How to be an informed supporter of the arts

How to be an informed supporter of the arts

Love the arts? Here’s how you can be a supportive patron of the arts without needing to be a wealthy collector or big-time influencer.

by Cole Yap

Beautiful. Emotional. Thought-provoking. Whether you’re looking at a self-portrait, a film, or an abstract painting, all works of art are a part of a wider narrative that tells the story of who we are, where we came from, and where we’re going.

It takes a collective effort to ensure that our arts and the artists that create them are supported, protected, and allowed the freedom to thrive. Here are 6 ways to do that:

1. Go beneath the surface

Most artist start creating with a concept or purpose in mind. Take time to find out more about an artwork and how it fits within an artist’s overall body of work. This will help you to have a better understanding of the meanings and symbols in it.

Observe the artwork’s specific use of mediums and techniques, read artist statements, speak to curators, gallerists and even the artists themselves to dig deeper into the message of the artwork. This will increase your insight on whether its message is about politics, social issues, a reference to an event, style, or movement in pop culture.

At first glance, Caryn Koh’s Fragments series of oil paintings are seemingly vague abstract shapes of blue contrasted against plain backgrounds as they reduce in size into singular patches of colour. But if you recognise them as the blue schoolgirl pinafores from her previous series Sekolah, the artworks speak of the artist’s journey of liberation from symbols of institutional and social repression.

2. Art History 101

Having a basic understanding of Art History helps to make sense of why and how an artwork looks and feels the way it does. The artworld is full of inspired movements, ideas, and events that give rise to an endless cycle of creation and recreation across all genres of art.

The rise of modern art movements in Europe changed the game for Latiff Mohidin in the 1960s. While studying in Berlin, his exposure to avant-garde ideas emerging in post-war Germany influenced his own work and eventually opened the doors to Malaysia’s own foray into abstract expressionism, surrealism, and cubist experimentations upon his return to Southeast Asia.

His paintings and sculptures incorporating local culture and architecture still continue to inspire artists today, evidenced by the recent Pago Pago exhibition of his paintings from 1960-1969 at ILHAM Gallery in collaboration with the National Gallery Singapore and Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou.

A great place to find a quick introduction to Art History and Theory is with The Art Assignment on Youtube. For a more in-depth study, check out The Khan Academy’s classes here, here, and here.

Wondering why humans even create art in the first place? Check out this video essay by The School of Art on the History of Ideas in Art.

3. Share your thoughts

One of the great joys of appreciating art is the ability to share it with others. Dialogue and critique are both important parts of the art experience. Whether you’re a casual viewer, a keen art enthusiast, or an artist yourself, we encourage you to have conversations about your experience with art by talking, writing, or otherwise documenting your thoughts on social platforms. Use relevant hashtags and don’t forget to tag artists and galleries!

See: A quick guide on How to Critique an Artwork.

When critiquing an artwork, it’s important to be descriptive and thoughtful, analysing not only the technical qualities of the piece but also the artist’s intent. Be aware that there will always be multiple interpretations, and more often than not, no single perspective is totally right or wrong.

To check out some interesting conversations about local art, visit Art KL-itique, this segment on Let’s Talk with Sharaad Kuttan, and this BFM Podcast Everyone’s A Critic.

BFM podcast with Rubi Subramaniam

4. Respect creators

Thinking of buying or commissioning artwork? Respect the creators behind them.

Don’t haggle
An artist’s career is not an easy path and the subject of pricing is always a challenging topic. True value is difficult to price. It takes years of research, practice, and hard work to achieve mastery of a craft, and the price set for any artwork or creative service is determined by a number of factors including market price, labour, material costs, experience, quality, and originality.

Haggling for discounts usually puts creators in a difficult position that may even affect their livelihoods. That being said, you know what to expect if you pay peanuts.

Set realistic time frames
Anything worth having takes a bit of time. Most artists would love to spend extra time and effort to perfect a piece if they had the freedom to, so don’t cut yourself short by expecting things to appear overnight. Discuss time frames with the artist from the get-go and always leave a little breathing room for any unexpected issues and touch-ups.

Pay on time
If you respect your artists, you will do your best to pay on time. Not doing so often results in project delays, and good practice dictates to always pay a 50% deposit upon project confirmation to cover any initial or physical costs.

Don’t be a pirate
Whether it’s buying a printed t-shirt from a local street vendor containing artwork with no affiliation to the artist, or asking an artist to reproduce something you found on Pinterest, piracy is demeaning to artists.

Always credit
Simple, yet frequently overlooked. Giving visible credit to an artist can often lead to new opportunities and a greater awareness of their work so it’s extremely important to ensure that artists are appropriately credited with their artist names and preferably a link to contact information, a website, or social media pages.

5. Educate

Learned a few interesting art history facts? Or do you plan on going to an exciting new exhibition this weekend? Take the chance to introduce more people to the art scene by bringing someone along and sharing your knowledge. Art should be open to all and in educating more people about it we can foster a thriving ecosystem of future artists, art appreciators and patrons.

6. Create

Every individual has a unique story to tell and art is the way in which we each express our own voices, opening our minds to the infinite possibilities of our imagination. Art-making also gives us insight into technical challenges behind the artistic process, helping us identify and appreciate great work even more. It’s also a lot of fun!

Join a physical workshop in your local neighbourhood to get started. In Penang, you can try your hand at ceramics at the Penang Pottery Club, explore the art of Ikebana Japanese floral arrangements at Ohara Florist, start a carpentry project at Woodsman Makerspace, or simply join regular sketch outings in George Town with the Urban Sketchers Group. If you’re looking for a flexible creative studio, the Art E Space is open to everyone and often conducts workshops with a variety of mediums. If you’re in Petaling Jaya, Craft at No.7 hosts some unique workshops. Head over to A Space To for creative co-working, and if you’re looking for laser cut, CNC milling and 3D printing facilities, check out FabSpace.

YouTube tutorials are a great free and easy way to start creating in the comfort of your own home. Learn how to draw with Proko, or improve your photography skills with Peter McKinnon. You can also find channels like Nerdwriter and Every Frame a Painting that challenges your perspective with analysis of great artworks across genres of film, fine art, and pop culture. To purchase tools and materials, check out Craftiviti and have them delivered straight to your doorstep.

Cole Yap is a photographer, writer, and occasional ceramic artist with a background in fine art sculpture, and an endless curiosity for all things creative across design, art, science, and business.