Taking art to the heartlands

Taking art to the heartlands

SINGAPORE - The sometimes swaggering Lasalle College of the Arts students simply cannot take the harsh but necessary criticism about their work.

Twice a year, fine arts lecturer Betty Susiarjo meets them at critique sessions, where she and two other lecturers assess the student's ongoing projects.

The 34-year-old says: "If the work isn't up to standard, the three lecturers on the panel have to be frank and open, and tell them the truth."

Some of the students try to glibly talk their way through, but when the lecturers call their bluff, all bravado disappears and the student is sometimes left in tears at the possibility of a failing grade.

Others are so passionate about their vision, they simply cannot take any form of feedback, no matter how constructive.

Miss Susiarjo shrugs: "We acknowledge their efforts, but we have to be honest."

She is teacher, mentor and sometimes parent to her charges, who are undergrads and experienced practitioners looking for their master's degrees.

She admits that there are always plenty of giggles and blushes when students attend their first drawing class with a nude model.

"I suppose it comes from the disbelief that a naked person is standing right in front of them," she says with a laugh.

The Singapore permanent resident, who was born in Sumatra, patiently helps her students take baby steps in that first class. The shock wears off, she says.

Miss Susiarjo wrings her hands when students rely too much on theories rather than creativity.

She understands the temptation to refer to books. After all, she moved to Singapore when she was just 15 and attended secondary school here.

But the essence of art is in exploring one's surroundings for inspiration, she says.

"There was one student who was initially very book-based.

"When I kept pushing him, he really became rigorous with his art works and had challenged himself to become experimental.

Using a discarded object along with other items, he created a stunning combination of colours, she recalls.

Miss Susiarjo says she continuously reminds her students to observe their surroundings because anything they see can be inspiration for their next piece of work.


She considers herself an art practitioner as much as she does a lecturer, so every once in awhile, Miss Susiarjo steps out to refuel her creativity.

For four years now, she has done an annual community project, teaching Singaporeans of all ages - from kids to senior citizens - art.

"When you do art with the community, it's a gratifying feeling that you can share with people.

"Art isn't just for the artist.

"It is something that is meant for you to enjoy with a community of different types of artists, and that sense of connection is something that I can't explain."

Miss Susiarjo says that one such instance that really inspired her was when her design collective, Popin Craft, participated at the Silver Arts Festival in 2012.

The festival is for seniors to display their artistic talent.

"It is their attention to detail and commitment to the art work that inspires me."

At the event, she was very impressed at the way they designed each of their felt birds.

"All I did was teach them to make the felt bird figures, but the way they decorated them was just amazing.

"It was just sewn on extremely neatly and their final products turned out to be very colourful and coordinated.

"Now that is art."


1. Keep yourself updated by visiting galleries and museums regularly.

2. Organise, organise, organise. Like any other professional job, you have to make sure that you get deadlines right .

3. Always encourage your students to be true to themselves. Our art works are a kind of extension of ourselves. Get your student to do something that feels right for them .

This article was first published on Feb 15, 2015.
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