I would lie by the windows, reading in the warm afternoon light.
I would stay up all night in my room, listening to some sappy songs or late night radio shows, drawing. Drawings on notebooks, sketchbooks, computer paper, hand-outs, scrap paper.
Words were too little. Thoughts were too much and feelings elusive. I wrote always: there’s a fog in my head. I felt for the entirety of my childhood and most of my young adulthood a cloud of uncertain thoughts yet to bud.
I liked making things, and I wanted to be better at it. I thought it would be fun to learn how to make all kinds of stuff with my own hands. In school, when we got to do some woodworking, going into carpentry sounded ok. I would pester my dad to teach me basic mechanical and electrical work. I was the top of my class in home economics class. I liked taking care of plants, rescuing and fostering animals, and growing vegetables, which I would attend to diligently when my family had a little backyard. Small-scale farming still sounds appealing to me. Working, working with hands, crafting, labor, physical work, making, creating.
What drove me to the art world (Let’s say, an area of high concentration of people who care about art)? I had only a vague idea what I was looking for, and whether it would actually bring me there. I knew that I wanted to see, to find, and to learn lots of unspecified things--all things social, philosophical, psychological, historical, political, creative, poetic, or other--and to continue to make something better. Still, I had little idea how all that would neatly tie in. How surprised was I to find actual people saying things like “art knows us better than we know ourselves”? Did I ever think that being submerged in art could possibly help me figure it out?
Stories: Workers of Hanjin, Daewoo, big ship building companies, coal mines, alleyways, villages on hills, soot, microchip factories, working overtime, immigrant workers, poor working conditions, systemem of violence, economic polarization, discrimination, poverty, starving, chewing on paper, fingers caught under a press, needles under eyes, needles traveling through bloodstream, being cooked alive trapped inside, metal sheets dropping on your head, lungs dark with coal dust, dark fingernails, dry, cracked hands. “Dad, when are you coming home?” Mass layoffs, hunger strikes, crane-top protests, self-immolations.
With parents: Strikes, protests, marches, moonhwaje, samboilbae. Freedom of press, democracy, remnants of dictatorship, of colonization. Social-historical responsibility, perpetual helplessness, guilty by absence, ideal-reality disparity.
More, to take away: Writings by workers, everyday people, simple words, soonoorimal, talking, sharing meals, sharing songs, persimmons. Unions, reading groups, education programs, writing workshops. Community, sense of unity, sense of justice, sense of hope.
We talk about transcendence in art. The easiest way for me to internalize it is in relation to art’s potential to envelope and invoke overwhelming, impactful experiences: like those that come from aesthetic and poetic sensibilities, intellectual endeavors and accomplishments, awe-inspiring natural phenomena, or the ritualistic elements of social protests. In the last case, the grand sense of justice, social and historical responsibility, solidarity, and connectedness.
I guess what keeps me in the art community is the sense of trying together, collectively striving for something beyond the everyday life--whatever form it might be for each of us. What I think and hope we are trying to do is to merge our aesthetic interests and emotional, maybe social, maybe spiritual, needs.
When an artist talks of their love for making--especially for a particular craft like painting, sculpture, or printmaking--it is revealed that artmaking is so endearingly obsessive and dorky. It’s one of the reasons why the community around art can be as important as, if not more so than, art itself. It’s baffling how people try to make art (this nerdy thing!) seem posh and cool; they actually succeed at fooling the public. I mean, yes, they have been successful throughout history. But in regards to my earlier proposition, whom I find the most rewarding to be around are the art nerds: those who make and talk about art wholeheartedly.
“Draw everyday, and draw without fear. It’s only a drawing.”
I’ve come to think of lots of things in terms of drawing, something that allows for a carefree attitude. It’s like how accepting your insignificance in the vast universe can be liberating. It’s like how acknowledging your mortality gives you the solemn excitement for life. Let these words give you the courage to make, to write, to go on, to get up in the morning and face the world, and of course, to draw. Sincerity might crush you--big thoughts and responsibility and all. But art has a way of circumventing that anxiety. Uncertainty is fine; so is debilitating fear. Some people say art is a secularized temple, a refuge, after all.