Connecting with People through Calligraphy
Calligraphy for me has opened, quite literally, another world.
Reading time: 4 minutes 30 seconds.
I remember the words of my father when I was little: a good student should write well and the written word has more power than good grades. This is how my interest in the writing form began. I have studied and done calligraphy now for 34 years, and if someone were to ask what calligraphy means for me, I would answer quite simply that calligraphy is my life.
Calligraphy for me has opened, quite literally, another world. That is, the possibility to travel and meet people from other countries. Teaching calligraphy has become a medium of communication and connection for me. Art, of course, always communicates something, whether it be the unconscious nature of humans or political dissent. But for me, calligraphy means the ability to share conversations with people that cross cultures and countries.
I never expected to meet such kindness when I was lost in another country, knowing no one, whether it be in Hanoi or Jakarta. When I tell people I am a calligrapher, they would show immediate interest. Once, when I got lost, a kind woman helped me, and, as thanks, I suggested getting a beer. As we were drinking, I realized her face was puffy. She had just come from the dentist! These banal encounters leave me with precious memories.
I think the opportunity that was given to me through the work I am doing has to be seen in perspective. I have seen many artists who could not afford to follow their dreams, and their personalities being crushed under societal pressure. At one point, I too only wanted to make a name for myself and earn enough money to live comfortably. I worked hard until the early morning hours and my fingers were stained black with ink. In the Joseon dynasty, the classical scholars spent their lives studying and philosophizing to gain strength in mind and heart. In the same way, I think the skill of an artist should be our driving force. But living in the metropole of South Korea, between concrete blocks without good air and little nature, can be suffocating.
For a long time, I wondered how I could live more naturally and freely. I ventured from traditional to commercial calligraphy, where I can experiment with various writing styles. Later I realized that I am not bound by the city and decided to teach calligraphy abroad. When I travel, I carry my 20 or 24 kg backpack, filled not with clothes, but with brushes, inkstones, and other calligraphy tools. Maybe I should also call myself lucky to work in an era when Korean culture is receiving more and more popularity abroad. I would not be able to go to Japan, Australia or Singapore if my skills were not wanted by cultural centers and universities. Although teaching big groups is a reflection that many people are interested in calligraphy, I equally like teaching just one or two people, because it allows me to have more meaningful conversations. Sometimes, the meetings result in me working together with other artists. For example, I was able to create a performance piece together with a Taiwanese dancer, who I met while traveling in Tainan. The synergy from dance and calligraphy, resulted in a much more powerful performance.
Of course, as I get older traveling like before, with a rucksack on my back, will become less of a possibility. But during Covid-19, I learned that I can also meet and teach people through video software. I hope to continue communicating with people because nothing is more meaningful than connecting with other people and maintaining friendships for many years, and I am able to do that thanks to calligraphy. My life and writing are inseparable. Nothing makes me happier than if I can share some of the joy I feel while writing with others.
 seonbi or classical scholars of the Goryeo and Joseon dynasty committed their whole lives to their studie. They believed that enlightenment could be attained through education and they sought to find solutions to social problems with the wisdom gained.
 Tainan is a city in the south-western tip of Taiwan.
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