Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), at the 2017 UOB Painting Of The Year Awards Ceremony and Exhibition, at Victoria Concert Hall

Published Date: 08 November 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Wee Ee Cheong, Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, United Overseas Bank Limited

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

1. Thank you for inviting me this evening. I have three jobs that keep me busy – one is education, one is defence, and one is Monetary Authority of Singapore. So tonight I will touch on art and education, art and defence, and art and banking.

Arts Education – enhances learning and enriches lives

2. Art is indispensable to society. It adds diversity, beauty and richness to our lives. That is why in the Ministry of Education, we believe that arts education plays an important part in sparking curiosity and passion, and promoting creative thinking in our students – traits which are essential in today’s world driven by ideas and innovation.

3. In Singapore we have the School of the Arts, a specialised school to nurture artistic talents. At selected secondary schools and junior colleges, the Art Elective Programme is offered to develop students’ conceptual and analytical thinking, and creative expression. These students may not all end up pursuing arts-related careers or courses in Institutes of Higher Learning. Even so, the creative, problem-solving and analytical skills that they have acquired through their arts education will help them excel in whatever education and professional paths they choose to take later on.

4. At the tertiary level, we have the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and LASALLE College of the Arts, to cater to those who chose to pursue their aspirations in the arts. The graduates are doing quite well. They do not just join the art-related sectors, but also become entrepreneurs, freelancers and join large organisations and assume executive responsibilities.

5. Hence, arts education is not just for the few who are deeply passionate about the arts. As a discipline, it has a wide range of applications. It is useful for everyone to be exposed to the arts, and art should be made accessible to all. Some of our education institutions are paving the way for this. For example, at National University of Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YST), they are restructuring their programmes so that they become modular. 14 YST modules are being offered to all NUS students from this year onwards. So even if you are studying engineering, you can take a module from YST and learn about art.

Arts Experience - expresses deep emotions

6. Arts is also itself an important medium of expression and communication, including deep emotions and thoughts that are sometimes hard to convey. This is when I switch to the second topic, where I talk about art and defence, which are actually related.

7. Last month, I was in Australia in my capacity as Second Minister for Defence and visited the Australian War Memorial (AWM). The Director of AWM, Brendan Nelson, was a former Australian Minister for Defence. After he became Director of AWM, he added a whole new section on the Afghanistan War. This was a somewhat controversial and an unusual move because the war has not ended and therefore strictly speaking, it is not history that belongs to a memorial. Yet Mr Nelson felt that it is important and necessary for the public to know about the war and its impact. I came across three big paintings of three women which he commissioned. They were painted by an Australian artist, Ben Quilty, and I would like to share them with everyone here. No words are needed. These paintings convey a powerful message. The impact of war on the family members of soldiers, either killed or wounded, are vividly depicted. A picture truly paints a thousand words and this case, a thousand emotions.

8. Closer to home, we have our NS50 celebrations this year. As part of this, the Singapore Art Society organised the “Commemorating NS50 Through Art” project. I opened and toured the exhibition earlier this year. There were Chinese ink paintings, calligraphy, watercolour, oil and acrylic paintings – a reflection of our cultural and artistic diversity. They captured the soul and spirit of our National Service. Let me show you two of my favourite paintings. The first was called “Camouflage”, by Terence Teo, the President of the Singapore Art Society. Very simple. If you look carefully you see a few camouflaged soldiers. I thought it reflected the invisible work of our armed forces and our servicemen.

9. Another artwork that struck me was a calligraphy piece by Seah Kang Chui. I particularly like the calligraphy, which reads “能攻心则反侧自消,自古知兵非好战.” Simply put, it says ‘If we can influence the heart of our opponent, we will avoid the war. Those who have mastered the craft of war are people who deplore wars.’ This is an example of how art can convey ideas in a powerful and profound manner. Centuries of wisdom and deep emotions can be expressed and passed on through such art forms. Art can be very relevant and relatable.


10. Now in closing, I will talk about art and banking. We are here attending this event which is about art and banking. I would like to thank UOB’s strong support in promoting the local arts scene. The UOB Painting of the Year competition started in 1982. It has since discovered many talented emerging artists and recognised established professionals including Singapore Cultural Medallion recipients, the late Mr Anthony Poon and Mr Chua Ek Kay.

11. Tonight, I am honoured to witness the recognition of the winners for the 36th Painting of the Year competition. As we celebrate the achievements of the winning artists, I would like to take this opportunity to urge every art educator, institution and supporter of the arts to never stop your esteemed support for our artists and our community. Together, we can create a more vibrant artistic culture in Singapore, and a richer Singapore soul.

12. Congratulations to all the winners and I wish you continued success in your artistic endeavours.

13. Thank you.

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