Here are the thoughts of one artist raised in Europe and living in Asia about her experience of culture. Ingrid explained:
“I have been living in cultures other than my own for the last ten years, in Canada, in Europe and now in Asia. Living in Singapore and creating art in Singapore are particular trans-cultural experiences: this is a country which permits only limited personal expression and limited personal freedom and yet recognizes that it is important to develop people’s creative minds in order to stay competitive as a country. So there is something like a budding freedom side-by-side with deep restrictions and a real antipathy toward speaking out in your own voice.
“People my own age have had nearly no exposure to art during their school years and very little appreciation for all things ‘art.’ This means that they have not learned to see art or to accept it as a medium to challenge views, dispute the established culture, or express rage, disapproval or negative feelings of any kind. These limitations on the individual are likewise enforced as limitations on the size of canvasses: only small canvasses are allowed. One of the key discussions I had with local patrons of my exhibitions was their interest in how I dared to work in canvasses that were so large.
“As a consequence the local art market is quite limited. People who have the money for art spend it on traditional brush paintings or copies of French Impressionists, which is the cultural model of sophistication. However, there is a local expat culture that functions differently, although in that sub-culture there tends to be a desire for Asian-inspired pieces, Buddhas in modern paintings, and so forth. So although their taste is different, it certainly isn’t a radical taste looking for edgy, political work or truly innovative work.
“In my own work, the way the move to Singapore has manifested itself most clearly is not in any political or intellectual way but in the colors I am now using. I never imagined I would use so much orange and red!—but I guess that is really no surprise, given the red lanterns and orange cloth that I see all day long. That is another way that culture seeps in and comes out in your art, simply as a function of what you are seeing, hearing, and feeling on a daily basis.”
Set aside an afternoon and think about your culture and your place in it. You of course understand that this is an exotic exercise as it requires that, like some contortionist, you see your culture clearly even though your culture made you. But this exotic investigation is cheaper, and rather more important, than traveling three thousand miles to “have a cultural experience.” Have a cultural experience right in your own backyard by sitting down and fathoming the effects of your culture on your creativity and on your willingness—or unwillingness—to express yourself.