Arts & Design Industry Panel: More Than Just Aesthetics.

The Art of the Arts, what does it really take to live in this industry?

Anna T2M
Anna T2M
Jun 18, 2020 · 9 min read

Over the past decades, the Arts & Design scene in Singapore has certainly flourished to become more vibrant than before. With the increasing fundings, support, initiatives, programmes, and campaigns from the National Arts Council and Arts schools, more youth are keen to look deeper into working in this sector.

While there may be a lot of similarities between both of the industries, there is, however, a fine line between the experiences in the Arts and Design sector.

Murals, playgrounds, park benches, and even your home’s kitchen layout, are some of the examples of Arts and Design integrated into our daily lives. And the truth is, you’re likely to already be a designer in some way; Like how you would design your own study table, decide to place your computer screen at a certain angle, etc!

On 4 June 2020, SGExams and Praxium hosted a panel with three professionals from the Arts & Design Industry, where they shared their lives in their respective occupations and samples of work in this sector. If you have always been interested in pursuing the Arts or Design, yet unsure of your decisions, this article can provide some clarity for you.

  • Jean Seizure, Actor/ Musician at @apexprojectsg ;
  • Han XueMei, Theatre Practitioner ;
  • Melisa Chan, Designer/Architecture;
  • Louis Puah, Founder at Praxium, Career Coach;
  • Nicky Josephine Tjandra, Incoming University Freshman ;
  • And Kattleya Wong, Secondary School student.

What is Art? What is Design?

And how are they different?

“..I used to think that Art is pretty much just painting and drawing. Design is just making nice pictures and graphics.” — Louis started the panel discussion addressing the misconception that he saw in himself as a student and most of the students whom he interacted with.

Illustration of points shared by Panelists, by Tan Yi Shyen.

In a nutshell, besides using Art for self-expression, the panelists concluded that Art is also a tool for therapy and trigger to address important topics for the audience.

On top of all that, Art is about creating relatable and impactful content, presenting it through different mediums and perspectives.

Design, on the other hand, is about making lives better for others through problem-solving.

“Design (to me) is really about creating the experience for the People; Exploring and experimenting different perspectives to solve problems while meeting your clients’ needs.” — Melisa Chan

Day in the life: Behind The Scenes of An Artist/ Designer

When we first did the survey to gather industry interests from students in the SGExams community, many students asked about the course of study to excel in the Arts and Design industry. For instance, “Do I need to go to an Arts school to become an artist? What course should I study to be a fashion designer?”

In the panel discussion, XueMei confessed as she shared her journey in becoming a theatre practitioner today:

“I didn’t have any formal training at all. I took some drama classes for youth. We learn some form of basic acting principles techniques, not so much of becoming an actor, but more of understanding how theatre works.”

The work behind putting up a performance in a theatre scene requires collaborative efforts from projection media (multimedia designers), make-up artists, actors, costume designers, lighting designers, and many more!

Photo credits to XueMei.

We often only get to see a few people on stage, yet a team can involve many different kinds of people who each hold an equally important role in making the performance a successful piece, like the one in the picture.

As both a songwriter and a stunt actor, Jean shared some of her rehearsal clips and photos of her work. She placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of behind-the-scenes preparations before the actual event, for both music and acting.

Illustration by AnnaT2M. Behind the scenes trial practice of Jean’s knock-down scene.

Similar to acting, writing her own music also requires great preparation and practice before publishing her end product to the public.

When it comes to music, there’s a lot of writing involved, listening to what you have written and editing the lyrics.… You need to understand the language, the poetry and how to say things in a concise manner that will also impact people who are listening to your songs.— Jean Seizure

In addition to the steps mentioned above, Jean noted that there’s also the need to do marketing to get her music out there. Whereas in the acting context, there’s the need to do research, watch movies and reflect upon the art behind creating the scene — questioning on the perspectives and angles, as well as the reasons for portraying the story in a certain manner, etc. in order to bring out the best version of the character that she’s playing.

Creating Experiences As A Designer

Design is all about shaping the way people feel and experience.

Melisa, with an ambition to become a designer at the age of 4 years old, started her sharing with a long list of different job occupations over the past few years of her experience in the design industry.

While it may be intimidating to some who wonders about the respective requirements and criteria to fulfill in each job position, Louis quickly added,

“Across each job, the skill sets are very overlapping and transferable. So it’s not about the job title, it’s more about the skill sets that you bring along with you instead.”

Melisa validated that there are also differences when designing a physical and digital space. The technical abilities and capabilities that you need would require different training depending on the deliverables. Then, she emphasized again:

“But actually a lot of design thinking or design mindset has fundamental principles.”

Like many other people, Melisa thought that it’s natural for students who are doing architecture to move into “Master of Architecture” and continue building spaces and buildings, which resulted in her accidentally taking the “wrong” course.

She did nothing related to creative work in that one year but used technology to analyze the social logic of space. Her initial few tasks in her internship in London was to draw the map above. This also involved sociology and geography — How it relates to the spaces that we create and affect our lifestyle and culture.

Course of Study vs Portfolio

There is often a misconception amongst students that, in order to perform well in the Arts and/or Design industry, one needs to be either really good at “drawing” or graduate from an Arts school. In fact, these are some of the relevant courses of study that you can consider too:

The indirect courses of study give you background knowledge that add depth to your art/design work, which will really differentiate you, but you’re likely to need to spend extra time to build the technical skills for work.

What is more important than your course of study, is actually building your portfolio because it allows employers and clients to see what you’re capable of.

If you’re interested in acting, it’s time to find some opportunities in student films or collaborate with your peers and work on passion projects. Building your portfolio is like “finding ways to do something out of nothing”, the ability to create is what defines “Creativity” for XueMei.

XueMei raised a piece of important advice:

“I think, the WHY you want to do it is more important than you doing it to apply for a job… The purpose of building a portfolio isn’t really about getting a job, it’s about building the experience.”

As a starting point, look for local artists and people who are already doing the work, find mentors in the industry, and volunteering opportunities to start.

Balancing Commercial Projects and Artistic Projects

Across the survey responses, we noticed that there are 2 huge concerns amongst the student community.

  1. Financial Sustainability
  2. Artistic Integrity

Most people will think that you can only have one or the other. Be a starving artist, or be a sell-out.

Louis brought in a new perspective to illustrate that there can be a mix of both.

You don’t hear of starving artists so much these days, because many of them have found financially sustainable ways to be an artist.

Instead of paint on canvas for a piece that is only seen in a museum, many have chosen instead to do 2D/3D video game art, which is seen and appreciated by millions around the world, further spurning on things like fanart, further growing the arts scene.

Likewise Jean is a stunt actor, a songwriter, a singer in an acapella group, and a fitness instructor. The truth is, you can comfortably work more than just one job to achieve financial sustainability. Jean’s fitness gig is one that synergizes really well with her acting work, and you can find your own special path too.

As a career coach, Louis also shared a common pain among working professionals:

Many people work in things they are not interested in. Because of that, they crave the next holiday, and luxurious spending, in order to stay sane.

In contrast, many who work in areas they are passionate in, actually end up a lot happier and more fulfilled, so they spend a lot less on unneccesary things as well. This beautifully balances out the slightly lower income they may earn.

At the end of the day, it’s worth thinking about what really matters.

Here’s a Question For You To Reflect

Do you really want to be in this industry? Why?

XueMei also added, “ It’s not so much of what you do, but more of why you do something.”

Next Steps

If you think Arts/ Design is your calling, you can start doing these:

If you have any challenges in doing these steps, do reach out to us at Praxium! We have been creating a whole range of opportunities for youth like yourselves to take action and pursue your dreams.

Found this article on Arts & Design useful? Follow our publication for more in-depth, insightful articles coming soon on topics like General Studies, Healthcare, and IT.

Thank you to Jean, XueMei, and Melisa for sharing their thoughts and time with us on our panel, as well as our student participants for their active engagement during the QnA!

As well as Tan Yi Shyen for doing the illustrations for the points in the article.

If you’d like to get in contact with the panelists or other industry professionals in the other sectors, do DM @praxiumsg on Instagram or Facebook, and we can make our network of professionals from various industries available.

For more articles like this, do explore our other career insights articles.

Follow Praxium on their channel for more updates and events about career guidance and self-discovery: Praxium Youth Community on Telegram

Follow SGExams on Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, our website and Medium page.


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