Why I study art
“I believe in … the ability of art in bringing people together, in providing a new perspective, in empowerment, in making our life better”.
I was raised in China during an exciting time, when every month a new museum would establish in Shanghai. I loved going to museums, sitting on a little wooden bench and staring at different artworks: Bharti Kher, Cai Guoqiang, Moriyama Daido. I used to stare at one painting or sculpture for hours until the work would stare back at me, engulfing me with their colours, embracing me with their gestures. The whole world was condensed in that little white cube. Visiting exhibitions was like a journey of escape that disconnected me from daily life. After each visit, I was able to perceive the world from a new perspective. It was refreshing. And it still is.
My passion for art remained as a hobby throughout high school and while I was earning my bachelor’s degree in management and finance at Warwick Business School. Maybe it was a habit developed in the IB, to keep myself busy as I was always looking for some opportunities outside of my study. I began working as a student ambassador at the Warwick Arts Centre, which is an art institution under the University of Warwick.
That was how I began critically engaging with the notion of exhibition. The role of student ambassador varies, depending on our interests, and since I was particularly interested in engagement, I was tasked with encouraging more students to participate in arts and cultural events at Warwick Arts Centre. With my translation and bilingual skills, I initiated a WeChat account called Transparent and began publishing articles reviewing art, books and movies there. The account attracted many readers who were interested in art and culture, and I made some friends who shared with my passion and what I believed in.
“Visiting exhibitions was like a journey of escape that disconnected me from daily life”.
However, that was not enough for me, as I heard from my friends or readers that they were absolutely confused when visiting exhibitions. They were puzzled by the emptiness. They were confused by the colours, the shapes, the texture and everything combined, labelling it as, “just art stuff”. I remember one of my friends saying that to me that art was not meant to be understood.
I will not get into the debate over what art is for and who it is for. I am writing to simply share what I believe in. I believe in the power of art and engaging with art―the ability of art in bringing people together, in providing a new perspective, in empowerment, in making our life better. It is true that art needs an audience, but at the same time, our life needs art.
That led to me to develop an audio guide for John Piper, A Tate Liverpool Exhibition where I invited the curator Fiona Venables to disclose and expand on the key works of the exhibition. The audience would be able to listen to the audio guide when they visited the exhibition.
Through the above experience, I decided to centre my future around art. And because I have never enrolled in any proper art education, I decided to pursue a Master of Curating Art at the Royal College of Art in London.
What does it mean to curate?
The term curating derives from the Latin cura meaning care. The history of curating can be traced back to the 16th century in the form of Wunderkammer, or cabinet of wonders. The cabinets were normally rooms belonging to the royal or wealthy merchants to demonstrate collection of extraordinary and rare objects. Nowadays, curators are often associated with exhibition-making; however, more and more curators are seeking the experience of art outside of exhibitions, such as in the online and digital worlds.
What draws me to curating is that its practicality requires various skills, such as researching, budgeting and marketing. The roles of curators can also differ, as a result of their institutions, experience and interests. General speaking, curators are responsible for coming up with theme to frame the exhibition or the programme, looking for artists that respond to the theme proposed, writing funding proposals to expand the programme, drafting project management plan, etc.
“My research, from feminism to censorship, and all the academic conferences, where I presented my research, would ultimately feed into my curatorial practice”
When I first enrolled in the curating course at the Royal College of Art, I thought I would be really behind because of the lack of experience and knowledge in the art field. However, because of my interest in research and experience in doing side projects along my study, curating turned out to be a good fit. It was a combination of both theoretical thinking and practical actions. That was when my knowledge in management and finance became useful, and I could finally apply all the things I have learned into the reality.
Ever since I began studying art, I wondered what I would be like if I have chosen visual art during my IB course or studied art while earning my bachelor’s degree. Would I be more eloquent when speaking and writing about art? Would I be a better curator? Would I have more experience I could draw onto? It was my own negativity complex nagging at the back of my mind with these questions, but I managed to outgrow it.
I never thought all the experience in Transparent would be helpful to my work. Neither have I thought that all my research, from feminism to censorship, and all the academic conferences, where I presented my research, would ultimately feed into my curatorial practice. All the experiences that I have done simply out of interest and the skills I’ve developed through these experiences were not a waste of time or energy. The experience made me who I am now.
A suggestion for someone who is making a decision or planning to make one soon and is afraid of making a wrong decision: please don’t be. Nothing is wrong or right. Life changes. I thought a business degree was right for me, because I have entrepreneurial aspirations and want to make a change in the world. It was not. Though I changed my path, everything I learned was useful and helpful. After all, life is a journey of learning, so take a deep breath and believe in whatever decision you are making now.
The world will unfold itself gradually in front of you, if you engage with it.
Lenette Lua is a creative producer whose practice spans across curating, collaborating, researching and translating. As a graduate from the Royal College of Art in 2020, she is the founder and curator of Transparent Domain (www.transparentdomain.org) that explores the possibility of participatory and collaborative social practice in reconciliation with the self, others, nature and wider environment.
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