Dear Singaporeans, SOTA Students are Allowed to Quit the Arts.
(This is a response to this article and the comments it garnered on Facebook)
Please excuse me if I get too worked up. I can’t speak for every student who goes on to pursue a non-arts related university degree, and I certainly can’t speak for every SOTA student, but this whole article just reeks of misunderstanding.
People fail to see that there are plenty of students who ARE pursuing arts degrees now, who ARE in arts-related careers right now, who ARE making a difference in the local arts scene. In the first address our principal made to our parents in our first year, she made the bold assertion that only 1 in every 10 students would go on to claim careers in the arts. And for these students, I’m sure an arts education has made a huge difference. To say SOTA is “failing” because only some of its students go on to BE artists is to erase the fact that the small handful that do, that are able to put up with the incredible stress and dedication that a career in the arts requires, are huge successes. Why ignore these graduates in favour of creating an “arts education is destined to fail” narrative?? And as Clarise mentioned, so many students leave SOTA before graduating to pursue the arts without the IB diploma. Lots of others jump straight into the industry after IB without a university degree. These are the same students who came in wide-eyed in Year One with the rest of us, and these are the same people who are now making waves in the local arts scene. You don’t need a formal education to make incisive social commentary through the arts. You don’t need a formal education to be respected for the high level of your craft. Percentages of students who go into arts universities says NOTHING about the impact students are having on Singapore’s arts scene. Who’s to say a BA Fine Arts holder can’t go back into a non-arts related career after graduation? C’mon.
And then there are the people like me who spent four years attending Suzuki workshop after Butoh workshop after playback theatre workshop. People who spent six years consistently going home at 10pm or later because of rehearsals, or because we were watching friends’ performances or gallery openings or showcases. People who, despite the rigour with which we threw ourselves into art and theatre and music and dance, decided after graduation to “ditch” the arts scene and pursue law. Maybe some of us did it for the money (what’s wrong with wanting to provide for our families, what’s wrong with wanting to be practical about our futures?), but maybe some of us did it because the arts don’t exist in a vacuum. The arts are reactive. You don’t create a piece of theatre out of thin air. You do it because there is a social issue you want to discuss. A relationship you want to explore. A global phenomenon you want to respond to. For me and a lot of my peers, art was a wake-up call, a realisation that Singapore can do better. Art informs what we do now — I wouldn’t have applied for law if I didn’t think Singapore’s censorship laws didn’t need to change. I wouldn’t be transferring to sociology if I didn’t think Singapore’s current view of art fails to recognise the social importance of the arts (we’re not just here to entertain you, and if you’re upset because we’re “stealing university places” from non-arts educated students, it’s because you think we are unintelligent commodities who were supposed to end up fuelling your dinner table conversations through another Channel 5 drama).
People seem to think the arts are an easy way out. One commenter said arts education was a “back door entry” to non-arts degrees. Sure, maybe artists aren’t practical (do science stream students rummage through recycling bins for resources? Do you hoard scrap paper “just in case”? Do you force your friends to do yoga with you so you’re all on the same wavelength??) but we sure as hell don’t get it easy. Unless your idea of easy is HIIT and pilates at 8.15am because “physical theatre”, unless your idea of easy is going home at midnight because you’re devising a piece of theatre with five other people who all have different artistic visions than you do, unless your idea of easy is memorising 10,000 words of dialogue in a week… Art isn’t easy. It’s time consuming, it demands your body to do things your mind doesn’t think it can do, it requires ridiculous amounts of focus and dedication. If you think you have it hard when it comes to punctuality for maths class and deadlines for history, try convincing your director you don’t deserve to be kicked off a show for being 5 minutes late and not having your lines down.
And so many of us never really give up on art. How can we, when we’ve spent over 2,000 hours of our lives rolling on floors and pulling all-nighters to understand it? I study law, but I’m also in two theatre societies, three dance societies, and one visual arts society. I study law, but I still frequent the theatre by myself. I study law and I may not have the time to review films anymore, but if you wouldn’t accuse a non-SOTA student of not watching movies now that they’re in university, why do I need to justify myself?
Then there are students who ditch the arts entirely. And maybe, yeah, the school has failed in motivating them, maybe the only purpose an “arts education” served them is to help them realise it wasn’t their calling. There are students like them everywhere outside the grey walls of SOTA, who never touch the arts at all. If you’re not giving those students flak for never embracing the arts, why are you giving the students who tried it and decided they didn’t like it so much bull? They’re just as intelligent as students who don’t go through an arts education, they’ve worked just as hard (even harder, because they have to get around the stigma YOU place on them) to be where they are now, and they will CONTINUE to work very hard.
This isn’t a question of what education system you came out of, it’s a question of character too. SOTA grads are not “wasting” university spaces. SOTA grads are human beings who have decided they want to study econs or business or medicine and who are now sitting in your lectures because they want to learn and get a degree, same as you. Call me when a SOTA student is ACTUALLY wasting a uni space. Call me when a SOTA student accepts a place in NUS medicine, skips the practicals, and breaks into the cadaver room so she can do a performance art piece about “breaking into education through the back door”.
Edit: I did not mean to imply that Channel 5 drama actors are unintelligent commodities. It was an implication about how people view actors, not how actors really are.