May 2016

I have not once in my life expected that I would be creating process-based art.  Throughout my years as an adult, I was very much drawn into brutal imagery — not a portrayal of violence — but aesthetic characteristics that symbolize death, the bleakness of nihility, and the animalistic nature of human psychology.  Recently, during my two years as a graduate student in the Master of Fine Art program at Pratt Institute, my art and its philosophy went through a drastic shift.  I have not changed as a person, and I certainly have not changed as an artist.  The underlying theme in my art has stayed the same, but the method in which I articulate and communicate to the viewer has evolved — my visual and conceptual vocabulary have been expanded.  


Thunderstorms, maelstroms, hurricanes, and tornadoes are awe-inspiring natural processes that are capable of bringing destruction and erosion. They are the combination of velocity, mass, and repetition and are also widely used in many forms of art as metaphors for turbulence, distress, confusion, turmoil, and, in the case of the maelstrom, the downward spiral, which is a metaphor itself.  These metaphors and imagery lay the foundation and starting point for my aesthetic and conceptual exploration. 

I take turbulent motions found in nature and adopt them as hand gestures to create drawing-paintings.  These motions are used to create lines on large sheets of paper that are often wider and taller than the viewer.   Through mind-numbing repetition, I lay marks over one another, letting the process take control of the creation of dense atmospheres.  This labor-intensive meditative process allows both me as the artist and the viewers to get lost within the myriad of marks.  From up-close, the drawing reveals its chaotic swirls; from far away, it looks wooly and dimensional.  It may seem like tedium, but to me, it is meditative.  The textural and topographic otherworldly scenery that arise from the parallel between image and process are open for interpretation.

My choice of mediums are ballpoint pen and colored pencil.  Occasionally, I would add crayon or oil pastel over colored pencil to add variation of line quality, but usually varying the pressure is sufficient.  I choose to use ballpoint pen as one of my primary mediums because of our familiarity with them.  They are used everyday as an instrument for writing, and may be had inexpensively.  Sometimes they are even given for free.  Ballpoint pens are taken for granted and are not worth much money.  Despite our familiarity with ballpoint pens, we do not see many artists who work exclusively with them.  I want to show the viewer what can be achieved with something that is so easily lost and given away.  Dye-based ink will fade over time, and will change in state as it is exposed to UV rays.  It is a material that does not last forever, like everything in life. (Saitzyk)

I choose to use colored pencil for the same reason.  It is taken for granted and usually associated with crafts and children.  By covering sheets of paper as wide as 6 feet, I demonstrate the capabilities of the lowly colored pencil and the human characteristic of perseverance.  I use a very limited set of tools and techniques to create large drawings that try to push just a few qualities to the edge.  Many times I refer to my drawings as “paintings” because, although I exclusively work with dry mediums, I treat the individual tools like tiny brushes used to fill a large area. (Image 1)

I have developed specific techniques for creating varying marks.  Instead of holding one pen or pencil at a time, I hold multiples to create illusions of depth, usually between five and ten of the same kind.  Depending on how I hold them, they form clusters of lines that look different.  In a bundle formation, they work great to build density and depth.  When the mediums are held in a straight line, they are used to create lines and flows within the density. (Image 2, 3) Holding more mediums will lessen the pressure of each medium, making them lighter, and holding less will increase their pressure, darkening the lines.  

My drawings are a form of documentation, in the form of both hand gestures and bodily movements.  It is also a documentation of the surrounding in relation to the drawing surface.  I achieve this through the use of frottage.  When a drawing medium slides over the sheet of paper, the medium responds to the slight difference of height on the textures of the surface under the sheet of paper and changes in pressure of the hand gestures are recorded onto paper.  This creates a “rubbed-on” effect that forms compositions and images. (Image 4) Sometimes they are deliberate and sometimes they are not.  In the case of deliberate image-making through frottage, the paper is moved around on different surfaces and worked over.  (Mayer)

Documentation of perseverance is a large part of the conceptual basis of my work.  This is shown in the density of the marks, the scale of the pieces, and its quantity. (Image 5) It would not enforce my concept if I made small drawings, because they would be relatively easy to make, assuming the size of the marks doesn’t change.  Perseverance is an important aspect in the concept of my art because of my art’s meditative nature.  Only by spending long periods of time with each piece am I able to achieve cathartic meditation through mind-numbing repetition.  Patience and perseverance are directly correlated to the density and scale of my pieces.  

One of my goals with each series of drawings is to experiment with the form of the paper – size and orientation.  Both are good ways to imply certain things without drawing them.  For example, a piece that is 42 x 42 inches may imply a window to see through, while a piece that is 96 x 42 inches and hung vertically may imply that it is a monolith, a portal, a door, or a portrayal of a human figure. (Image 6) Pieces that are hung horizontally are more explicitly topographic and are landscapes.  I don’t intend certain pieces to have specific implications, but instead strive to keep it open for interpretation.  It is up to the viewer to interpret them in certain ways.  

I intend the drawings be open to different readings by the viewer, including myself.  Most of the time I am merely guiding the process and not the imagery, so I interpret my pieces in my own way.  Even when the imagery is guided, it is only a general idea that I have and not a specific representation I have in mind.  Some ways viewers interpret my drawings are as being topographical, a landscape, or an energy field.  Some may see nothing but a drawing of a carpet, but this is also a valid way to view it.  Many times I aim to create an atmosphere, so it is normal for a piece to look like a landscape in the end.

It is important to fill the entire sheet of paper with small marks.  Each full-page round of marks to build up density is referred to as a “pass”.  Intensity of labor and density of the marks were always an aesthetic quality that I pursued, even during my days of symbolic representation.  My representational drawings usually took me a few weeks to complete.  My largest storm drawings take one week at most.  Many viewers see the labor involved in the pieces and question whether I am enjoying the process, and every time I am asked I tell them that it is more enjoyable and less labor-intensive than drawing representationally.  I get lost in my own organized mess that I am creating.

Every piece is an experiment.  The variables are color, media, scale, orientation, and composition.  The controls are the body gestures of the mark-making techniques.  Through these experimentations, I create a different atmosphere each time.  These atmospheres are chaotic on both macro and micro scales.  Making them large and dense are important to my practice, as smaller scales will defeat the act of meditative labor and repetition.  Each piece must be large enough to fill the viewer’s peripheral vision when standing close.  All vertical pieces must be looking down at the viewer as if they are monoliths or deities.  I may or may not plan out the drawing.  I will do whatever I feel like doing at the moment.  I seek autonomy in my practice as much as my art requires its own autonomy of process to drive itself.

I do not consider my work to be abstract.  Rather, they are representational drawings of abstract ideas.  What I am trying to capture are the dull fuzz in the brain that is felt during confusion, the edge of a knife floating a centimeter above my eye experienced during anxiety, the hollowing of the skull felt during a panic attack, and the zooming out and streaking of the vision when horrified.  I recollect or imagine these moments and translate them into lines on paper as a way to dull anxiety.

When I make my ballpoint pen drawings, I let go of deep thought and try to lose inhibitions.  As a person who likes to measure everything and is preoccupied with symmetry and physical perfection, too much thinking and control impose a lot of constraints on my actions as an artist.  When I make passes on my large sheets of paper, I am letting go of my preoccupations.  As premeditated representational imagery is out of the equation, I no longer find the need to stop and think about my next moves but instead spend more time with the action.  This letting go of inhibitions has created a reason for me to steadily continue with my process — I make my art to lose inhibitions, and my art needs me to draw itself.  It is a synergistic process.

As to why I make my art, or just art in general, I see this creative output as a method of achieving catharsis.  All the activities and interests I love to pursue and try to become good at – art, music, and weightlifting – all originated from the interest of self-expression and evolved into ways of unleashing the fire inside to the world beyond my corporeal barrier of skin.  I do not consider myself to be an angry person.  However, I have trouble expressing my emotions through body language and spoken language and instead prefer to either not express anything at all or through creative media.  Productivity has become an obsession that prevents me from succumbing to my anxiety.

The conceptual basis of Neurotica is the result of the manifestation of the pursuit for catharsis against frustration, uncertainty, and anxiety. I have felt a need for this catharsis as an artist during the sudden change of my practice and as a person who does not identify as a full-time member of one culture or geographical place.  Core thematic elements from my previous practice carry over, and although the current line of work may look abstracted, they are very similarly autobiographical.  


At the time of writing this thesis, I am 29 years old.  I was born in conservative South Korea on December 5th, 1986 to a religious family.  I’ve attended an English-speaking school since kindergarten and moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, in middle school.  I’ve moved across the nation to attend various colleges, from Seattle, WA, to Chicago, IL, and then to Brooklyn, NY.  Before graduate school I moved to Korea to live with my parents, work on my art, and to gain work experience.  I’ve moved around a lot and don’t consider myself to be from one particular place.

During my four years in Korea I experienced a massive culture shock.  Not only did I have to refamiliarize myself with living with my family, whom I hadn’t been living with since 10th grade, but also as a cultural foreigner I felt out of place and didn’t know how to interact with people.  My inner conflict, which stems from my multicultural background and my religious upbringing, were the main driving factors for creating illustrative art that examine my identity and question the futility and vanity of humanity through the use of morbid symbolic imagery and ambiguity.

Submission and obedience are concepts that both Abrahamic religions and Asian cultures have in common. It is the norm in Korea that the community as one takes priority before the individual, so much that individuality is oftentimes looked down upon and viewed as disobedience. One must become a sheep in an act of collectivism and shun the individuality of the goat. My silent pacing between the right and left hand is the culmination of religious pressure and the uncertain pacing between the collectivism perpetuated by Eastern values and the individuality perpetuated by Western values.

The nihilistic enthusiasm for Armageddon in Abrahamic religions was the source of my interest in the notion of the downfall of man through futility, despair, evil, and decadence. It also sparked my admiration for the human spine, which is a symbol of individualism, authority, and potency. I used elements from religious art and contemporary culture to create ironic, morbid imagery using the human body and its distortion, with emphasis on the human spine, as a subtle and silent passive-aggressive defiance against the sheep I am expected to be.  Additionally, the fact that I decided to pursue a degree in art instead of medicine, law, or other “honorable” occupations was an act of defiance against collectivist elitism of Korean culture.


My upbringing has had a great effect on my aesthetic style.  Growing up in a conservative collective society encouraged concrete thought rather than the abstract.  Furthermore, as a child, I was fascinated by the detailed life-like illustrations found in many religious publications.  The reason I worked with representational imagery is because I wanted to reference religious paintings before the advent of contemporary art, which were more like illustrations than fine art.  I have incorporated dramatic lighting found in paintings from the Baroque era to add additional visual elements that reference religious art.  I was not interested in drawing happy imagery.  With heavy subject matter came the dramatic lighting and morbid imagery.  “Why can’t you draw happy things?” they asked.  Now, by choosing to create process-based ambiguous representations of abstract thoughts, I feel I have fully defied what was expected of me as an artist by the people and society that thought it could mold me.  I no longer need representation to ask questions.

Heavy metal music aesthetics have also had a profound effect on my aesthetic style. It adds a highly recognizable look and feel that complement my art in the form of busy details, dense pattern-like marks, and enigmatic imagery. Intensity and drama are both elements in heavy metal imagery that I have both consciously and subconsciously incorporated.  It is not my intention to make my art fitting for heavy metal album covers and I try to stay away from popular imagery, but I occasionally receive such comments from peers and strangers regardless of whether I’m making representational art or abstracted imagery.   Many times those comments are said by people who are not involved in or have any interest in fine art, therefore lacking insight or historical context.  However, it is a good thing that my aesthetic style is easily recognizable no matter what I create.


During my first year at Pratt I came to a dead end with my practice.  I could not find new ways to express my concept without reusing the same imagery over and over again, and I ran out of ideas.  I decided to stop doing what I was doing and started experimenting with different media, color, imagery, and themes.  One of the things I did was mindlessly fill up entire sheets of paper without forethought.  It was relaxing and took my mind off my anxiety as an artist.  Occasionally I experimented with drawing or painting atmospheres and vague landscapes instead of figures or anything hardly recognizable.  A result of this was a scene that depicts chaotic movement of air or water.  This particular drawing came in useful later on, as I used it as a starting point for my new concept. (Image 7)

In summer of 2015 I decided to draw more chaotic movements of water with swirling motions, until I realized that it was the swirling motion that was the chaotic aspect and not the image.  I fought the urge to create an image and worked on using that one technique to fill the entire sheet of paper with random colors.  What arose from this process was an incomprehensible chaos of lines and colors that collided violently with each other to create atmosphere, landscape, or energy fields. 

The Experience

It is clear that both the artist’s and viewer’s experience take a big part in the completion of my works.  A drawing-painting is completed by the viewer as he/she converses with both the piece and his/her cognitive construct either in an attempt to recognize an image or in an attempt to find a way to resolve from the dense fog.  When I work on a piece, each mark is a reaction to the one before it and each pass of ink builds upon the marks made during the previous pass.

In John Dewey’s book Art as Experience, Dewey seeks to convince his readers that the entire process of art is important, claiming that the entire processes of creation and viewing should have more emphasis than the completed physical product.   The creation, pause, background, thought, culture, viewing, and critiquing are more important than the visible art.  To Dewey, art is not a thing – it’s something that happens; it’s the experience of the artist making the work and also of the audience receiving it.  This is entirely true in the case of my practice.  

Atmospheric Surrealism

It is not my intent to be classified as an abstract expressionist, as I take little influence from it.  Rather, I am inspired and influenced by atmospheric surrealists such as Anselm Keifer and Zdzislaw Beksinski.  Salvador Dali, H.R. Giger, Alex Grey, and Peter Gric also contributed to my aesthetic style to some degree.  If pointed out that my works are of abstract expressionist aesthetics, I will not deny that claim.  Visually, I see the importance of the repetitive marks an impressionist aesthetic and the impulsivity of the mark-making a quality of expressionism.  The way it gains insight from the human mind is reminiscent of surrealism.  The atmosphere plays an important role in creating dreamscapes.  Pluralism is important in the creation of an artist’s identity and vocabulary in contemporary art, and the same applies to me.  I believe that through the dynamic inspiration and influence, aesthetics converge into similar forms, just like the way convergent evolution works.  When viewers make the conjecture that I am influenced by the aesthetics or processes of Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, or Jackson Pollock, it is proof of historical convergence.  I consider myself to be alongside drawing artists like Daniel Zeller, Paul Noble, Irma Blank, and Il Lee.  The tedium these artists and I exhibit in our work are symbolic of the frantic pace of life in modern urban societies.  

The Future

Recently I have been experimenting with not completely filling the sheet of paper with marks.  Usually there is a border around the edges of the paper that works as a way to imply that the drawings are windows or portals and also as a way to imply self-imposed constraint, which is a direct reference to my inner conflict stemming from my religious and multicultural background.  I have started to move the marks away from the edges and make the borders more dynamic, either to create a positive space or a negative space of marks.  Whether the marks are creating a positive space or a negative space is up to the viewer to decide. (Image 8)

My transition from representational figure art to the exploration of abstraction and process has been, in my opinion, the most important milestone for my career as a student in the field of art.  With this newfound knowledge, I am hoping to further explore the possibilities of images that can be achieved through the interplay of scale, composition, size of the marks, density of the marks, color, and texture gained from frottage.  It is also possible that I will be incorporating representational imagery or the figure to explore the atmospheric imagery that can be achieved.  I will be exercising autonomy over my art as much as my art strives to be autonomous by itself.


Dewey, John. Art as Experience. New York: Minton, Balch, 1934. Print.

Mayer, Ralph. The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques. New York: Viking, 1981. Print.

Saitzyk, Steven L. Art Hardware: The Definitive Guide to Artists’ Materials. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1987. Print.

Smith. The Pen and Ink Book: Material and Techniques for Today’s Artist. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1992. Print. 

Works Exhibited



6 x 10 ft
Ball point pen on paper (Lenox 100)

21 22 23 24 28.jpg

Metropolis 2018

42 x 96 in (per panel)
Ball point pen on paper (Arches Cover White and BFK Rives White)



6 x 6 ft
Ball point pen on paper (Lenox 100)



75 x 42 in
Colored pencil on paper (BFK Rives White)


Overlord (1 of 3)

42 x 96 in
Ball point pen on paper (BFK Rives White)


  1. Colored pencil piece
  1. Multiple pens held in hand in a straight line and pulled in one direction to create swirls moving in one direction
  1. Multiple pens held in hand in a straight line and pulled in one direction to create flows
  1. Using frottage to create topographic lines
  1. Dense marks
  1. Implication of figure
  1. Prototype piece from early 2015
  1. Moving away from the edges
studio day 4.JPG
  1. Studio practice

No One Likes a Closed-Minded Critic


The relationship between art and morals have been discussed and theorized for as long as they have existed as concepts.  Various philosophers, from Plato to Immanuel Kant to David Hume, have attempted to break down and analyze the complex relationship between art and morality, what kind of effects it has on society, and how it affects politics.  Despite numerous analyses and theorizations, philosophy doesn’t settle with one answer since the theories are all slightly different or because it argues against any positive correlation between art and morals.  It is, however, possible to draw upon Aristotle’s theory of catharsis and John Dewey’s theories of art as experience to demonstrate the idea that art and its experience plays a big part in the development of a better character: the open-mindedness of the experience leads to the mental peace of catharsis.

Aristotle was Plato’s prized student.  Unlike his master, who claimed that art/mimesis is bad, Aristotle claimed that mimesis is good.  Plato makes clear his theory on mimesis in his text The Republic.  First, there is the epistemological viewpoint: Plato gives an example of a painting of a bed and its removal from the truth since it is not the original bed and is merely reflecting a real one or even a real bed based on the first bed ever made; the theological viewpoint: representations of certain objects that may be blasphemous; and lastly, the psychological viewpoint: imitation may undermine real life and lead to depression.  In contrast, Aristotle establishes the following benefits of mimesis in his writing on dramatic theory, Poetics: imitation is crucial in childrens’ education; tragedy has educational values for the human emotion and logic; and tragedy – only tragedy, not other forms art – produces catharsis.  

What is catharsis?  Aristotle defines catharsis via tragedy in Poetics: “Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions.”  As said here, catharsis is the purgation and purification of pity and fear that is achieved through the viewing of tragedy.  Aristotle theorizes that through catharsis, built-up tension is let go of and one’s level of pity and fear is brought to an equilibrium.  It is comparable to the theory of sublimation – both catharsis and sublimation are the channeling of certain emotions through means that are more socially acceptable.

John Dewey was a philosopher from the late 19th century to early 20th century.  As an American philosopher, educator, and activist, he sought to theorize methods of education and the importance of experience in learning.  He has also had quite an influence in the philosophy of art and aesthetics.  In his book Art as Experience, Dewey seeks to convince his readers that the entire process of art – creation, pause, background, thought, culture, viewing, critiquing, and more – is important, claiming that, to develop an experience, the entire processes of creation and viewing should have more emphasis than the completed physical product. He says in chapter 1 of his book, “When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement.” Dewey makes it obvious from the beginning that the current way of seeing art – physical material as end product – is not the correct way of experiencing art, as viewing the end product is devoid of the process that was involved in its creation.  He continues, “A primary task is thus imposed upon one who undertakes to write upon the philosophy of the fine arts. This task is to restore con­tinuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and suffer­ings that are universally recognized to constitute experience.” Clearly Dewey is proposing that all of art philosophy direct its attention to reestablishing the connection between the art experience and daily experiences.  

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy very well sums up the definition of “experience” as seen in chapter 3 in Dewey’s text: “‘An experience’ is one in which the material of experience is fulfilled or consummated, as for example when a problem is solved, or a game is played to its conclusion… Dewey believes his talk of ‘an experience’ is in accord with everyday usage, even though it is contrary to the way philosophers talk about experience. For Dewey, life is a collection of histories, each with their own plots, inceptions, conclusions, movements and rhythms. Each has a unique pervading quality.” The text continues, “In ‘an experience’ every part flows freely into what follows, carrying with it what preceded without sacrificing its identity. The parts are phases of an enduring whole. Nor are there any holes or mechanical dead spots in an experience. Rather, there are pauses that define its quality and sum up what has been undergone.”  The fact that even pauses contribute to the sum of the experience is rather intriguing, as many artists will not usually count time spent thinking or away from the studio as an act of creation, and thus not count as studio time.  An experience begins even before physical creation has begun, and continues even after the piece sees its final form.

Currently, most viewers, especially people who are not involved in the field of the arts, view a piece of art as a physically complete whole with certain physical characteristics.  When an artwork is on display at a gallery, the work is assumed to be finished and is intended to be enjoyed by viewing the physical, viewable aspects of it.  Dewey touches on the current problem of art being canonized and becoming an untouchable object, or the way it loses connection from life in the first paragraph of the first chapter in Art as Experience: “When an art product once attains classic status, it somehow becomes isolated from the human conditions under which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life-experience.”  Unless the viewer of a classic work of art is an artist his/herself, the work will primary be identified and analyzed through its physicality.  This is not the right way to approach art, according John Dewey.

How should art be approached?  To Dewey, art is not a thing – it’s something that happens; it’s the experience of the artist making the work and also of the audience receiving it.  In chapter “The Act of Expression”, Dewey states, “Were expression but a kind of decalcomania, or a conjuring of a rabbit out of the place where it lies hid, artistic expression would be a comparatively simple matter. But between conception and bringing to birth there lies a long period of gestation. During this period the inner material of emotion and idea is as much transformed through acting and being acted upon by objective material as the latter undergoes modification when it becomes a medium of expression.” In other words, art does not follow the concept of input and product; instead, there is a long period of “gestation”, or development, that goes on that transforms the emotion and idea behind it since its conception.  

The experience of art goes beyond its creation phase and covers the processes that happen after a work’s physical completion.  The processes of the artist extends to the viewer, which extends to the critic, who may negatively affect the experience of the viewer and also negatively affect the work of art.  Judgmental criticism can diminish the experience of the viewer and an art’s significance by the application of established standards of aesthetic value to the work, which may close off novelty and reduce the experience of it to a stereotyped, boring recapitulation of past experiences, thus “rendering the aesthetic value of an artwork objective to the extent that it succeeds in evoking common appreciative experiences among many observers by drawing their attention to the same features and relations of the artwork.”  The keyword here is “objective”.  The process on the viewer’s part is that subjective – not objective – first-hand analysis is required to understand and perhaps even sympathize with the artist’s emotions and ideas behind it, which then manifests the entire process from conception to viewing as a unique experience.  

How may experience have a positive effect on the characteristics of a person?  Having an experience encourages insight, constructive criticism, and open-mindedness from the viewer.  To further analyze the critic’s capacity, or rather incapacity, to train open-mindedness in a person, consider Dewey’s view of judgment in chapter 13, “Criticism and Perception”, which Dewey saved all his moral philosophy for.  Dewey opens this chapter by relentlessly attacking judicial criticism that plagued the Impressionists, quoting French critic Jules Lemaitre,  “Criticism, whatever be its pretensions, can never go beyond defining the impression which, at a given moment, is made on us by a work of art wherein the artist has himself recorded the impression which he received from the world at a certain hour.”  Judicial criticism does not do good for art because, like Lemaitre said from an impressionist’s point of view, it can “never go beyond defining the impression,” because according to Dewey, “such criticism reacts from the standardized ‘objectivity’ of ready-made rules and precedents.”  In other words, it fails because of “its inability to cope with the emergence of new modes of life.” Dewey argues that the job of the critic, instead, is not to pass judgment on the object, but rather to point out meaningful features that indicate emotions, ideas, and process in the object in ways that enhance observers’ experience of it: “It is in effect, if not us words, a denial that criticism in the sense of judgment is possible, and an assertion that judgment should be replaced by statement of the responses of feeling and imagery the art object evokes.”  He uses the judgment phases of synthesis and unification to suggest a more open-minded method of art criticism.  With the unifying phase of judgment, in particular, the critic must discover a unifying strand in the work and also suggests that “parts should be seen in terms of their role within the larger integral whole.”  Surely not being judgmental is a desirable characteristic in a person, too.

Dewey’s sentiment towards critics who do not keep an open mind in the analysis of art is applicable to life.  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives an example of a hammer to illustrate this point.  One might use a hammer and take note of its well-thought-out construction and its choice of hard materials for driving nails. The encyclopedia continues to claim that , “Such intelligent appreciation of the hammer in one’s direct experience of it amounts to an aesthetic valuation of it, insofar as the experience itself is savored and one’s perceptive faculties are not merely identifying instrumentally valuable features of the hammer for future reference but actively engaged in appreciating the aptness of its design and materials.”  Through encouraging first-hand experience, supporting the unifying phase of judgment, and disapproving of judicial criticism, Dewey illustrates his point that aesthetic value is more than just what the viewer sees, but is rather the entire experience of art.  

So how may Aristotle and Dewey’s theories contribute to improving the character of a person, and perhaps even promote a more mentally healthy society?  In The Poetics, Aristotle defends the “well constructed plot” and insists that “the pleasure which the poet should afford is that which comes from pity and fear through imitation” because it is through these means that those who “feel,” “imagine,” and “suppose” themselves to be exempt from pity and fear realize they are, in fact, vulnerable.  This realization that no one is exempt from the feeling of pity and fear points out that catharsis is a universal experience, perhaps even part of human nature.  Isaiah Smithson, in his essay “The Moral View of Aristotle’s Poetics”, gives a good summary of the theory of catharsis in one sentence: “Catharsis clarifies (even purges or purifies) an illusion spectators have about their moral impregnability.” Catharsis is a reminder that everyone is vulnerable and that no one is above anyone else – it is a humbling fact to be aware of.  

When a person takes part in the viewing of a work of art, the viewer appreciates the work’s aesthetic values, the processes behind its creation from conception to completion, emotions and ideas behind it, and thus takes part in the manifestation of art as an experience.  An open, analytic mind is required to fully appreciate the piece as an experience. Like Greek tragedy that is done right, if an artwork offers highly emotional aspects within its experience, the viewer is triggered to relate to and sympathize with the artist, and in the process goes through his or her own course of epiphany, repentance, or purification and purgation of pity and fear.  In this way, viewing art offers the therapeutic quality of catharsis.  

In conclusion, Aristotle’s theory of catharsis through the mimesis of tragedy and John Dewey’s theory of art as experience offer cultivation of open-mindedness and mental peace as by-products, as successfully immersing oneself in the experience of an art work provides catharsis.  Perhaps by simply redefining how the general public looks at art, mankind may be able to make society more peaceful; or maybe by establishing experience as the primary means of education, institutions may be able to convert droning classrooms into a more interactive environment that encourages free-thinking, open-mindedness, and emotional intelligence while discouraging closed-minded judicial criticisms.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Poetics.

Aristotle. Politics.

Jeffrey Dean. Aesthetics and Ethics: The State of Art. Aesthetics-online.org.

John Dewey. Art as Experience. Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy. essay.

Gregory M. Fahey. The Idea of the Good in John Dewey and Aristotle. essay.

W.T. Feldman. The Philosophy of John Dewey.

Marta Vaamonde Gamo. John Dewey on the Continuity of Art and Morals Within Consummated Experience. University of Murcia.  essay.

Isaiah Smithson. The Moral View of Aristotle’s Poetics. essay,

Scott Stroud. John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality.  

Reconsidering John Dewey’s Art as Experience. hyperallergic.com.

Plato’s Aesthetics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. stanford.edu.

Dewey’s Moral Philosophy. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. stanford.edu.

Dewey’s Aesthetics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. stanford.edu.

Aristotle’s Ethics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. stanford.edu.

Plato and Aristotle on Art as Imitation (Mimesis).  University of Houston. uh.edu.

Reading Guide for Art as Experience. Rowan University. rowan.edu. powerpoint.

On Friedrich Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music”


Friedrich Nietzsche’s book “The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music” offers interesting insight regarding the role of the Apollonian, the Dionysian, and the Socratic in regards to the theory of art.  Nietzsche views art as the ultimate human activity, the pinnacle of human existence, and even states that “art is the highest task and the true metaphysical activity of this life” (14).  Among different disciplines of art, he views tragedy as the highest form of art, due to the complex equilibrium present between the dichotomy of the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Alas, Greek tragedy has become a lost art due to the conception of Socratic philosophy and the application of it by Euripides.  After two thousand years of being long lost, Nietzsche proposes that the return to tragedy of modern society offers the revitalization of creative force, which is achievable through the revitalization of music, specifically German music, which in turn revitalizes myth, and therefore the creative power of man.  

To understand what the role of the Apollonian, Dionysian, and the Socratic are in Nietzsche’s theory of art, we must first learn about the roles of Apollo and Dionysus in their roles in the formation of art and tragedy.  In chapter 1, Nietzsche jumps right into describing the duality of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, comparing it to the complex relationship between men and women: “the continuous evolution of art is bound up with the duality of the Apolline and the Dionysiac in much the same way as reproduction depends on there being two sexes which co-exist in a state of perpetual conflict interrupted only occasionally by periods of reconciliation.”  These two deities of art – Apollo the “image-maker or sculptor” and Dionysus of the “imageless art of music” – exist in conflict, stimulating each other “to give birth to ever-new, more vigorous offspring in whom they perpetuate the conflict inherent in the opposition between them.” He continues, “by a metaphysical miracle of the Hellenic ‘Will’, they appear paired… finally engendering a work of art which is Dionysiac and Apolline in equal measure: Attic (Athenian) tragedy.”  Like how men and women, whom despite their differences, must come together as one to procreate, the Apollonian and the Dionysian must come together in an intermingling of dialogue and chorus, respectively, to create the highest form of art, which is tragedy.  It is the result of the complex dichotomy between Dionysus and Apollo (14), “of both dream and intoxication” (19).  

So what is the role of the Apollonian and the Dionysian in Nietzsche’s theory of art?  Nietzsche uses the analogy of “dream” and “intoxication” to illustrate the contradictory nature of the two deities.  The Greek deity Apollo is “the god of all image-making energies” and is associated with the “joyous necessities of dream-experience […] as the god of all image-making energies, Apollo is also the god of prophecy” (16), whereas Dionysus is the intoxication, or “influence of narcotic drink”, which we can take a glimpse of when the “breakdown of the principium individuationis (principle of individuation) occurs.” (17) One may practice sculpture, or image-making, and be an Apollonian “dream-artist”, create music and be a Dionysian “artist of intoxication”, or practice Greek tragedy, and be “an artist of both dream and intoxication at once.” (19) To Nietzsche, the Apollonian and the Dionysian exist to fulfill its roles to complement each other – to create tragedy, which is the highest form of art.

What about the Socratic?  What is the role of the Socratic in Nietzsche’s theory of art?  To say the least, Nietzsche is furious about Socrates’ teachings (and Euripides’ tendency to “expel the original and all-powerful Dionysiac element from tragedy” [59]), and makes every attempt to cut down on his theories, going so far as to calling him a “new born daemon”, while Euripides was “merely a mask”, and blaming him for the downfall of Greek tragedy: “This is the new opposition: the Dionysiac versus the Socratic, and the work of art that was once Greek tragedy was destroyed by it.” (60) Nietzsche blames Socrates for the ruining of Greek tragedy by driving out the Dionysian element from it by not understanding tragedy since he is “the forerunner of a completely different culture, art, and morality” (66) and through a “monstrous lack of any capacity for mysticism” (67).  This is all due to the teaching of Socrates, according to Nietzsche: “We can therefore now get closer to the nature of aesthetic socratism, whose supreme law runs roughly like this: ‘In order to be beautiful, everything must be reasonable’ – a sentence formed in parallel to Socrates’ dictum that ‘Only he who knows is virtuous.’  With this canon in hand Euripides measures every single element – language, characters, dramatic construction, choral music – and rectified it in accordance with this principle.” (62)  As seen here, Socrates champions reason as the basis of beauty.  This is in direct opposition to the Dionysian, which is chaos, intoxication, and ecstasy.  This opposition to Dionysus is also seen in Euripides’ aesthetic principle.  Nietzsche states, “his aesthetic principle, ‘Everything must be conscious in order to be beautiful’, is a parallel to Socrates’ assertion that, ‘Everything must be conscious in order to be good.’” (64)  

For these reasons regarding the Apollonian, the Dionysian, and the Socratic, Greek tragedy is an artistic phenomenon that is special in its own right. Its genesis came to be from merely an Apollonian phenomenon to a dichotomy that interplays with the Dionysian (16, 17) and its nature is an equilibrium between the logic of the Apollonian (dialogue) and the chaos of the Dionysian (chorus).  Although Greek tragedy was cut short by the ignorant efforts of Socrates and Euripides, Nietzsche proposed that tragedy be resurrected.  The question that arises from this notion is “what would a return to tragedy have to offer the modern world?”

For Nietzsche, revival of Greek tragedy meant great prosperity for the modern world, or during Nietzsche’s time, modern Germany.  He starts off chapter 16 by stating, “it is certain that tragedy perishes with the disappearance of the spirit of music, and it is just as certain that this spirit alone can give birth to tragedy.”  Then he specifically targets “optimistic science” as his “most illustrious opposition to the tragic view of the world”. (76) For young Nietzsche, it was his passion for Germany that sparked his interest in the notion of revival. The optimism and science that surrounds Alexandrian culture, which is “equipped with the highest powers of understanding and working in the service of science” and whose progenitor is Socrates, is stated to be imagining itself to be limitless, when it is in fact not.  (86) Nietzsche describes this Alexandrian culture as a “catastrophe slumbering in the womb”, as if breakdown is imminent.  (87) 

In the following pages, Nietzsche starts to get very specific with his proposal for the revival of the Dionysian by targeting the inferior opera. In chapter 19 he states: “Nothing can define the innermost substance of this Socratic culture more sharply than the culture of the opera, for in this area our culture has given evidence of its will and understanding with unique naivete.” (89)  To Nietzsche, opera is the archetype of Socratic philosophy.  It is “born of theoretical man, of a layman as critic, not of the artist,” and therefore offers no artistic ingenuity. (91) Therefore, it must be destroyed – or, more specifically, replaced by “something terrifying and inexplicable, something overpowering and hostile, namely German music, as we see it in the mighty, brilliant course it has run from Bach to Beethoven, from Beethoven to Wagner.” (94) What does this revival of music have to do with German prosperity?  According to Nietzsche, it is a way to drive out certain foreign influences, mainly Latin influences, which is opera, a promoter of naivete: “[…] we feel that the birth of a tragic age means the return of the German spirit to itself, a blissful reunion with its own being after the German spirit, which had been living in hopeless formal barbarism […] Now, at long last, having returned to the original spring of its being, that spirit can dare to walk, bold and free, before all other peoples, without the leading-reins of Latin civilization.” (95) By driving out this Latin influence called opera and replacing it with German music, Nietzsche theorizes the return of myth – “the contracted image of the world” – which in turn “all the energies of fantasy and Apolline dream be saved from aimless meandering,” as a way to describe that myth helps men find their creative will and purpose.  He continues to compare abstract education, morality, law, and state that is devoid of guidance from myth to emphasize that culture which has no secure and sacred place of origin is “condemned to exhaust every possibility and to seek meagre nourishment from all other cultures” – in other words, the current state of Germany. (109) Like so, Nietzsche theorizes that the rebirth of tragedy has much to offer modern Germany.  

In conclusion, Nietzsche again emphasizes that both the Apollonian and the Dionysiac are required for the existence of tragedy, which in turn is the existence of music, which is myth, and also creative power, to “unfold their energies in strict, reciprocal  proportion, according to the law of eternal justice.”  (116) Indeed, the return to tragedy of modern society offers great benefits for modern society, or in Nietzsche’s case, Germany.

Works cited

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings. Translated by Ronald Speirs. Edited by Raymond Geuss and Ronald Speirs. London: Cambridge University Press.

On Kawara and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Juxtaposed 

On Kawara – Silence. February 6 – May 3, 2015.

On Kawara’s first retrospective, held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, delivers to the viewer the dedication and consistency that Kawara had for his works since 1966.  For a conceptual legend like On Kawara, who embodied conceptualism, Guggenheim is a fitting match for the scale and depth of his body of work.  The exhibit showcases many of his series, such as Today, One Million Years, and Title.  The exhibit makes it clear that the longest-running series is Today, by having the date paintings spread across the exhibit unlike the other series, which are grouped by individual series between the date paintings.  No one series overshadows the rest – every one of them are well-balanced. 

The greatest strength of the exhibit is the linear nature of the exhibit.  The beginning (bottom floor, beginning of spiral) and end of the exhibit (top floor, end of spiral) created by the spiraling corridor of the architecture makes it easy for the curator to organize the art from old to new, which also makes it easier for the viewers to connect the pieces chronologically.  For Kawara, this linear viewing order not only makes the viewing experience more sensible for viewers but also contributes to the conceptual nature of his time-dependent art.  From a conceptual standpoint, the spiraling tower of Guggenheim creates an interesting juxtaposition against the linearity of Kawara’s works. 

However, the exhibit is marred by one mistake – despite its linear nature, there is no clear end to the exhibit.  Once viewers reach the end of the exhibit corridor, they are forced to turn around and walk back down, which breaks the immersion.  There should have been a clear signifier at the end of the exhibit such as an elevator leading viewers back down to the lobby.  Last year’s Zero exhibit executed this very well by leading the viewers to a hall of installation pieces as the grand finale, after which viewers will ride the elevator back down to the lobby.  While not a deal breaker for the scope of Kawara’s conceptual art, the abrupt end to the exhibit creates a distraction to otherwise exceptional exhibition.   

Curation: Transmute (2015)

Curator Isaac Kim
10/19 – 10/31/2015
Pratt Institute Steuben Gallery
200 Willoughby Ave, Brooklyn, NY, 11205

verb trans·mute \tran(t)s-ˈmyüt, tranz-\
: to change the form, appearance, or nature of (someone or something)

Curator Isaac Kim and co-curator Alexandra Price curate “Transmute” to be held at Pratt Institute’s Steuben Gallery between the dates of October 19th and 31st. The goal of the show is to communicate to the viewer that there is more to mentality and physicality than what’s visible to the human eyes or what can be imagined through what we already know by offering different viewpoints or imagery about the human mind and physical being. Artists participating in the show are Hannah Berry, Garrett Hobba, Isaac Kim, So Yoon Kim, Alana MacDougall, Djavan Nascimento, Allison Yano, Jiang Ye, and Soo Yun.

Hannah Berry
8 x 11 inches each
Intaglio and chine colle

In this work I am questioning preconceptions of the body. I am interested in how we are compelled to disguise our natural image with a fabricated facade of clothing, and how we commonly define ourselves and others through the clothing worn, whether by choice or societal pressures.

Garrett Hobba
The Man Who Heals Himself
22 x 27 inches

The thing happens (whichever thing you’ve striving to achieve) when you realize the futility of trying to make it happen. All you are is part of the process. Experimentation, artistic creation is an unfolding, and intuitive letting go of self, and act of embracing emptiness. After the fact, after one stops to reflect on what has happened, and looks at the record of the unfolding, then there might be a surprise, as if an inner face has revealed itself, something long lost or forgotten, from another world. That is the unknown making itself known, an assurance that we’re not alone in this baffling existence.

Isaac Kim
42 x 96 inches
Pen on BFK Rives

I take the turbulent natural phenomenon of the maelstrom and turn it into a repetitive labor intensive mark-making process to visually explore the randomness and shapelessness of mental states.  The textural and topographic otherworldly atmospheres that arise from the parallel between imagery and process prompt viewers to interpret the dreamscape through their own cognitive construct. Recently I have been utilizing patterns that arise from the different ways I hold my media and move my arms, with which I have been experimenting with in creating deliberate fusions of physiology, psychology, and nature.

So Yoon Kim
42 x 54 inches
Oil on canvas

The uncanny nature of memory recollection is embodied in my work through the dismemberment of the human figure and placing the fragments in a non-figurative environment. My work extends beyond a specific narrative to represent collective experiences of the human psyche. By doing so, what was subconscious becomes conscious without the clarity.

Alana MacDougall
Tension Ladder
Variable dimensions
Ceramic, rope, and hardware

Drawing on my own experiences with the medical system, my sculptures discuss the fragility and vulnerability of the human body. The intersection of organic and industrial materials speak to medical intervention – an invading and manipulation of the body by something foreign. Invented systems are pulled taut and threaten the organic forms they suspend.

Djavan Nascimento
Blue Light Yellow Light I
22 x 30 inches

My work deals abstractly with issues of light, space, and color. I work in silkscreen, using a process where elements of chance and loss of control leave their traces in the imagery. I am interested in dualities like Present vs absent, geometry vs gesture, present vs past, and treading in the ambiguous spaces where opposing forces meet.

Allison Yano
The Greeter
37 x 50 inches
Colored pencil, acrylic paint, mylar, acetate, and collage on paper

I am interested in hybridity and ambiguity as defined through three specific relationships: multiracial and multicultural encounters; analog and digital mediums; and historic and futuristic imagery. Drawing inspiration from the overlapping areas between these connections, I seek to portray a fantastical past-future on the brink of emergence, or that is vanishing amidst a sea of visual information.

Jiang Ye
Balloons #1
36 x 36 inches
Oil on canvas

I am always interested in different objects. They have multiple meanings and never tell lies. When I paint objects, I don’t want to show the specific images of them. What I want is to convey the strongest sense of it. So always they look familiar but also really like something else. Between the feelings of obvious and uncertain, audiences can participate into the thinking of the objects and feel the strong sense of them.

Soo Yun
A Perverted Story #2
39.4 x 16.1 x 19.7 inches
Epoxy, animal toys, dolls, and acrylic colors

A Perverted Story #3
4.7 x 5.3 x 5.1 inches
Epoxy, toys, and acrylic colors

I try to reel off narratives with my imagination relating the sense of deficiency from farewell, oppression, and abandonment. I destroy and recreate some symbolic objects regarding the childhood. This behavior implies not merely a fun, but hints the complex boundary related to violence, human’s perverted ecstasy, brutal daydreaming, indoctrinated morality and education, and the duality of human nature.