The art of destiny

Brian Tan chose to go agaisnt the tide when he opted for a career in the Arts industry. His brave decision received further support when he was awarded the pretigious shell-nac arts scholarship to study animation at the California Institute of The Arts. Read on and be inspired!

By Nazry Bahrawi



Bucking the trend

It is one of the NAC’s most important tasks to nurture artistically talented individuals. By providing a selection of assistance schemes, NAC seeks to support those with a burning desire to succeed in the local arts scene.

Brian Gothong Tan is one such NAC scholar. Since young, Brian has always been intrigued by the allure and promise of the arts. Drawing was his passion. He could sit for hours sketching cartoons and bringing make-believe characters to life. He also enjoyed watching plays, and never dreamed that he would one day help to produce stage productions along with other talented individuals.

Like any filial son though, Brian wanted to realise his mother’s dream by becoming a successful doctor, engineer or scientist. In fact, Brian was in the Science stream at his alma mater, Victoria Junior College.

Three months into his studies at junior college, Brian grew increasingly unhappy and yearned for an education related to his interest. “It was then that I realised that I will not be content to live my life according to the path already marked out for me,” says Brian. “I truly craved for a more meaningful life, one that is dedicated to the arts. I wanted to be [like] Walt Disney and create cartoons.”

Like an answer to his prayers, Brian learnt about one of the first major animation courses in Singapore, offered by Nanyang Polytechnic. He decided to leave college and enrol for the course. Before he could do that, Brian had to convince his mother that this was the right move for him. He likened his new course of study to information technology, and finally persuaded his mother to support his bold decision.

Going to CalArts

Enjoying his course of study thoroughly, Brian decided to apply for an NAC scholarship to become even more proficient in his area of interest. The scholarship enabled Brian to live out his dream by studying at the California Institute of the Arts, popularly known as CalArts. The university was founded by the renowned Walt Disney himself.

Brian recounts his experience at CalArts: “The university is very unique. It was a highly experimental university when it was set up in 1961. The founders intended to create a community where all artists are freed from the shackles of any imaginable constraints. You can study dance, [write] music and plays, or [participate in] many other areas of art. Because of my love for animation, I took many animation courses in film and interactive art. This is a new art form whereby you do a lot of programming work as well.”

Today, Brian continues to live out his dream. As a freelance visual arts artist, Brian has been involved in a slew of exhibitions. For example, he organised a display for the Singapore Arts Show. He will also be representing Singapore in the cultural segment of the Commonwealth Games. Due to his broad training at CalArts, Brian is able to do a lot of other things related to arts, even traditional sculpturing. Brian is also well-trained to excel in various theatre collaborations with The Necessary Stage, one of the most established theatre groups in Singapore.

The artist in a modern world

Brian muses on the role of an artist. Seen in a societal context, “the artist has a unique function. Basically, we produce culture. We make meaning out of life. We make sense of things, we question things and we push boundaries. The function is not as obvious as a doctor’s.”

Brian advises those are who inspired to follow his example to “ensure that you stand out from the others. You can do this by nursing a personal vision of what you want to do and by being very diligent, which in turn will prove [that you are a] consistent and motivated person.”

He feels that the scholarship has given him a valuable opportunity to expand his horizons. It allowed him to pursue an education at a prestigious private institution. Without the financial support of the scholarship, it would have cost him more than S$100,000 to pursue his studies overseas.

“In addition, the bond is very flexible. All you have to do is to practise what is relevant to your course of study two or three years after you graduate,” Brian points out. “This opens up many avenues. One will be able to choose freely which areas to practise. In addition, there is no age limit imposed on those who are interested in [obtaining] the scholarship.”

When asked about the rewards of becoming an artist, Brian shares that one of the many high points in his career is to see how audiences react to his work. He feels a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that people are moved when they see something that transcends the dreary realities of day-to-day life.

Take charge of your destiny

Brian counts his blessings for being able to do what he loves everyday. He feels that working in the arts industry brings advantages that are rarely present in other industries.

“You are able to become the master of your own destiny. This however comes with certain responsibilities because you have to make plans, have discipline and stick to your vision. This industry allows you to meet an interesting assortment of eclectic people. You are also able to travel to different regions and expose yourself constantly to new things,” says Brian.

Brian’s tale is shared by many other Shell-NAC scholars. It is with such scholarships that young talents are able to cultivate their love for the arts, making Singapore’s local art industry a lot more vibrant and colourful for all to enjoy.

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