What can you do with an arts degree? Mainstream media reports tend to fallback on hard statistics around employment rates and career opportunities, revealing the traditional pragmatism that sees higher education as a means to employment.
Given this frame of reference, BA(Hons) Animation Art alumnus Wang Sen is a clear success story, parlaying his arts training into commercial success. A Chinese national from Xi’an, Wang Sen wanted to use his rich experiences at LASALLE to help students in China who aspired to study art. Sensing a gap in the market, he advertised his services on Chinese messaging service QQ, using his newfound art-making knowledge to mentor Chinese students through application and portfolio requirements for art schools abroad.
The number of students seeking Wang Sen’s help grew tenfold in three years. In 2016, he founded Art First Education, a school that provides arts courses and art project internships to Chinese students who hope to apply to arts universities in the UK, US and Japan. Wang Sen now has nine schools in nine major Chinese cities, which employ close to 200 full-time teachers and have around 3,000 enrolled students in 2023.
What this narrative of commercial success leaves out is the intangible, lasting impact of Wang Sen’s time at LASALLE. More than just equipping him with the technical skills to run an arts school, LASALLE indelibly shaped Wang Sen’s ethos and conviction in the value of arts education.
“LASALLE taught me to start with experimentation and exploration,” says Wang Sen. “Arts education in China needs more creativity and courage. That’s why at Art First Education, I pay more attention to the development of original viewpoints and diversified works, as well as research and the process of creation.”
But the most profound takeaway from LASALLE was how it expanded Wang Sen’s view of the world, giving him a community of friends whose generosity and kindness left him moved.
“Having never left China, I used to think we were the centre of the world,” Wang Sen admits. “I was unable to understand the outside world. But then I arrived in Singapore and discovered that the world is far bigger than I could have conceived.”
We asked Wang Sen to look back on his journey, how LASALLE afforded him the time and space to experiment and grow as a person, as well as the enduring power of an arts education.
I heard that adapting as an international student was a rough experience for you.
It was difficult for me to fit in at first because my poor English made me a little resistant to socialising.
Many friends, especially my Singaporean classmates, helped me at this point, because they could guide me in Chinese to relax and join in activities. This helped me to slowly integrate with the group.
I remember once I didn’t understand the homework requirements. So I asked Aditya, my Indonesian classmate, and he tried to explain it at length in English – but I still couldn’t understand. Finally he performed a skit using sign language just so that I could understand what the homework was about. Even though it was such a small question, he spent half an hour explaining it to me.
What would you say was your biggest takeaway from your time at LASALLE?
LASALLE made me more tolerant and helped me to understand the world. Even in my foundation year, it was a global experience – my classmates came from Korea, India, Mauritius and Vietnam, amongst others.
By the time I started on my BA(Hons) programme, my classmates included Americans, Japanese, Indonesians and Malaysians. Meeting these classmates was humbling – it exposed me to people who thought differently or whose skills were on a different level, and left me with the realisation that, “Oh, the earth that I live on is actually so rich.”
Up till today, I still remember feeling awed by the work that my American classmate Savannah Logsdon made – her work was so creative and it was fascinating to observe the way she thought and how she got inspired.
My time at LASALLE gave me so much. [Lecturer] Hillary [Yeo] gave us solid animation techniques that prepared me for working life. [Programme Leader] Chris [Shaw] taught us about the importance of working together. I could list all the lecturers: Ee Choo, Ken [Loh], [Ang] Qing Sheng… they all helped me a lot.
Chris sometimes comments that many students don't fully appreciate LASALLE until they graduate – do you feel the same?
[Tough times in school] taught me how to face difficulties optimistically, seek help actively and keep learning to be better. LASALLE not only improved me professionally but also spiritually.”
I totally agree! In fact, sometimes I would have a lot of bad emotions when I was in LASALLE. I felt that our school was too strict and there was an endless stream of homework. Sometimes I couldn't understand why I needed to do something. Chris himself is also a teacher who seems very fierce.
But after I left school and joined the workplace, I realised that those ‘tough times’ really helped me a lot. It taught me how to face difficulties optimistically, seek help actively and keep learning to be better. LASALLE not only improved me professionally but also spiritually.
This made me want to say thank you to our teachers and the school. I hope it’s not too late!
What would you encourage current or prospective students to make the most of while they’re at LASALLE?
LASALLE is a good environment that lets you focus on art-making. Life and creation feels simple. This is very difficult to obtain once you graduate. In the professional world, you either don't have full control over the work or you don't have a conducive, independent environment for you to create boldly.
You don’t understand that these are ‘treasures’ during your school days. It is a beautiful thing to be able to focus on self-improvement and receive help from teachers.
I remember once I was so depressed that I didn't want to continue studying. But when I walked on the Campus Green at LASALLE, I saw many experimental dancers dancing. Their dances were full of power and suddenly I had so much inspiration. I tried to put these ideas into my work and forgot all of my frustration. LASALLE is a place where there’s so much communication and exchange with other artists and practitioners – and all this can make your own work better.
Why do you think arts education and art training is important in today’s landscape?
The value of the arts is so great I can never talk enough about it. I think innovation is the most important skill in contemporary society, while bravery is the rarest quality. Artists and designers have both, using their imagination and courage to create new things.
These qualities will only continue to become more important in the future. In this era of artificial intelligence, the artist or designer’s competitive edge lies not in quantity but quality. Arts education teaches people to ‘create’ and not simply ‘make’, it gives people a hunger for new things and a desire to explore. The arts infuses creativity into our blood.