After judging the Student of the Year – Visual Artist award, Frank Vigneron has been left questioning the relevance of his job.
Vigneron, the chair and professor of City University’s department of fine arts, is new to the student competition but no stranger to young talent. Nonetheless, he told Young Post at the end of the final judging day last month, “I’ve never seen anything like it … it’s unbelievable.”
He was talking about one of the self-taught finalists in the Visual Artist category. “I’m an educator, and it scares the heck out of me … what good am I [to a self-taught student]?”
Chinese International School’s 17-year-old Amy Chen is one of those self-taught artists. At 14, she was accepted to an art school, but had to turn the offer down because her family didn’t approve.
“I don’t need to [go to] art school,” she remembers telling herself. “I can do it on my own.”
In the following year, Amy dedicated herself to studying all types of art, sketching and drawing well into the night and learning about line, movement, composition, and colour harmony. Amy, who now posts her work on her Instagram account @moryapanima, said her parents eventually saw how dedicated she was to the pursuit of her passion. They have come to accept her love of art and now support her as she gains more experience as a working illustrator.
Darren Long, South China Morning Post’s head of Graphics & Magazine Design is also a new judge. He said all 12 finalists appeared articulate, confident, and were ready to open up and talk about their work.
Long said he could tell, by looking through their portfolios before meeting the people behind the art, that all the finalists were very talented. Seeing all the pieces on the final judging day simply impressed him further. “Some of the work … [was] much stronger than I had first thought. Perhaps my preconception was [the students] were of a certain age, so it would be of a certain standard and quality, but they went way beyond anything I’d imagined.
“I didn’t expect to see that level of self-confidence. To be so self-assured at that age, it’s kind of weird.” He added he was also very impressed by the finalists’ presentations.
Of the top five finalists, excepting the winner, “there were two points between the whole set, very high standard,” Long said. He added he wished the students could have spent more time explaining and demonstrating their processes, as the judges were as interested in how they got there as they were in the results.
Of the winner, Long said: “The way that they can conceptualise and take something to another level is quite astonishing.”
Some students see art as a hobby and a simple escape from schoolwork. For others, it means something more.
Charis Tang Man-sum, a Form Six student from Jockey Club Ti-I College, struggled with dyslexia when she was in kindergarten, and had to repeat a year. She also found it hard to communicate with others. When she started primary school, she turned to drawing as an outlet, and found it very rewarding.
“Art is not just [about] creation, it’s also helped my personal development,” she said. “I used my drawings as a way of expressing myself and I started to gain confidence. My academic results also improved.”
Fellow finalist Alan Ng Ching-hung, a Form Six student from Helen Liang Memorial Secondary School (Shatin), also finds freedom in the fine arts. The piece he submitted was of an eye-catching octopus that represents the pressure he is feeling during his final year of school before sitting the HKDSE.
The octopus symbolises the stress he is under at school, while the human body that the octopus is gripping symbolises himself, he told the judges. The painting is a visual interpretation of how trapped he feels, not knowing if he has a way out.
When it comes to art, Vigneron advised students to stay true to themselves, no matter what others think. “If you don’t like your art teacher, don’t listen to them. If you try to fight what comes naturally, horrible things happen. You have to listen to yourself when it comes to making art … sometimes when the teacher resists you, it [could be] an incentive for being strong in your art-making.”
The Student of the Year Awards competition is organised by South China Morning Post and Young Post and sponsored by The Hong Kong Jockey Club.
Edited by Ginny Wong