Reflection on Artist talk and “Painter’s Eye” video

By Bianca Polak

10 October 2006

One thing that struck me most after watching the “Painter’s Eye” video was the fact that the artist taking part in the research was so focused on precision and detail. The results of the research were less surprising, that the painter’s eye movement and area of focus was different from general human beings making a figure drawing. Another surprising factor was that Jun Kit mentioned that this painter came from a famous school in UK that teaches drawing/painting of figures in the academic way. I always thought that in Europe (in the past decades) art schools are promoting their students to be original, to be different and not to first copy the style of the master.

It reminded me of the short stint I had teaching English conversation classes once a week in Hangzhou’s China Academy of Art (中国美术学院) to the year 1 Master students of the various disciplines. The topics of the English conversation had to be related to the arts, so in one of the lessons I gave them some short articles to read on controversial artists and let them have a discussion on whether they considered this to be art. Quite like the article that we had read on the pubic hair. Most of them did not think this should be considered art. And another time I gave them a few articles, one on Van Gogh, one on a famous Chinese painter and one on a contemporary artist and let them choose which one they wanted to discuss on. It was interesting for me then to learn that in most of the disciplines they practice the principle of first copying the master artist before developing your own style. Not only for the traditional Chinese art forms, such as calligraphy and Chinese painting, but even for the oil painting they practised this method in making their copy of Van Gogh or Gauguin to learn the various styles. Only the new media art department practises a more western style approach to let the students come up with their own ideas and creations and the same for the “environmental art” (artworks in the public space).

I also read the chapter of Gardner’s “Creating Minds” on Picasso this week, to see how Picasso got his education. I have seen several of his works in museums in Paris, Barcelona and in a special exhibition in Rotterdam before and am quite familiar with his different periods, etc. and how his style developed over the years. Although Picasso never really completed any formal art schooling, it’s interesting that it seemed that he drew his initial inspiration from visiting art galleries and looking at the works of the masters. But he didn’t copy those works, rather he used it to get inspiration and develop his own unique style.

Regarding the controversial art expressions in Singapore, I guess art in this case is trying to defy the norms and open the eyes of the general public to start a dialogue. By doing something extreme, breaking a taboo, the artists will get the publicity (even negative) and this will open up the dialogue. When considering the suggestions of Jun Kit on writing about art, whereby the context will help to understand the concept behind the artwork, probably this is a good example of art within a societal context. Without the background of Singapore and its culture and political scene at the time, the performance may not have made sense when placed in a different place.

We are getting back to the different dimensions again of place and time being defining factors of the art work.