is it a painting, sculpture, short film etc? 

  • Does it seem abstract, or is the subject matter familiar to me?

2. What does it mean?

  • Ask yourself: what’s happening here?

  • Do I recognise any symbols or objects that I know to have specific meanings?

  • The writeup that accompanies each artwork is a great place to start. It gives you context and background behind the artwork, which might put things into perspective.

  • If the writeup alone isn’t enough, but you’re keen to find out more, it might help to read up about the artist and their body of work to better understand the artist’s motivations behind the piece. 

3. What is it to you?

  • Do you like it? (It’s okay if you don’t!) Why or why not?

  • What does it remind you of?

  • How does it make you feel?

For further reading, we’d recommend this article, which shows how different people can have vastly different interpretations of art. Additionally, we’d suggest dropping by National Gallery Singapore to pick up a (free!) copy of The Honest Guide To Seeing Art, a little yellow booklet that you can find at the information counter. With a guide in hand, why not pay a visit to the various exhibits on show?

‘Singapore Memoir’ by Ketna Patel at Ascott Raffles Place Singapore

How can I make art?

Now that you have a better understanding of what art is, it’s easy to see that art can be found anywhere, and everywhere. It might be as simple as taking a snap with your phone as you notice the light streaming through the MRT windows during your morning commute, or taking a more conscious, considered approach to arranging the flowers on your office desk. Big steps include organising an art jamming session together with your colleagues; small steps include getting a colouring book for adults to find moments of calm after a stressful day. There’s really no right or wrong when it comes to art. Whichever you choose, we hope that taking time to get back in touch with your inner artist will spark inspiration to carry you throughout the rest of the year. 

To start your own art adventure, we’d recommend YouTube channels like this, which has plenty of easy tutorials which you can follow along to; for inspiration, this brand creates wearable art from otherwise-overlooked found objects; while this artist/chef turns food into fantastical creations. 

'Cosmopolis' by David Gerstein at CapitaHub

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