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  • Translator: Clair Han Reviewer: ChangHyun Lee

  • The theme of my talk today is,

  • "Be an artist, right now."

  • Most people, when this subject is brought up,

  • get tense and resist it:

  • "Art doesn't feed me, and right now I'm busy.

  • I have to go to school, get a job,

  • send my kids to lessons ... "

  • You think, "I'm too busy. I don't have time for art."

  • There are hundreds of reasons why we can't be artists right now.

  • Don't they just pop into your head?

  • There are so many reasons why we can't be,

  • indeed, we're not sure why we should be.

  • We don't know why we should be artists,

  • but we have many reasons why we can't be.

  • Why do people instantly resist the idea of associating themselves with art?

  • Perhaps you think art is for the greatly gifted

  • or for the thoroughly and professionally trained.

  • And some of you may think you've strayed too far from art.

  • Well you might have, but I don't think so.

  • This is the theme of my talk today.

  • We are all born artists.

  • If you have kids, you know what I mean.

  • Almost everything kids do is art.

  • They draw with crayons on the wall.

  • They dance to Son Dam Bi's dance on TV,

  • but you can't even call it Son Dam Bi's dance -- it becomes the kids' own dance.

  • So they dance a strange dance and inflict their singing on everyone.

  • Perhaps their art is something only their parents can bear,

  • and because they practice such art all day long,

  • people honestly get a little tired around kids.

  • Kids will sometimes perform monodramas --

  • playing house is indeed a monodrama or a play.

  • And some kids, when they get a bit older,

  • start to lie.

  • Usually parents remember the very first time their kid lies.

  • They're shocked.

  • "Now you're showing your true colors," Mom says. She thinks, "Why does he take after his dad?"

  • She questions him, "What kind of a person are you going to be?"

  • But you shouldn't worry.

  • The moment kids start to lie is the moment storytelling begins.

  • They are talking about things they didn't see.

  • It's amazing. It's a wonderful moment.

  • Parents should celebrate.

  • "Hurray! My boy finally started to lie!"

  • All right! It calls for celebration.

  • For example, a kid says, "Mom, guess what? I met an alien on my way home."

  • Then a typical mom responds, "Stop that nonsense."

  • Now, an ideal parent is someone who responds like this:

  • "Really? An alien, huh? What did it look like? Did it say anything?

  • Where did you meet it?" "Um, in front of the supermarket."

  • When you have a conversation like this,

  • the kid has to come up with the next thing to say to be responsible for what he started.

  • Soon, a story develops.

  • Of course this is an infantile story,

  • but thinking up one sentence after the next

  • is the same thing a professional writer like me does.

  • In essence, they are not different.

  • Roland Barthes once said of Flaubert's novels,

  • "Flaubert did not write a novel.

  • He merely connected one sentence after another.

  • The eros between sentences, that is the essence of Flaubert's novel."

  • That's right -- a novel, basically, is writing one sentence,

  • then, without violating the scope of the first one,

  • writing the next sentence.

  • And you continue to make connections.

  • Take a look at this sentence:

  • "One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug."

  • Yes, it's the first sentence of Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis."

  • Writing such an unjustifiable sentence

  • and continuing in order to justify it,

  • Kafka's work became the masterpiece of contemporary literature.

  • Kafka did not show his work to his father.

  • He was not on good terms with his father.

  • On his own, he wrote these sentences.

  • Had he shown his father, "My boy has finally lost it," he would've thought.

  • And that's right. Art is about going a little nuts

  • and justifying the next sentence,

  • which is not much different from what a kid does.

  • A kid who has just started to lie

  • is taking the first step as a storyteller.

  • Kids do art.

  • They don't get tired and they have fun doing it.

  • I was in Jeju Island a few days ago.

  • When kids are on the beach, most of them love playing in the water.

  • But some of them spend a lot of time in the sand,

  • making mountains and seas -- well, not seas,

  • but different things -- people and dogs, etc.

  • But parents tell them,

  • "It will all be washed away by the waves."

  • In other words, it's useless.

  • There's no need.

  • But kids don't mind.

  • They have fun in the moment

  • and they keep playing in the sand.

  • Kids don't do it because someone told them to.

  • They aren't told by their boss

  • or anyone, they just do it.

  • When you were little, I bet you spent time enjoying the pleasure of primitive art.

  • When I ask my students to write about their happiest moment,

  • many write about an early artistic experience they had as a kid.

  • Learning to play piano for the first time and playing four hands with a friend,

  • or performing a ridiculous skit with friends looking like idiots -- things like that.

  • Or the moment you developed the first film you shot with an old camera.

  • They talk about these kinds of experiences.

  • You must have had such a moment.

  • In that moment, art makes you happy

  • because it's not work.

  • Work doesn't make you happy, does it? Mostly it's tough.

  • The French writer Michel Tournier has a famous saying.

  • It's a bit mischievous, actually.

  • "Work is against human nature. The proof is that it makes us tired."

  • Right? Why would work tire us if it's in our nature?

  • Playing doesn't tire us.

  • We can play all night long.

  • If we work overnight, we should be paid for overtime.

  • Why? Because it's tiring and we feel fatigue.

  • But kids, usually they do art for fun. It's playing.

  • They don't draw to sell the work to a client

  • or play the piano to earn money for the family.

  • Of course, there were kids who had to.

  • You know this gentleman, right?

  • He had to tour around Europe to support his family --

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart --

  • but that was centuries ago, so we can make him an exception.

  • Unfortunately, at some point our art -- such a joyful pastime -- ends.

  • Kids have to go to lessons, to school, do homework

  • and of course they take piano or ballet lessons,

  • but they aren't fun anymore.

  • You're told to do it and there's competition. How can it be fun?

  • If you're in elementary school and you still draw on the wall,

  • you'll surely get in trouble with your mom.

  • Besides,

  • if you continue to act like an artist as you get older,

  • you'll increasingly feel pressure --

  • people will question your actions and ask you to act properly.

  • Here's my story: I was an eighth grader and I entered a drawing contest at school in Gyeongbokgung.

  • I was trying my best, and my teacher came around

  • and asked me, "What are you doing?"

  • "I'm drawing diligently," I said.

  • "Why are you using only black?"

  • Indeed, I was eagerly coloring the sketchbook in black.

  • And I explained,

  • "It's a dark night and a crow is perching on a branch."

  • Then my teacher said,

  • "Really? Well, Young-ha, you may not be good at drawing but you have a talent for storytelling."

  • Or so I wished.

  • "Now you'll get it, you rascal!" was the response. (Laughter)

  • "You'll get it!" he said.

  • You were supposed to draw the palace, the Gyeonghoeru, etc.,

  • but I was coloring everything in black,

  • so he dragged me out of the group.

  • There were a lot of girls there as well,

  • so I was utterly mortified.

  • None of my explanations or excuses were heard,

  • and I really got it big time.

  • If he was an ideal teacher, he would have responded like I said before,

  • "Young-ha may not have a talent for drawing,

  • but he has a gift for making up stories," and he would have encouraged me.

  • But such a teacher is seldom found.

  • Later, I grew up and went to Europe's galleries --

  • I was a university student -- and I thought this was really unfair.

  • Look what I found. (Laughter)

  • Works like this were hung in Basel while I was punished

  • and stood in front of the palace with my drawing in my mouth.

  • Look at this. Doesn't it look just like wallpaper?

  • Contemporary art, I later discovered, isn't explained by a lame story like mine.

  • No crows are brought up.

  • Most of the works have no title, Untitled.

  • Anyways, contemporary art in the 20th century

  • is about doing something weird and filling the void with explanation and interpretation --

  • essentially the same as I did.

  • Of course, my work was very amateur,

  • but let's turn to more famous examples.

  • This is Picasso's.

  • He stuck handlebars into a bike seat and called it "Bull's Head." Sounds convincing, right?

  • Next, a urinal was placed on its side and called "Fountain".

  • That was Duchamp.

  • So filling the gap between explanation and a weird act with stories --

  • that's indeed what contemporary art is all about.

  • Picasso even made the statement,

  • "I draw not what I see but what I think."

  • Yes, it means I didn't have to draw Gyeonghoeru.

  • I wish I knew what Picasso said back then. I could have argued better with my teacher.

  • Unfortunately, the little artists within us

  • are choked to death before we get to fight against the oppressors of art.

  • They get locked in.

  • That's our tragedy.

  • So what happens when little artists get locked in, banished or even killed?

  • Our artistic desire doesn't go away.

  • We want to express, to reveal ourselves,

  • but with the artist dead, the artistic desire reveals itself in dark form.

  • In karaoke bars, there are always people who sing

  • "She's Gone" or "Hotel California,"

  • miming the guitar riffs.

  • Usually they sound awful. Awful indeed.

  • Some people turn into rockers like this.

  • Or some people dance in clubs.

  • People who would have enjoyed telling stories

  • end up trolling on the Internet all night long.

  • That's how a writing talent reveals itself on the dark side.

  • Sometimes we see dads get more excited than their kids

  • playing with Legos or putting together plastic robots.

  • They go, "Don't touch it. Daddy will do it for you."

  • The kid has already lost interest and is doing something else,

  • but the dad alone builds castles.

  • This shows the artistic impulses inside us are suppressed, not gone.

  • But they can often reveal themselves negatively, in the form of jealousy.

  • You know the song "I would love to be on TV"? Why would we love it?

  • TV is full of people who do what we wished to do,

  • but never got to.

  • They dance, they act -- and the more they do, they are praised.

  • So we start to envy them.

  • We become dictators with a remote and start to criticize the people on TV.

  • "He just can't act." "You call that singing? She can't hit the notes."

  • We easily say these sorts of things.

  • We get jealous, not because we're evil,

  • but because we have little artists pent up inside us.

  • That's what I think.

  • What should we do then?

  • Yes, that's right.

  • Right now, we need to start our own art.

  • Right this minute, we can turn off TV,

  • log off the Internet,

  • get up and start to do something.

  • Where I teach students in drama school,

  • there's a course called Dramatics.

  • In this course, all students must put on a play.

  • However, acting majors are not supposed to act.

  • They can write the play, for example,

  • and the writers may work on stage art.

  • Likewise, stage art majors may become actors, and in this way you put on a show.

  • Students at first wonder whether they can actually do it,

  • but later they have so much fun. I rarely see anyone who is miserable doing a play.

  • In school, the military or even in a mental institution, once you make people do it, they enjoy it.

  • I saw this happen in the army -- many people had fun doing plays.

  • I have another experience:

  • In my writing class, I give students a special assignment.

  • I have students like you in the class -- many who don't major in writing.

  • Some major in art or music and think they can't write.

  • So I give them blank sheets of paper and a theme.

  • It can be a simple theme:

  • Write about the most unfortunate experience in your childhood.

  • There's one condition: You must write like crazy. Like crazy!

  • I walk around and encourage them,

  • "Come on, come on!" They have to write like crazy for an hour or two.

  • They only get to think for the first five minutes.

  • The reason I make them write like crazy is because

  • when you write slowly and lots