As the Student of the Year competition ramps up to find the best visual artists, Young Post sat down with two of the judges to reflect on the state of the arts in Hong Kong.
Professor Siu King-chung, associate dean and associate professor of the School of Design at Polytechnic University, has adjudicated other artistic competitions in Hong Kong. He often sees students submitting the same portfolios they did for their DSEs.
"Doing a portfolio under the requirements of an examination is so different from doing a personal artistic portfolio," Siu says. "They have so many requirements for the DSE portfolio. They limit the number of pages that you need to submit, and you have to do all your documentation on A4 pieces of paper. So in that sense, it will be a really regulated portfolio."
But a good artist can show their creativity within the regulations of their exams, so a good DSE portfolio can show as much of a student's range as a personal portfolio. "Creativity is always a matter of subverting the regulations or limitations," explains Siu. "Whether or not they are brave enough to challenge things determines their creativity."
Founder and CEO of Goods of Desire, Douglas Young, agrees. "I think when it comes to creativity, the judgment should be more on the candidate's ability to improvise. It's less to do with study and more to do with being able to come up with something impulsive," he says.
"Being able to make the most of what's available is actually the true mark of being creative. It's not about being armed with an enormous amount of resources; it's about making the most of what little resources you have."
But to have this impulsive creativity, he says young artists need to have a foundation of knowledge to get ideas.
"When we're looking for inspiration we have to go to museums, we have to go to books, magazines, or the internet and sort of google things that inspire us," he explains. "To be truly creative you ought to be able to find ordinary things, things that people overlook, and find inspiration in that."
Young says the most often overlooked source of inspiration is right in front of us - Hong Kong itself. "Many young people don't see how something this old, this ugly, this dirty can be cool, so they look to the Western example. They have this idea that local things just can't be cool, can never be cool, that it's not possible," he says. "And that is their conclusion, which is sad, because it's not true. It's just that no one's done it yet. If they were given that alternative, that option, maybe some students would choose to be inspired by local things."
Siu believes the answer can be found in art education. "The more references young artists have, the more they can learn to express themselves in a different way," he says. "But their expression will be more limited if we are too limited in education and vision."
And it doesn't matter if that education comes from DSE or IB programmes - or elsewhere. Siu says that it's the teachers who determine the success of the programmes.
"If you prepare students for experimentation, for learning things from the world of ideas, then you can do DSE or IB and still successfully motivate students to really learn," he says.
"Learning is different from taking exams, and I want to see portfolios that show learning, rather than just portfolios that were done for an exam."
Young agrees. "I want to see originality, which comes from themselves, their character," he says. "The courage to be different is something I'll be looking for."