A bunch of my friends and I set up an exhibition for Arts Week representing Slate, a theatre collective within the college. It featured some writing and had an audio accompaniment blaring in the background. Both the written work and recordings were done by our friends within the college and possibly written in this very compound as well. I appreciated their gifts and hoped that the exhibition could showcase them.
After taking everything down at the end of the night, I was asked a typical “so how did it go?” question to which I replied “well I haven’t had any complaints or negative feedback, so I guess all is well”. Today I woke up and somehow my reply was on loop in my brain throughout most of my morning. It haunted me.
It’s not that I was bitter about not having positive feedback or not having feedback at all really. I was just overcome with this sad realisation that I have been so busy trying to force myself to engage with Art, now that I’m no longer required to do so formally, that I’ve become satisfied with just consuming it or producing it.
Before University, you would either find me sprawled in a Black Box exhausted from back-to-back rehearsals, behind a desk critically analysing a piece of text or sitting in some nondescript staircase chugging down honey lemon water. That was the trajectory for a good 10 years of my life. Now, all I do is just watch a play or film every three months or so. The difference between the two is the lack of the struggle that comes with appreciating and doing/making art. The tension from sharpening your perspectives, the unwillingness to confront the glaringly apparent, and the humility that comes with analysing the complexity of the technicalities of the piece before you. Since when did I start being contented with neutrality? The more pressing concern is — since when did I allow myself to see Art as neutral?
I’m not sure if this is also the case for the others who are in charge of the various arts interest groups in Tembusu, but I feel as though the sense of responsibility to churn out creative content has taken center stage as opposed to really appreciating the content that I produce. It’s not to say that the process isn’t enjoyable but I feel like I’ve neglected the true experience that I had hoped to extend towards those who have yet to experience it for themselves.
What then is this true experience? In my perspective, appreciating Art is about having an imaginary conversation with the piece, be it a performance or text. Nowadays, it’s as though Art is merely an old friend that I occasionally stalk on social media without actually trying to initiate a conversation. I struggle to keep up with her everyday life in a bid to justify that the friendship still exists but am never really there for her. When I’m physically there, I take a photo with her for evidence; but when I return home, there is still a sense that something is not right.
The problem with just consuming art, even if it’s conscious consumption, is that you don’t actually stand to gain much from Art beyond its visceral effects. Being present and feeling something is vastly different from acting upon it in your thoughts and actions. Art should not leave one status quo and in the same vein, we should not accept Art as is. It is not about producing content but rather being critical of the content you consume. Does the Art in front of you make you think? Could the idea be conveyed better? Sometimes I wonder if not bringing a critical mind to Art is indicative that I have become so unfeeling that visceral effects are all that I crave from Art now. It used to just be a baseline I expected from every piece I encounter.
As I sit here wondering about the role of Art in my life now, I am certain of a few things. Art would often tell me that things could be better. Art would also be honest and acknowledge some things are intractable. Art would then show me ways to cope. Art has forced me to confront my existence — my values, actions, morality or lack thereof. Art has told me what it loathes about me and what it values. Art has always had complete faith that I will grow into my own person.
Barring my own journey with Art, I also realise that something strange is happening within my peers around me. It feels as though our departure from formally interacting with Art, meaning to say pursuing it without guidance, has exposed us to a sense of fear surrounding Art beyond just facing problems such as censorship and the possibility of failure. It is as though we are afraid to encounter Art truthfully in fear of seeing ourselves for who we really are and contemplate the truths of our realities. These realities include: no longer practicing art as much as we used to, we are no longer updated with what is happening in the industry and maybe, we are unable to recall how to appreciate art.
I can’t speak for everyone, but for many of us, being involved in the arts has evolved into a sort of identity marker. Confronting our attitudes towards Art would be acknowledging that in University, our identities are now in flux more than ever. If we refuse to take on labels such as ‘The Architecture Kid’ or that ‘FASS girl’, because it doesn’t speak of our own artistic pursuits but rather economic pursuits, we no longer have the luxury to seek comfort in being labelled the ‘artistic’ classmate. Yet, maybe we don’t want to be that either. Finding out what we want is perhaps the most perplexing part of it all.
While this reflection offers no solutions, I do have a suggestion: go out and let yourself be vulnerable in the face of Art. Challenge yourself to appreciate at least one work Art and not just mindlessly consume a dozen. Art will always reward you for your efforts, but often in the most humble and thoughtful manner you never saw coming.
Pictures by Sarah Chew
About the Author
Sarah is a professional shower singer with a fondness for things that are monochrome – especially pandas. She enjoys acoustic music and suffers from food comas more often than preferred.