I still remember the excitement I felt for Hong Kong’s tertiary art education sector when I learned that a new Art School was established under Hong Kong Arts Centre around the year 2000; I believed the School would bring a fresh look to the industry. Just a few years later, the first graduate exhibition was held, and friends from the industry were all surprised by the outstanding and professional performance of the graduating students of the School. At that time, I was still working for the Department of Fine Arts of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). I found it utterly amazing that a self-financing art school was running successfully in Hong Kong, and I was happy to see its success. After all, it had been nearly half a century since the Department of Fine Arts was founded by the New Asia College of the CUHK in the 1950s. We were indeed a bit behind in terms of building up new art schools, especially when comparing with neighbouring regions.
The time when the Hong Kong Art School (HKAS) was founded, it was also the time when the development of the local art scene took a big leap forward: emergence of the creative industry, establishment of art museums, development of the Academy of Visual Arts of the Hong Kong Baptist University, opening of foreign galleries, flourishing of local NGOs, and so on. Hong Kong is still in the ascendant as the centre of art exhibitions and artwork trading in Asia. At the same time, the challenges HKAS is facing become more and more severe... If we don’t have our own vitality and belief, it would be quite difficult for our School, a self-financing institution, to survive in such a competitive environment.
I have joined the School for merely two and a half years. It still amazes me whenever I visit the students’ exhibitions. With the existing resources, how do the students make artworks reaching this high level? What should the School, as an incubator for new artists, do in order to bring out the potentials of the students, encouraging them to keep on thriving in the future? Here are the features of the School in my observations:
Students’ background: Secondary school leavers who have seen little of the world but are with huge enthusiasm for art, and working adults who possess knowledge and talents in other fields; each group takes up about half of the total number of students. Such a combination is not commonly seen in Hong Kong. When those who are merely 20 years old or less meet with the degree holders who have already been reaching 30 or 40 years of age – the collision between those with mature social experience and those with passion for new knowledge, can be the spur and encouragement for each other.
Close connection between the School and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University). The art and design programmes offered by the RMIT University rank high in the world. The syllabus closely keeps up with the contemporary ideas and operations of art education and the exchange of knowledge, allowing the deepening and interaction of different art professions. As far as I am aware of, programmes with such features are rarely available in Hong Kong.
The programme diversity of the Hong Kong Arts Centre and its self-financing operation mode also act as factors prompting the School to keep pace with social changes and to respond swiftly. From the School’s perspective, there are no other institutes in Hong Kong that have the back of such a strong and diversified programme operation team. The interaction and support between the School and the Hong Kong Arts Centre can create more than what we can expect from other colleges and universities.
Throughout these 20 years, HKAS has experienced various phases of development; changes were necessary to cater for social needs. Despite the stress and difficulties, the School has continued to thrive because of the strong belief and the flexibility of its staff members and that cannot be concluded by just a single sentence or two. Generally speaking, it is about passion, independence, diversity, adaptation and balance, amongst which passion may be the most important part. Engaging in the art field is not quite similar to other professions. Art education in a society that emphasizes utilitarianism and efficiency is something tiring and not pleasing. Education itself is a long-term investment, and together with the uncertainties in art, it is meant to be given a cold shoulder in a society paying huge attention to the return on investment. Nevertheless, we are obliged to share art knowledge with others, especially when they understand the significance of art and are able to connect it with their other life experiences. All the art educators I am acquainted with are willing to devote unlimitedly for the pursuit and inheritance of art. Great artists are also perfectionists; they always strive to do better for their own pursuit.
The School has gone through various changes in these 20 years, a majority of which was in correspondence with the development of the Hong Kong tertiary art education sector and the competition. Since I have been on board, all the design-related courses have completely faded out of the School’s programme list, and the main focus is now on the four traditional art mediums, namely painting, sculpture, ceramics and photography. Although it seems out of place to learn by mediums in today’s concept-driven and idea-oriented art scene, I see something new when interacting with the teachers and students. I can see that students are building up personal connections with a certain medium; when they continue to practice and refine their skills to a certain level, the materials and skills are able to shape their temperament, sensitivity and intuition. At the same time, the material handling techniques preserved from history can help connect the perceptions of our ancestors with us – this is a concrete and clear approach to art. While mainstream art education is dominated by knowledge and creativity, the traditional approach of HKAS appears to be a solid base. The School adopts the traditional mediums as the foundation and gradual approach to art, yet we also pay a great deal of attention to the width of each medium and its linkage with contemporary art, i.e., the practice of traditions in the contemporary context, which includes the broadening of the definition of traditional mediums with other knowledge and methods. This can be proved by the works of our graduates – a student with painting major could choose to present the learning outcomes in the format of art installation; while the installation itself brings out the unique attitude of a painter. Such practice has been inspiring me a lot.
Education is about the growth of people. When we run a private school, we have to take the operation mechanism of a society into consideration. It is not either the reality or the ideal; they can be the two sides of a single coin. I even think that the market mechanism can be a reminder, reminding us to keep reviewing the timeliness and legitimacy of what we do and insist on. I believe that all my colleagues, both former and current, understood the challenge and the opportunity that came with it, and have been working hard to improve the School no matter what. This is why the School has been standing for 20 years, and it is still here.
The teachers from HKAS are all active artists whose persistence and pursuit of art are shown in their ways of teaching. It is truly incredible to be able to teach about the things we love. At the School, I see great passion, devotion and energy. Every artist is probably also a perfectionist who tirelessly pursues his or her dreams; and it is the job of artist teachers to nurture many others who would also do the same. I am honoured to be one of them.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the School, there are a series of celebratory events. The art exhibition to be held towards the end of the year is definitely a highlight. Four subject coordinators are the curators of the four major streams; alumni and former teachers invited as participating artists are the backbone of the exhibition. It is worth mentioning that the four subject coordinators from the time when the School was founded are also invited, they are Dr. HO Siu Kee, Dr. Francis YU , Mr. TSE Ming Chong and Ms. Fiona WONG. It is a once in a lifetime experience to see former and current teachers, together with alumni, participating in one exhibition.
I would like to express my gratitude to all the participating artists for allowing us to sell their works through the exhibition, the fund being raised will be donated to the School for its development, non-recurring expenditures and the scholarships to students.
Huge appreciation also goes to the great work of the School’s administration teams. Without their support, this publication and the event would not be possible. Last but not least, I would also like to thank the support of the senior management team of the Hong Kong Arts Centre and the assistance of the venue support team, they help us to bring our plans into life despite limitation on resources.
WORDS FROM CURATORS 策展人語