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Young-Ha Kim - Be an Artist, right now

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Good afternoon. I missed the last meeting and rehearsal. Turns out I'm the first speaker. So there's your lesson - never miss those kind of events. My topic today is titled, "Be an Artist, Right Now". Yes, that's right. Let's all be an artist, right now. That is the theme of my talk. When I bring this up, most people get nervous and start to resist in their minds. Art doesn't feed me; I have no time for art; I have to go to school, get a job; so many things to do; send kids to private lessons; I am too busy to do art. That is what most people think. There are hundreds of reasons why we cannot be an artist, right now. They all flash through across your minds, don't they? So many reasons why we can't. Indeed when we think about it, we can't think of any reason why we should. So we don't know why we should but we do know a lot of reasons why we shouldn't. Why is that so? Yes. Why? Why do people, upon hearing the word art, instantly start to disapprove? Perhaps it's because art is thought to be performed only by the exceptionally gifted or professionally trained die-hards. And many of you here perhaps believe that it is already too late to become an artist. Well, you may. But I disagree. That is what I want to talk about today. We are all born artists. If you have kids, you know what I mean. Almost all things kids do are art. Drawing with crayons on the wall. Mimicking Sohn Dambi's dance while watching TV. Well it's not exactly Sohn Dambi's dance; more a dance of their own. Kids dance a strange dance and sing songs, thus tormenting everyone. Possibly the level of the art is something that cannot be borne by anyone except their parents and so it tires out most of us. If unlucky, we end up babysitting nephews or nieces on holidays. Sometimes a child alone does a one-man play. Playing house is in essence a one-man show, a play. Some kids, as they grow older, start to lie. A lot of moms remember the first time their kids lied and were shocked. 'Oh dear, he takes after his dad!' And gave the child a good scolding imagining the worst case scenarios about his future. But you shouldn't. The moment children start to lie is the beginning of storytelling. They're making stories about things unseen. It's an amazing moment. You should celebrate. 'Finally, our kid has started to lie!' It calls for celebration. "Mom, guess what? I ran into an alien on the way home." An average mom would chide their child for talking nonsense. But here's how an ideal parent reacts; "Oh, really? An alien? How did it look? What did it say? Where did you meet it?" "In front of the supermarket." Once such dialogue starts, the child is obliged to continue with the story to convince his mom of what he brought up. He goes on and on, and the story unfolds. Of course, it may be infantile but thinking of one sentence after another and creating a new one is in essence the same as what a professional writer like me does. Essentially it's not that different. Regarding Flaubert's novel, Roland Barthes said that Flaubert did not write a novel but just connected one sentence with another; the Eros between the sentences is the essence of Flaubert's novel. That's right. A novel is basically writing one sentence followed by another that does not violate the previous one, keeping the connections going on and on. Take a look at this sentence. Can you tell where it's from? The first sentence tells you who it belongs to, right? It's the first sentence from The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Writing such an unmanageable sentence and then continuing to cope with that first sentence is what produced this masterpiece of contemporary literature. Nothing more. Kafka wrote this sentence but didn't show it to his father. They did not get along well. Kafka kept on writing the next sentence. Had he shown it to his father he probably would've thought, 'My child has gone mad.' That's right. Art in a way is about going crazy. And then just bearing the next sentence, which is not that much different from what a kid does. A kid just starting to lie is taking the first step to becoming a storyteller. It is a magical moment. Now, kids ... they perform art. They don't get exhausted. They just have fun. I was on Jeju Island a few days ago; most kids like water, they like playing in the water, but some kids spend more time playing in the sand. They make mountains, seas...well not the sea, but a lot of things, people, dogs. Parents try to dissuade them. "All of that will be washed away by the waves." In other words, their creations are useless; they have no value. But kids don't care about that. They enjoy the moment. So they keep playing. Kids don't play because they're told to. They are not ordered by a boss at work. Nobody told them to, but still they play. I'm sure you've felt such moments of pleasure from performing primal art. When I ask my students to write about their happiest moments many of them talk about the primal artistic experience had when they were little. The first time playing the piano with four hands with a friend; staging a skit with a friend and acting like an idiot; or the first time developing film they shot with a camera; these are the kinds of experience students most write about. You must've had such moments. Until that moment, art made you happy. Because it wasn't work. Work doesn't make you happy. Mostly, it's just tiring. The French writer Michel Tournier said it well; - putting it rather mischievously actually - 'Work is against human nature. That doing it makes you tired is the proof.' Don't you agree? Why would it tire you if it suits you? Playing is not tiring. We can play all night. Working overnight requires overtime charge. Why? It's tiring. It aches our body. On the other hand, kids do art for fun. As play. They don't draw to be paid by a client or play piano to earn a living for their family. Of course, such a child did exist. Does he look familiar? Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart went on a European tour to feed his family. But he lived hundreds of years ago so let's consider him as an exception. Somewhere along the way, such acts of art or the happiness of playing ends. Kids have to go to school, take private lessons, or do homework. They still get piano or ballet lessons, but it's no longer fun. It becomes a must, there is competition...so it gets boring. If you go to grammar school and still draw on the walls your mom will clamp down on you big time. If not because of that specifically, then still as you grow older and if you keep acting like an artist you'll get the sense that someone is restraining you. You're pressured, constantly asked to behave correctly. Let me tell you my story; in eighth grade, I went to Kyungbok Palace for a sketching contest at my school. I was drawing earnestly in my own way when my teacher came to me and asked me what I was doing. So I said, "I'm drawing." "Why are you using only black?" I was indeed coloring the whole paper in black. I explained that It's a dark night and a crow is sitting on a tree. Then, my teacher said, "Well, Young-Ha...you're not gifted in drawing but you have talent as a storyteller." Or so I wished. In reality, he pulled me out of the group and chewed me out. I was supposed to draw the palace or the pond but instead kept on painting black, and so he publically castigated me. There were a lot of girls, too, and I was humiliated. Not a word of my explanation was heard, and I was chastised heavily. If he was an ideal teacher, he would've done what I initially imagined, saying; 'Young-Ha clearly has no talent in drawing, but he is good at making up stories' and encouraged me on. But such a teacher is hard to find. Later in university, I visited European contemporary art museums and to my chagrin, found pictures like these. Why is it that those works get hung in Basel while mine gets rebuked - I was made to stand in front of the Palace with my drawing held between my teeth. I mean look at it! We might as well call it wallpaper. Well, contemporary artists - I later learned - do not make up rustic stories like my crow story. Most of their works are "Untitled". Anyways, 20th century contemporary art is about doing something strange, then filling the void with explanation and interpretation. In essence similar to what I did. Of course, I'm not as sophisticated as those famous artists ... like - yes, this is a work by Picasso - He attached a handle to a bike saddle and called the work "Bull's Head." Sounds big, yes? And then, there was Duchamp who displayed a urinal calling it a ready-made fountain. Explaining and filling in the gap in the strange works with stories is in fact what contemporary art has been doing. Picasso even said it in words, "I draw not what I saw but what I thought." This means I didn't have to draw the palace. Only had I known the quote back then. Unfortunately the little artists inside us get suffocated to death even before we have a chance to fight against the oppressors of art. They get locked in and that is our tragedy. What happens when our little artists are locked in, banished or dead? First of all...our desires do not go away. We want to express and reveal ourselves but as we grow older the artistic desire gets pushed down into dark places. When we go to a karaoke bar, there's always a person who sings "She's Gone" or "Hotel California" mimicking the guitar riff. Mostly it's hard to bear. But that's how he gets to be a rocker if only for a brief moment. Or people go to night clubs. Those who would've derived much more pleasure from storytelling spend sleepless nights trolling on the Web - writing talent manifesting itself in a dark place. Sometimes, dads playing Lego with their kids get more excited than their children; "Hold on, daddy will do it" he says, and immerses himself in building castles or whatever while the kids lose interest and go away to do something else. These examples prove that the artistic impulses inside us are just repressed but never gone. Sometimes they are displayed in negative ways - often in the form of jealousy. You know the tune "Wouldn't it be great if I were on TV"? Why would that be great? TV is full of people doing things we wished to but never did. They sing, dance, and act. The more they do, the greater the praise. So we start to envy them fiercely. We become dictators with a remote and start criticizing; "Even I can act better than that." "How can she call herself a singer?" And so on and so forth. We turn into a harsh critic saying things like "Is that dance or aerobics?" Jealousy is the result not of the evil in us but of the little artists repressed inside our hearts. That is what I believe. Then, what do we have to do? Yes, that's right. We have to start our own art, right now. Turn off the TV, log-off from the Internet, and stand up and start doing something. When I taught students at K-Arts university, there was a Theater Studies class - it wasn't my class but,- the class mandated every student in the institute to stage a play. However, acting majors weren't supposed to act. Instead they had to, for example, write a play. Playwriting majors might be responsible for stage design, and stage design talents might act, etc. to stage a play. At first students doubt whether they can do it, but gradually it becomes so much fun. I rarely have seen anybody asked to act and who ended up hate it. In school, the army or a mental hospital, if you make people stage a play, chances are they'll probably have a lot of fun doing it. I've seen people in the military or many other places having fun doing a play. I also have another experience; in my writing class, I give an assignment. There are students like you here, and many of them are not writing majors. There are art majors and music majors, and they think they can't write. So I give them blank sheets of paper and give a simple topic like, write about your most unhappy experience in childhood. However, you have to write like crazy fast. CRAZY! I walk around the class and encourage them. Urge them on to keep writing like crazy for an hour...or two. Only for the first 5 minutes or so they brace themselves, then they just have to keep going, non-stop. The reason I make them write like crazy is because when you slow down and have a lot of ideas the devil inside our artistic minds presents itself. And this devil hinders us giving hundreds of reasons why you can't be a writer. 'People will laugh at you.' 'This is not writing!' 'Can this be called a sentence? Look at your handwriting!' and all sorts of other things. So you have to run fast and not let this devil overtake you. The really good writings I've seen at K-Arts were not from assignments given with sufficient time. It's from those 40 ~60 minute sessions written with pencil in front of me. The students go into some kind of trance during the exercise. After 30 or 40 minutes, they don't even know what they're writing about but they keep going. In those moments, the devil that hinders us does not appear. The devil is slow, and that's why I give them this exercise. So I can say this; it's not the hundreds of reasons why we can't be artists but the one reason that we must be that makes one an artist. Why we can't be isn't important. Most of artists became what they are because of the one reason. Now, once we've put the devil in our minds to sleep and start to do art enemies from outside start to emerge. Often, they have the faces of our parents. Sometimes our spouse's. But they are not your parents or spouse. They are devils. They disguise themselves briefly while visiting our planet and stop you from becoming an artist. They have a magic question. You know what it is? When we say, "I wanna try that acting class in the community center" or "I'm thinking of learning Italian arias," they ask, "Oh yah? What for?" That is the magic question - "What for?" But art is not about getting something. Art is the ultimate goal. It saves our souls and makes us live happily. It helps us without depending on alcohol or drugs to express ourselves. So against such questions, such pragmatic questions, we need to be daring. "It's just for the fun of it." "I'm doing it for fun. Sorry, I'm the only one having fun." "I'll just go ahead and do it." We have to respond like this. The ideal future for me is where all of us have a sort of multi-fold identity, and even just a single fold of it can be an artist. I went to New York and got in a cab. I get into the backseat and on the front, I see something about theater. So I ask the driver and he says it's his profile. "So what are you?" I ask. He says he's an actor. He's a cab driver but also an actor. So I ask, what kind of parts does he usually play and he proudly responds that he's King Lear. King Lear. "Who is it that can tell me who I am." A famous quote from Lear - that is the world I dream of. A person golfer by day and writer by night. A cabby and actor, a banker and painter secretly or openly performing our own arts for ourselves. In 1990, the modern dance legend Martha Graham came to Korea. I saw this legend, over 90 years old, in a wheelchair arriving at Kimpo airport. A reporter asked - you know the kind of questions reporters often ask - "What do you have to do to become a good dancer? Can you give a word of advice for young Korean dancers?" This is a picture of her in 1948, already a legend back then. And she was asked the question in 1990. And here's what she said, "Just do it." Goodness, it was moving. She uttered only those three words and immediately left the arrival lounge. That's right. What is it we need now? My answer is "Let's all be an artist, right now." How? JUST DO IT! Thank you. (Applause)

Video Details

Duration: 18 minutes and 9 seconds
Year: 2010
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Producer: TEDxSeoul
Director: TEDxSeoul
Views: 180
Posted by: tedxseoul on Sep 13, 2010

Ever since he started his writing career in 1995, his works not only have received great attention from the Korean public, but also have been published in different countries such as the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, China, the Netherlands, Poland, and Turkey. , and are also translated in international languages. He was a professor at the Korea National University of Arts and also hosted book-themed daily radio show. Currently, he is working on a new novel while he blogs and runs his own podcast. His inner nomad spirit calls him for a leave and a wander around.

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