Don't call me (Very) Special

Godzilla ripping across The Big Land - click for larger pic

This is the second year we've been to the VSA annual show. This year, we bought a Chinese ink painting by Lim Mun Chong and a pen drawing by Lee Fook Hong - both, coincidentally, were of trees and had strong graphic elements we liked. We took to the The Big Land immediately - the variations of diagonal lines creating a real depth yet still retaining the graphic, comic-like, Tim-Burton-ish flatness (pic above is not too clear though).

Last year, we had bumped into Chng Seok Tng at the show and bought one half of a pair (no money lah!) of her lino prints. I remember I was a student in school when I first read about Chng Seok Tng in the Chinese papers. The article was about the fall she had just taken from a bus during an overseas excursion with her students. It was only some weeks or months later that she found her sight begin to diminish. Even when I did not care as much about Singapore artists, I kept a look out for her work because how she lived and what she spoke about was consistent with the art she made, and what her art communicated.

A colleague whom I was speaking to about the VSA show had objected to the term "Very Special Arts", which was too positive an affirmation that it backfired for him. His point was that the implication was not that the art itself was "very special" or had any intrinsic artistic quality, but that we were made to see and not forget that it was the artist who was "very special" only because of his/her disability. It's just charity, is the protest.

His sentiment is valid, I guess. Yet I couldn't help but wonder if this divide between the art and the person of the artist we insist upon is artificial and unnecessary. Especially today, can there even be a "natural", untainted response to a piece of art? Does having to come to grips with a practical, physical or learning disability in dealing with everyday life make an artist more attuned to his/her immediate surrounding, environment, actions etc, and therefore lends his/her art a greater consistency and immediacy?

The short bio on Lee Fook Hong says that he aspires to be a graphic designer one day, though he struggles with learning how to use the computer software that is the pen/pencil for the designer today. J and I empathise entirely with that! Both his aspiration and his difficulty...granted that we might probably eventually pick up the technical know-how (please someone tell me, what on earth are vectors and are they invented just to mock and stumble us???) faster than he would? Yet his love for and understanding of graphic elements and styles is clear at first glance.

For those interested, the VSA show will be on at Raffles City Shopping Centre ground floor until 30 August. Vaguely related is Raw Vision, a magazine on outsider art, with a generous online version.


"Yet I couldn't help but wonder if this divide between the art and the person of the artist we insist upon is artificial and unnecessary."

- funny, i was just talking to stu about this the other day. how odd! why would anyone want to insist on something like that?

sometimes we get into an artist's work precisely because we hear about their lives and influences. in this case, it would be unrealistic to separate the work from the person.

to be able to appreciate the work of art for itself it great, but wouldn't the "viewer" ask/want to know more about what inspired or influenced the artist to come up with a certain piece?
ampulets said…
yah, it's perfectly natural to want to find's more than the regular kaypoh-ness ;> but maybe sometimes i also get a little apologetic about if somehow that diminishes the value of the work itself? And artists themselves perpetuate this when they are asked about the inspiration or about themselves, and they answer - "judge the work for itself". Maybe with all that media intrusiveness today, anything private that is dragged out and displayed as part of the work somehow seems extra wrong?
Unknown said…
knowing the context of the artist is important, but making a ridiculously super special big deal out of it reeks of over-compensation which can be patronising.

as long as the art itself isn't carried along by the artist's personal history or whatever, it's ok lah.
wheyface said…
i think there's private and public value in works of art: what the artist personally makes of his or her work may not cohere with an outsider's sense of it but that does not invalidate either perspective. this is the amazing spaciousness of art - which is why art can be redemptive.

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