Why Art Matters, Even in Poverty and Cold.
Now my area where I live has started to get cold. The temperature will stay below freezing for almost a week. When it's cold as a refrigerator, we are lazy to go outside, and everything goes into slow motion. Hearing the harsh cold wind's sound, we gather in front of the warm fireplace to read a book or spend time.
Three people come to my mind when cold wave days continue. They are the painters Modigliani and Lee Jung-seop, and the musician Mozart. Because these three artists had in common, they had genius talent, but they had to fight hard with poverty. However, they were also artists who struggled to overcome hard times with the Fiangsae by continuing to draw and compose despite poverty and cold. For example, a famous anecdote is that Mozart danced to music with his wife Constanze to create warmth when he was shivering in the cold because they had not enough money to buy firewoods.
The cold is the greatest enemy for a poor artist and obstacles for pursuing art. Frankly speaking, it is tough to make a living only by painting and selling. Online platforms and networks were not as actively developed as in modern Centuries, and technology, material resources, and infrastructures were not abundant. The artist must have been a hard job, poor, sickly, and without any future promises even compared to other professions. As such artists, Modigliani and Lee Jung-seop had very similar life patterns.
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. His painting style is known for portraits and nudes in a modern style characterized by a surreal elongation of faces, necks, and figures.
In particular, he painted mainly female portraits and nudes and did not paint the pupils in the eyes usually. He believed that since the eyes are the windows to the soul, he can't paint pupils until he knows the other person's soul. He was sickly, charming, hard-working but disapproved as a successful artist. When he struggled to exhibit, he had to be stopped by the police, who took issue with the nudity. In 1907, artists conducted various artistic experiments called the Renaissance period of painters in Paris. He suffered difficulties in his painting style not being recognized even in the hometown of artists, where such attempts and experimental spirits had received sufficient popularity and support. Then, after he met Rodin's student, the sculptor Constantin Brancusi, and started sculpting together, creating his art style. But he had to stop the sculpture even though he can expand his art world because he got worse his pulmonary disease from the fine dust.
Afterward, he met Jeanne Hébuterne, a fiancée, gave birth to a child and seemed to be living a happy life. Still, he could not create an average family due to continued poverty, and continuous failures, and chronic illness. Eventually, he contracted tuberculous pleurisy and died lonely at 34 in a nursing hospital in Paris. His wife, too, unable to overcome the feeling of despair and depression of losing him two days after his death, committed suicide by jumping into her body when she was eight months pregnant. He had, in a word, a miserable life. However, his struggle, passion, soul, and talent, along with a rather tragic story, receive the recognition and rewards he desperately wanted to achieve after his death.
Like Modigliani, born into a wealthy Jewish family, Korean artist Lee Jung-seop was born in Pyongyang in 1916 to a landlord and had a happy and abundant childhood. As most rich sons had always done, he went to Japan to study in 1936 to upgrade his artistic talents. During studying abroad, he painted many intense and propaganda paintings on the theme of the bull, which symbolically expresses the most Korean and national spirit of resistance in resisting the oppression and violence of Japan under the colony. And he married Nam-deok Lee, who was Japanese but changed her nationality to Korea and, returned to Korea. However, the Korean War in 1950 destroyed the blueprint for the future he had dreamed of upon returning to Korea instantly. Far from his artistic success and work, he was tossed to and fro by the barrage of war, poverty, and despair. During a brief evacuation to Jeju Island, he lived happily with his wife, Nam-Duk Lee, and two sons.
However, even during the war, he painted hard without putting down his brush. Still, in the end, he had no money to buy painting materials, so he suffered from extreme hardships to the point of painting on the silver foil of a cigarette case. In 1952, his wife and their two sons moved to Japan eventually. Left alone, Lee Jung-seop died of hepatitis in 1956 at the age of 41 at Seodaemun Red Cross Hospital in Seoul. When his friends inquired him regards, they could find that they already have only a corpse and an overdue hospital bill. But, after his death, the spirit of resistance and love, and passion for art that represented his era were recognized through the works he left behind.
In that sense, even looking at Modigliani and Lee Jung-seop, cold, poverty, war, and plague do not seem strong enough to stop the art for the artist. Rather, they overcome this painful time by raising the brush. Realistically, it might have been better to put down the brush and go to look for a regular job. Art makes artists poor, but paradoxically, it is also the driving force that makes them overcome poverty and cold.
Art is the kind of expression of the essence of human life. Therefore, it is about co-creating your life with the world and describing your soul how to feel and think your way.
Considering the nature and function of art, it is worth noting that he accepted his life itself as art and fully expressed what he felt and thought in painting. In other words, in the life of an artist, expressions such as success or failure, poverty or wealth, recognition or disregard are meaningless. Because life and art can never be thought of separately, it is like calling a painting that does not contain the artist's life process work and does not attach any value to it. Modigliani and Lee Jung-seop both lived miserable lives, but that is art itself, and they lived and lived in the middle of art, and they live with us forever.
It would be good to draw a picture or appreciate them while remembering their spirit at this time when they are shivering with the cold.
Myungja Anna Koh