Why It Matters

Finding a new meaning in art

Gone are the days when art lessons were just about making papier mache masks or drawing flowerpots.

Today, primary school pupils are learning more about how art is created, what a work of art could mean to different people and how they can express themselves through art.

The changes are meant to make learning more authentic, in a refreshed art education syllabus for primary schools that started this year. For instance, lessons will have a lot more open-ended discussions - about artists, their works, influences and motivations.

A recommended list of 32 works of art by local and international artists has been included in the curriculum so pupils are exposed to a variety of artistic styles. There is also a greater focus on visual inquiry skills - observation and interpretation - and reflecting on works of art through activities like role-playing and discussions. Pupils will also get to visit a museum from this year, in a bid to get them acquainted with art outside the classroom, and help them understand the role of museums.

Art may not be an examinable subject in primary school, but it plays a key role in helping children see that things are often not always black and white. It opens their eyes to new ideas and possibilities as they listen to how their classmates may interpret a work of art differently. Across the various subjects, from the sciences to humanities, there has been a greater push for students to be more analytical and apply knowledge to real-world contexts. The changes to art education are part of this larger trend.Such classes are a good chance for pupils to access art and think creatively, without the worry of being marked down or wrong.

Instead of just sitting around tables doing art and craft, talking more about the process of coming up with art - the why, the how and even the who - is more meaningful for pupils. Ultimately, not everyone becomes an artist. But everyone, starting from the young, can learn to look around them, and appreciate art in all forms and contexts critically.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2018, with the headline 'Finding a new meaning in art'. Print Edition | Subscribe