Freer rein needed for artistic excellence

The Government has invested heavily in the visual arts at various levels, for example, by creating new museums, giving scholarships to arts talent to study at top colleges overseas and supporting Lasalle College of the Arts in working with the top art school in London.

Such progressive effort trains sophisticated thinkers and encourages the understanding of the rich knowledge and history of the visual art world.

It is deeply disappointing to see National Arts Council (NAC) chief executive Kathy Lai and her team missing the boat of nurturing the intellectual potential of our talents and audience ("The tough balancing act of arts funding"; Nov 7).

The social engineering of artists to produce what the NAC wants is not the way to go, as it contrasts with the big picture of Singapore developing creative minds across all industries.

The NAC should be a facilitator and should nurture artistic and intellectual minds, instead of talking down to artists.

The successful reception of all the Singapore Biennales by audiences was due precisely to works that raised difficult questions or had expressive political perspectives.

These works opened up the minds of the audience. The international visual art community is beginning to notice us because we send the message that Singapore is accepting diverse views and becoming an inclusive society.

Ms Lai sees that good art was still made in the past although there was political tension between patrons and artists. The point of history is not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Nurturing the arts scene here is long-term hard work. We should learn from art history that more excellent art works would be made if fewer artists were controlled by their patrons.

Views such as Ms Lai's will deeply affect the growth of Singapore's contemporary arts scene, the cultivation of top creative arts talents for present and future Singapore, as well as government initiatives.

Ng Joon Kiat

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2015, with the headline 'Freer rein needed for artistic excellence'. Print Edition | Subscribe