Disclaimer. These are my personal opinions on the Visual Arts (VA) DSA process. Others are likely to have their own routes and approaches which I respect, but my pointers below are what I did with my DS. None of this guarantees a CO (or even clearing the initial DSA application process) as there are various factors (e.g. quality & quantity of cohort, talent, schools etc.) which may influence the outcome.
Talent. It goes without saying that your child must first have some talent. This is by no means a brag (humbler or otherwise) but your child must be able to draw and be comfortable with a variety of art mediums. He/she doesn’t need to master or like them all but should be able to display some amount of skill with a select few. My DS enjoys pen and ink, but dislikes water colour.
Interest. In my opinion, the only thing more important than talent is interest. There is no use being talented if your child is not interested in art. I’m not suggesting that your child must be an artist or pursue a career which is art-related but there needs to be a keen desire to take up art/VA as an activity. Please understand that entering a school under a VA DSA will mean that the child is required to take up the art elective program (VAEP) or something similar, more so if you’re aiming to enter a school like SOTA. So, you need to assess your child’s level of interest in art. If your child doesn’t enjoy it, then even if he/she gets a CO, it would be a tough couple of years having to do something he/she isn’t keen on. This kills the interest and may also impact academic performance.
Portfolio. All schools will require that the child submit his/her portfolio of art work. This should be built up over time and ideally, would comprise of various art mediums which demonstrate talent and familiarity in art. Different schools have different requirements. Some require 10 pieces, others require 20 pieces split into 2 different groups of themes etc. What I suggest is this:
– Start building a portfolio. The more pieces you have on hand, the more choices you’ll have as to which pieces should be submitted for assessment. Each piece should come with a brief write-up which explains the art medium and describes the pieces. Note that this comes from the student so best to let your child express his/her own thoughts in the write-up. The write-up isn’t supposed to be lengthy and some schools don’t even care but it’s best to have it ready because your child may be asked about it.
– Cover different art forms. While you can focus on a preferred medium, it’s best to showcase a variety. This is evidence of versatility and skill. My DS also included 3D sculptures as part of the submission.
– Have a sketchbook. Interestingly, I believe SOTA wanted to see sketches. The sketchbook should contain rough sketches, hand drawings, illustrations etc. which form the basis for the eventual art pieces. I think the schools see it as an artists’ way of doodling and believe it or not, they can discern skills (esp. in free drawing, expression and textures) from a sketchbook.
Art school. All this would not have been possible without the help of an art school and the teachers. If your child isn’t in an art school, I suggest looking out for one to help. The teachers know how to harness talent, build on skill and work with the child on the portfolio and other DSA-related needs. In doing so, make sure that your child is comfortable in that art school and with his/her art teacher. They can bring out the best but also put a child off art if this isn’t handled properly.
Participate & be recognized. It is important for your child to participate in art exhibitions and receive some form of recognition (e.g. participation certificate). If there are art competitions, make sure that your child gets in too even if he/she does not win, the exposure is vital. The one which I think is quite key (esp. if you’re looking to enter SOTA) is the SOTA Primary 6 Art Competition which I think is held annually. This pits your child against many other students across Singapore and is a good way to demonstrate talent and skill. If you’ve never seen the exhibition, do so – you’ll be amazed at how good many of these children are.
Be articulate. It’s not enough for your child to be good at art (sadly) as he/she must be able to speak about it as well. If your child is called for the DSA interviews, he/she will be asked about his/her interests, preference for art forms, how to express, where their inspiration comes from etc. So, being able to articulate oneself is key. And because this is done in a closed forum (i.e. no parents’ intervention), your child has to do so on his/her own. So, encourage your child to talk about art and to do so freely and candidly. Even if the art isn’t what you may consider “good,” it is important to have your child be courageous enough to explain, discuss and accept criticism.
Find a “hero.” I say “hero” here but this is used rather loosely. What I found helpful was that my DS liked a particular artist and used that artist’s work as inspiration for his own. He took a keen interest (going back to what I said about interest earlier) in learning about that artist, the style used and works which he produced. He was asked about this during one of the interviews and fortunately, was able to talk about this artist as being his “hero” (in an art sense)
Academic performance counts. While it’s good to have an interest in art, do not neglect academic performance. This is especially true if your child is aspiring to get a DSA into some of the better schools in Singapore. While those schools have a decent VAEP, they are likely to pay close attention to academic performance so making sure that your child has strong results in P5 and P6 SA1 exams is important.
Know the school. When your child is deciding which schools to submit a DSA application for, I suggest engaging with the school (i.e. attending the Open Houses, if possible) to determine what their VAEP is like, what sort of students are they looking for, what their VA assessment standards are like, how many VA vacancies do they typically offer etc. The Open House should also give you an opportunity to see things first hand and to speak with students and teachers alike. This is valuable information and gives you better clarity on what to expect if your child applies to that school.
Know your child. This last point is similar to that of interest. We are all aware that at the tender age of 12, children tend to be naive and haven’t yet seen what the world has to offer. It is easy (or easier) for your child to claim that he/she loves art today but when they go to secondary school, they discover so much more and their interests can change. It is also easy to feign interest just to enter a school or to appease a parent(s). Here, we (as parents) need to know whether our children are genuinely interested in art and willing to pursue the VAEP for the next 4-6 years of their lives. I went back and forth with my DS on this – any activity can be fun if it is not forced but when it is mandated, the fun can quickly go away. So, be open with your child and encourage them to speak up. Know who your child is and what he/she is capable of.
I hope these pointers are helpful. As I mentioned before, there are various approaches to securing a DSA into a school. By no means is this post meant to be exhaustive. All I hope is that it is helpful to some parents. If you have questions or comments, do let me know