Visual Literacy course : Part 1

Ok, I’m sick and fed up of griping that Singaporeans are visually illiterate (ie. they don’t know ugly from pretty). It’s the reason why we have ugly HDB flat colour schemes, stupid ad designs, people calling crap "art" and so on and so forth.

From today, I shall use a variety of visuals to teach people how to appreciate things with their eyes. It’s totally biased of course, with visual standards totally my own. Perhaps, if it helps my credibility, I was a published photographer, special projects editor and I continue to design ads that I hope have some pow.

This course will probably stretch to 20 parts, and goodness knows if I can complete writing 10 parts.

But try I must. Do, or do not. Speak, or keep quiet forever.

Lesson 1: Defining the ugly.

Before one can appreciate beauty, one must be able to define ugly.

Now I don’t find this pretty:


Frida Kahlo. The Little Deer. 1946

Spare me the art criticism talk, but for all of Kahlo’s painting ability and tragic life, paintings like this are still able to make me cringe, 62 years after it was painted. It wasn’t necessary to insult the beauty of deers this way.

Closer back home, we have this truly ugly building:


supreme court SG

Supreme Court Singapore

It can’t decide if it wants to be a floating, rotating seafood restaurant or a stranded UFO. But what really galls me is the poor colour scheme accentuated by multiple lines. I can’t think of a worse use of expensive tiles.

The Supreme Court suffers from extensive use of useless extensions in the facade, and in no way represents the stature of the law profession. Thankfully, some trees at the front ensure that this ugly building is kept mostly out of sight.


The above is an absolute eyesore – some flats in the Selegie area I believe. The architecture simply doesn’t lend itself to the otherwise interesting Bandung colour scheme. A pathetic attempt by the authorities to spice up old buildings.

Why can’t people paint or sculpt more beautiful things like this:


David, by Michelangelo

Trust me, if you see this work in real life, you’d be staring at it for a long time. No, not at his dong, but because of the sheer impact of the handiwork and detailing. When I was in Rome, I sat down at the side to admire this piece for nearly an hour.

One theory I have, why there aren’t more beautiful pieces of work, is simply because many people aren’t good enough to be artists. So they create mediocre, and sometimes, truly ugly pieces of work to prove they are "different".


5 Replies to “Visual Literacy course : Part 1”

  1. i appreciate what you are doing, but you need to be more coherent. it would make more sense if all the examples chosen were from the same medium – paintings or buildings or sculptures – if only to help readers see what you mean more clearly. after all, what is beautiful in a building is not necessarily what is beautiful in a painting or even a sculpture.

  2. Good point there, but my foundation in art lies in drawing and photography – where you are capturing visuals of anything out there. That’s why you’ll see this series jump across different mediums and examples, sometimes haphazardly, simply because some principles apply across the board. These principles form the basics of visual literacy and allows people to give a fair assessment and critique of what they see around them.

    Now, those principles have yet to be written by me, and will be covered soon.

    For this posting – “Ugly”, is pretty easy to recognise, despite its different shapes and forms.

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