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SOTA student defends art students’ choice of dropping art

A former SOTA student, Gabbi Wenyi Ayane Virk, spoke out against the assumptions that has been made since the report of School Of The Arts (SOTA) students going on to pursue non-arts related fields after graduation was released.

In the May 15th Straits Times (ST) report, it was mentioned that the percentage of graduates pursuing non-arts related university courses has increased from 60 per cent in 2012 to 83 per cent in 2015.

That is seen in the Prime Minister’s Valedictorian award recipient, Cheri Wee, who entered SOTA dreaming of becoming a world-renowned ballerina but is instead pursuing an undergraduate degree in psychology and philosophy at the University of Oxford.

In her speech as the school’s most outstanding student in her cohort, she said, “Six long years of blood, sweat and tears, and I’ve found that my place isn’t as a dancer onstage”.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu, said during the award ceremony addressed to SOTA graduates that over 70 percent of graduates had chosen to pursue non-arts related university courses after their graduation.

In response to ST’s report, Gabbi said, “This whole article just reeks of misunderstanding”.

In her post, she wrote about the immense challenge the arts requires from students both mentally and physically, and how the stereotype about arts “being the easy way out’ is an inaccurate assumption.

Gabbi said, “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”.

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??

Gabbi took reference from Clarise Ong’s comment on ST’s post as well.

Gabbi said, “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”.

She disagreed with the narrative that you need a formal credentials to be able to be respected for your craft, or make incisive social commentary through the arts.

“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,” Gabbi added.

Art students never really give up on the arts, Gabbi said in her post. “How can we, when we’ve spent over 2,000 hours of our lives rolling on floors and pulling all-nighters to understand it?” she asked. Gabby said she studies law, but is also in two theatre societies, three dance societies, and one visual arts society. She still frequents the theatre by herself, although she 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? she asked again.

She also addressed the impression that despite the rigorous schedule of art students, they never really give up on the arts.

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.

Before ending off her post, Gabbi defended SOTA students’ freedom of choice:

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. 

The principal of SOTA had also said that the school’s aim is to help students achieve what they want to achieve, rather than make recommendations that they should study a specific range of courses.

Readers seem to be of the opinion that graduates are free to choose what they like to pursue after SOTA, although some still lean towards the traditional method of going to mainstream schools:

To read Gabbi’s full piece, click here.