What makes an artist?

By Shim Woo-hyun
  • Published : Jul 17, 2019 - 17:28
  • Updated : Jul 17, 2019 - 17:34

A large drawing stretches from one end of the wall to the other, depicting accidents at construction sites in the upper half and several vehicles lined up in the lower half. In the space in between, letters and numbers relay information on the accidents.

The 10-meter wide drawing, “Accident,” by Byun Yoo-bin is part of “The Eyes of Astonishing Artists” running at the Seoul National University Museum of Art’s exhibition.

“Lightning Bolt” (2016) by Byun Yoo-Bin (Seoul National University Museum of Art)
“Accident,” by Byun Yoo-bin (Seoul National University Museum of Art)

“Byun drew the work in a month period. He used various images of accidents at construction sites that he saw on TV. The letters and numbers tell the amounts of insurance paid in the accident, the day’s weather, the number of casualties and so on,” the exhibition’s curator Moon Han-al said during a press conference on Monday.

Unless pointed out, it would be difficult to tell that the work was created by an amateur artist. There is also no sign saying that Byun was just 15 when he drew it in 2017, or that he has a developmental disability.

“The museum wanted to pose questions about the ambiguous boundary that separates professional and amateur artists. We hope the exhibition makes visitors think once more about the stereotypes they have about artists, as well as criteria that we often use when talking about them,” Moon said.

A total of 76 pieces by 30 amateur artists are on display at the exhibition.

The participating artists are aged from 6 to 90, and none of them had any formal art training.

“Born in 1929, Ryu Hae-yoon, has run a real estate business and a dry cleaner’s shop all his life. It was in his early 70s that he started to paint. Without proper art training, he just painted and painted, creating some 3,000 paintings in the last two decade,” Moon said.

“Landscape Painting” (2019) by Ryu Hae-yoon (Seoul National University Museum of Art)

“He paints things at hand. He sometimes takes scenes from advertisements in magazines or paints subjects you often find in Korea’s traditional folk paintings, such as peonies and carp,” Moon explained.

Among the exhibitors are three pairs of artists, each with one visually impaired and one with normal eyesight, who walked through Bukchon in Jongno-gu, Seoul, and later painted what they “saw” using dots and lines in different colors.

“With dots and lines, the pairs tried to map their walks in Bukchon area, visualizing the physical experience and sensorial memories they had during the walks,” Moon explained.

"Map of Bukchon 2. Mr. Haebong's Doggy, 'Maru'" (2012) by Park Hyuk and Hwang Joo-hwan (Seoul National University Museum of Art)

“The Eyes of Astonishing Artists” runs through Aug. 18 at the Seoul National University Museum of Art’s Core Gallery.

By Shim Woo-hyun (