SOME 12 years ago, Eugene Nandakumar walked into his very first class, feeling apprehensive yet excited about his new role as an art teacher.
As he faced the class comprising 25 Form One students, the then 21-year-old told himself to “play it cool”.
“I had a good feeling that it was going to be an exciting journey, and it was. I was very fortunate to have such a wonderful class. It was every teacher’s dream.
“I had well-behaved students and supportive parents, and I worked in a fabulous school under the leadership of Datuk AR Peter. It ticked every box,” he told StarEdu.
The Fine Art graduate from the Malaysian Institute of Art (MIA) shared that seeing many of his students becoming “world-class artists and designers” has given him much joy and satisfaction over the years.
“My students have also won art awards such as at the annual art competitions organized by the MIA,” he added with pride.
An accomplished artist who specializes in still life drawing, charcoal sketching and painting, Eugene himself has won various art competitions and his works have been featured in exhibitions nationwide.
Currently an art teacher at Campus Rangers, Kuala Lumpur, the 33-year-old said what got him to join the teaching profession was his desire to teach art “the right way”.
“I want to inspire children and to be inspired by them,” he shared, adding that his aim as a teacher is to develop young artists and assist them in achieving their dreams.
In this regard, he has his secondary school art teacher Chew Thean Aik to emulate.
“Art has been my number one passion since the time I was a child.
I managed to keep my passion alive all those years, thanks to Mr Chew’s encouragement and support. Later on, with hard work and patience, I turned it from a hobby to a career,” he said. Eugene shared that because every child has different emotional and intellectual demands, he takes it upon himself to get to know his students and their personalities from him.
He also encourages them to explore various art materials and approaches.
“An excellent art teacher is capable of bringing out the best in his students. But if we want to attract the young from their smart devices and back to their sketchbooks, we’ll have to put in a lot of effort,” he pointed out.
“One way to teach from your best self is to identify your strengths and make full use of them,” he added.
As a teacher, Eugene said he had come across parents who viewed art as an inferior subject. In such encounters, he said, it is up to one to determine how to respond, while advising teachers to know their worth and to take stock of their emotions.
“Never underestimate the significance of your emotions and ideas,” I have advised.
The art subject, he said, should not be sidelined because it teaches students to deal with the world around them and offers them a platform for creativity and self-expression.
“The only way some people communicate a particular feeling is to immerse themselves in the process of creating a masterpiece. Others gain mental clarity only after engaging in something artistic.
“Art may also help you convey an inspirational message which motivates other individuals,” he said.
I have noted that pursuing the arts as a career can be daunting for students, especially in our society.
“The abandonment of the arts is evident all around us: barely sufficient financial support, and the common perception that it is a waste of time and does not pay well.
“For many of us, our interests stem from the education we receive. With the lack of exposure to art students, one should not wonder why so many people in society fail to grasp the importance of art.
“If the arts were emphasized in primary or secondary schools, we could envision a renaissance of the arts culture and industry in Malaysia,” he said.
In view of this, Eugene cautioned that it is worth being realistic about the career paths of most art majors.
Making it as a professional in the performing and visual arts is tough in terms of job opportunities, I have conceded.
“Much of the professional work is on contract, meaning that those who are willing to do the legwork of business and handling their own finances are more likely to succeed,” he explained.
“Teaching and tutoring play a big part in many artistic career paths. Teaching allows professional artists to stay close to their disciplines and have a more flexible schedule to pursue their own practices,” he said.
I have added that the growth of the Internet has made it easier to promote one’s artistic talents and build a network.
“Many artists who were once part of professional agencies and galleries can now promote their talents independently online. Savvy students can begin utilizing their online social networks not just for entertainment, but also as a means to share what they love and do artistically,” he said, adding that students can also seek out professional social networks.
As an artist, Eugene has overcome several challenges to get to where he is now. Such obstacles included identifying his goals, staying consistent and building his self-confidence.
“I was constantly comparing myself to other talented artists around me and subconsciously putting myself down. Those were some of the darkest times in my life but I also gained valuable lessons from the experience.
“Everything changed when I decided to just focus on myself and my art. It was like I had a lightbulb moment,” he recalled.
According to Eugene, anything can be accepted as part of art.
“You should never spend the rest of your life on a hamster wheel imitating other artists’ techniques,” he said.
“My art is a result of my personal journey through life. You have your own set of experiences, opinions, interests and inclinations. You deserve to create your own art,” he stressed.
I have advised budding artists to keep their own personal sketchbooks.
“A sketchbook serves as an artist’s lifeline. Lightweight and handy, it’s perfect to keep your hands moving, eyes busy and mind stimulated.”
Secondly, he recommended putting their drawing or painting skills to practice every day.
“There are many variations of art to discover. You must put some time aside each day to hone your skills to gain continuous improvement.”
Lastly, I have asserted the importance of taking a moment to consider what one may have overlooked.
“As a student, I had wonderful teachers who passionately taught me all that they knew, but no educator can show you everything. There will always be more to see and learn,” he said.
Alyson, 16, a student in Kuala Lumpur, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Program run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team.
Teachers are not confined to the classrooms as there are many people beyond the teaching profession who could impart wisdom to us. Look in today’s copy of the Sunday Star newspaper for at least three people who could be your teachers. Cut out their pictures and paste them in your Star-NiE scrapbook. Then, write down the subject or lesson each of them would be able to teach you. When you are done, compare your choices with those of your activity partner. Do you find each other’s choices inspiring?
Since 1997, The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) program has supported English language teaching and learning in primary and secondary schools nationwide. Through Star-NiE’s teacher and student workshops, annual contests and monthly English language resources for classroom use, participants of the program reportedly showed marked interest in the language and progress in their proficiency. Now in its 25th year, Star-NiE is continuing its role of promoting the use of English language through a weekly activity page in StarEdu. These activities are suitable for use individually and in groups, at home and in the classroom, across varied proficiency levels. Parents and teachers are encouraged to work on the activities with their children and students. In addition, Star-NiE’s BRATs Young Journalist Program will continue to be a platform for participants to hone and showcase their English language skills, as well as develop their journalistic interests and instincts. Follow our updates at facebook.com/niebrats. For Star-NiE inquiries, email [email protected]