Finding The Muse: Yvonne Wang on art journalism in Singapore – interview

What it takes to make information on Singapore’s bustling art world accessible.

Singapore-based art writer, editor and communications professional Yvonne Wang took over the editorship of online art magazine The Muse in August 2012. We talk to her about the pains and passions of running a busy online art magazine while working full time.


Former Art Radar student journalist and editor of The Muse, Yvonne Wang. Image courtesy The Muse.

Can you tell Art Radar more about The Muse and your job as editor? What does The Muse cover and what does an average day look like for you?

The Muse is one of Singapore’s leading arts and culture blogs. We’re made up of a team of art buffs. As the editor, I oversee content development and collaborate with a small team of passionate contributors. Our writers consist of professionals from both the art and corporate world united by our shared interest and love for the arts. We cover our favourite art and culture happenings in Singapore – from museum exhibitions to gallery openings, full-house blockbuster musicals to black box theatre and dance performance. We write only about what we truly love.

How did you get into the role? What did you do before coming to The Muse

The Muse was founded by Tara Tan, an art critic and former journalist for The Straits Times, Singapore’s flagship newspaper. I inherited The Muse from Tara and took over as the editor when I relocated to Singapore in August 2012.

I run The Muse during my free time. The Muse is an outlet for my passion for the arts and writing. I actually wear another hat working for TripAdvisor, the online travel site. I’m a communications lead by day and moonlight as an art writer by night. In addition to The Muse, I’m also a contributor to Art Radar and The Art Newspaper China.

My background has always been in corporate and arts and culture communications. Prior to moving to Singapore, I worked for a communications agency in Hong Kong where I led the public relations campaigns for ART HK (now Art Basel Hong Kong), Asia Hotel Art Fair, Asia Art Archive, Sovereign Asian Art Prize, amongst other clients in both the corporate and art sectors.

The Muse blog screenshot. Image courtesy The Muse.

The Muse blog (screen capture). Image courtesy The Muse.

The Singapore contemporary art scene is dynamic. What’s the best part of your job as an arts editor in the city? What’s the worst?

Singapore is no longer the ‘culture desert’ that people once considered it to be. Singapore’s art scene has been undergoing steady development in the past few years. It’s a great time to be in Singapore right now to witness first-hand the transformation that is taking place.

I would say the best part of my job as an art editor and writer is to encourage interactions, dialogue and discussion in the art and culture sector.

Can you tell us about some up and coming artists and/or art spaces we should keep our eyes on in the next twelve months?

I’m really looking forward to the fourth edition of the Singapore Art Biennale, which will kick off on 26 October 2013, featuring works by over eighty artists and artist collectives primarily from the region. I’m also looking forward to the 2015 opening of Singapore’s National Art Gallery, which is set to house the largest collection of modern and contemporary Singaporean and Southeast Asian art anywhere in the world.

The Singapore Biennale 2013 tumblr (screen capture). Image by Art Radar.

Singapore is often criticised for not having the best freedom of expression policies. Is it difficult to be a writer and editor in this climate?

Essentially everything goes through a filter in Singapore. For artists and writers in Singapore, navigating the terrain of what is permissible and what is not can be tricky. Earlier this year, some of the leading lights of the arts community got together to [create and release] A Manifesto for the Arts. The six-point manifesto includes the statements ‘art is fundamental’, ‘art is about possibilities’, ‘art unifies and divides’, ‘art can be challenged but not censored’ and ‘art is political’. It’s encouraging to see this kind of debate and conversation taking place in Singapore, and that the arts community is empowering ordinary people to decide for themselves what art is.

Ming Wang, ‘Devo partire. Domani’, 2010, five-channel video installation, 12m:58s, co-commissioned by Singapore Biennale 2011 and Napoli Teatro Festival. Image by Art Radar.

What’s the most common misconception people have about an arts writer job?

That we go to a lot of parties; the truth is we’re more often than not stuck behind a desk.

Why did you decide to apply to the Certificate in Art Journalism & Writing 101 with Art Radar Institute?

I applied to Art Radar‘s 101 writing course soon after I took over as editor for The Muse. While I was accustomed to writing about art from a marketing and communications perspective, I had not done a lot of journalistic writing. Through the course, I was able to hone my writing skills.

What did you learn on the Certificate in Art Journalism & Writing 101 that you apply in your work on a day-to-day basis?

The one thing that I always remind myself when it comes to art writing is to write about art in terms everybody understands, not only art insiders, but all people, especially those who like art even though they may not know a whole lot about it. Through The Muse, I hope to make art more accessible.

Many people are intimidated by art and, therefore, shy away from it. I often find jargon-laden art writing and criticism superfluous. It makes me angry when I think about all the people, including myself, who miss out on the richness of art because over-the-top art writing makes it incomprehensible. I think as a writer, if you want to engage your readers, you need to be able to communicate with them in their language.

Entry view of Yeh Chi Weh’s Exhibition Panorama on website of The National Art Gallery, Singapore. Image by Art Radar.

If you could go five years into the past and give yourself some great professional advice, what would it be?

When your job defines you, your world becomes very narrow. While I would never say to anyone, ‘Quit your job and follow your passion at the drop of a hat,’ I think it’s very important for everyone to do what they feel inspired to do.

I think it’s important for us to have some inspirational passion infused in our lives. The process of pursuing our passion allows us to gain skills in new areas as well as ones we’re already strong in and pushes us to become better both professionally and, more importantly, as a person.

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time? Has studying with Art Radar contributed to making that happen, do you think?

I’ll still be writing about art in ten years’ time.

Want to study art journalism with Art Radar Institute? Click here to read more about our certificate and diploma programmes. We take in applicants all year round!

Related Topics: interviews, art professionalsCertificate in Art Journalism & Writing 101

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