“All art requires courage.” Do you agree?

All art, bar none, requires originality, creativity and the fortitude to tread in places where no one, or at least few others, have trodden before. In that light, I would agree wholeheartedly that art requires courage and more so for great art that will stand out for centuries to come.

All forms of art, be it the visual arts, or the literary arts, require the artist to engage his or her creative juices and to inject a high level of creativity together with the artist’s personal touch. It has often been said that “art speaks”, and “art is the reflection of the soul”, which is often true in the sense that through art, the artist always has something to say or something to portray and the style in which the art is presented usually tells a viewer much about the artist.

A key point to note about many a great work of art is the powerful message that the artists responsible for them are trying to convey. Often, the message delivered touches upon very raw points in society, to the point where it becomes controversial. This is not limited to present day works where political satires are common, but dates back to Elizabeth England as well. Shakespeare was fond of making jibes at English nobility in the name of art. In an era when one could be executed for making a fool out of royalty this was no small feat and took a tremendous amount of daring on the part of the artist. In the modern day context, producing political satire is financially risky as countries may impose a ban on it because their respective governments find it either politically insensitive, or simply a threat to their own “campaign ideals”. A recent example of this would be Malaysia’s ban on ‘Atomic Jaya’, a play where the Malaysian Prime Minister was depicted in a negative light. This, of course, would have a negative impact on the playwright and therefore as an artist, one has to be courageous enough to put one’s financial health at risk for the sake of truthful art.

Due to personal creative input, works of art also tend to differ greatly as humans are unique in nature, which consequently results in art also being relatively unique. Though it is quite common to be inspired by a particular style of work, different artists have different preferences for the look of their art and also different issues which they feel strongly about. The infinite number of permutations ensure that while two different artists may produce work that shares a similar style, the content will be entirely different. This, however, implies that even as artists continue to mature in their art and develop a distinctive style, they need to experiment during the growing process, which inevitably involves failure. For a full-time artist, this could potentially be disastrous as failure can lead to a serious financial deficit due to the greatly variable level of income. In some sense, it is a “Catch-22” situation as artists will never fully succeed until they can produce something original and appealing.

In the light of this, the risk factor of producing art is very great, because of the sheer subjective nature of art. It can be “in Vogue” one day and out the next. Great fortitude and the courage to experiment is therefore needed to produce something that people will find appealing and fresh. This courage is shown by the International Photographer Award, Robert Dragan, who pioneered the process of “Draganising” or Ted Johnson, who lends his wedding photographs an ethereal light by combining infrared photography with colour photography. Both these photographers struggled for close to ten years before reaching the peak of their finesse, for which they are paid a princely five figure sum per shoot. By comparison, a struggling wedding photographer gets by on five hundred dollars.

The sheer adversity of making it into the hall of greats ensures that every artist is put through this rigorous gauntlet in order to achieve greatness in their respective field. If thus requires a terrific amount of courage and endurance to pursue one’s art, perhaps even having to give up other goals in life such as marriage, children, wealth and so forth. This is, however, something that many committed artists willingly undertake as they enter the brave new world. Less committed artists often end up as lawyers, scientists or bankers because there simply is too much risk in pursuing art and hence, the courage to believe in one’s own talent is increasingly important in an industry where you either make it or go down in a spectacular display of flames.

Naturally, such courage and self-belief is dependent on the support given to the arts as well as the culture of a place. With increased government and parental support, more budding artists would be likely to enter the creative industry to pursue their art due to the decreased parental opposition and risk of entering the industry, for grants and constant pats on the back can aid greatly in nurturing budding art. What this means however, is that an increase in such support decreases the amount of courage and fortitude needed to succeed in the industry, because some artists may survive only due to government grants, welfare benefits or parental patronage, rather than relying on their artistic ability. This cushion would dampen the amount of courage needed to pursue one’s art, but as a plus side would also increase the diversity of art in the local arts scene, though it will likely be adding to the diversity of bad art rather than good art.

By comparison, in countries where there is much greater opposition to pursuing one’s art, such as Singapore, much greater courage and adversity quotient is required to overcome parental objections as well as the looming possibility of starvation. Art is not traditionally supported in countries such as Singapore, where a majority of parents often feel more comfortable with letting their children become lawyers or doctors and pursuing art as a hobby rather than a profession. To pursue one’s art in Singapore, one has to break social norms and be prepared for all manner of snide remarks about the inability to succeed “normally”. You also will find my Dragans and Johnsons here, as the local artists’ pay will never hit that level in Singapore due to the low social value of art. Art is simply not valued here and successful artists, such as Russell Wong, often find themselves moving to a society where their work is given due credit. Thus, artists here therefore also have to be prepared to leave their homeland, and consequently friends and family, in pursuit of greater heights in the artistic field. As such, with poor support for the arts, artists have to draw on even more boldness to venture into the field.

Art is everchanging, due to the nature of creativity and the diversity therein. In short, artists have to be ready to do anything for their art if they wish to pursue it and there can be no compromises. That, to me, is true courage.