...as my ideas begin to shift...
A Conversation with
Visual Art Contributor
by Jennifer Fossenbell
BYLR: Let's start in the past. When did you first begin to think you might like to create art? Why did you do it, and has your purpose as an artist changed over time?
Emily Yuan: I started drawing and painting when I was 5, from castles to little girls with triangular dresses. Art was always a hobby of mine, and I’ve continued it throughout my life. Originally, I never thought of creating art as a form a expression and only focused on aesthetics. Only recently after I’ve entered the IB diploma program that I’ve realized the influence from artists on relevant issues in society today. Now, I strive to stimulate viewers of my art by focusing on individual style and significant context that allows people to feel connected.
BYLR: Currently, what would you say is your favorite medium of visual art, and why?
EY: My favorite medium is oil paint, as I feel like I can keep refining and adding paint as my ideas begin to shift.
BYLR: What is one art form you admire but is challenging for you?
EY: Ironically, one art form I believe is extremely challenging for me is sculptures (as I submitted a sculpture piece to BYLR). The 3D representation of ideas is significantly different from 2D, which I am more confident in. I feel that when I am creating sculptures, there is often a lack of presence, and it eventually conforms to other sculptural works, lacking individual style and expression. I am glad to have challenged myself in creating this piece “Center,” as it is one of my first sculptural pieces.
BYLR: We would heartily say it was a successful attempt! And do you have any other creative hobbies?
EY: Even though I do not plan on pursuing studio arts in the future as a job prospect, I am interested in the art business industry. I’m not sure if this qualifies as a hobby, but I am interested in the auction business specifically, and enjoy communicating with small businesses in Beijing to plan charity auctions. In school, I am the founder and leader of a service club, Auction for Change, to fundraise through auctions for the WW2 Veterans in China. This is a small contribution for the community, where I can help veterans and explore my interests in the art business.
BYLR: It's interesting that you have recently begun to explore how art can express more meaning in terms of social issues. Do you consider this kind of work political? What are your other social interests that come through in your artwork recently?
EY: I’m not completely sure whether my work can be considered political, but there are definitely many controversial issues that I have focused on. My last piece of work following “Center” depicts the way Beijing embraces globalization and its transformation, especially during international events, such as the Olympics and the APEC conferences. The construction of the Bird's Nest Stadium is a great representation of this. I was also intrigued by an article depicting the way cultural artifacts, such as the stone lions in traditional courtyards, are being destroyed. To represent this, I created a mixed-media piece where the modern city is merged with traditional courtyards in the framework of the Bird's Nest. The next piece I am planning to create is an oil painting, representing Chinese minorities and their status in China today. My work currently focuses on China and its fast-paced development because, as a student living in Beijing, I experience these topics firsthand.
BYLR: Let's turn to maps, since that was the theme of our first issue. Tell us, how long have you been 'on the map' in Beijing? Do you have a favorite spot to spend time here?
EY: I’ve been living in Beijing for most of my life, but as part of the international school expat community, there’s still a large part of Beijing I have yet to explore. My favorite spot to spend time with friends is the Houhai area and Blue Note; another place I frequently visit is the Beijing Planetarium to see the star maps (as I’ve always been fascinated by stars).
BYLR: What you said about the international school community in Beijing is actually relevant to our theme for Issue 2, which is "Pockets." Do you view that community as a pocket? Do you live inside it or outside it? Is Beijing a different city, depending on which 'pocket' you occupy?
EY: With a fully Beijinger family and growing up with a more international community, I am very lucky to be able to have access to both inside and outside of the “pocket.” I do agree that the Beijing experience can be very different depending on the area. Beijing is a huge city, and as weird it may seems after living here for most my life, I must admit that Shjingshan area almost sounds like another city and I’ve never been to Fengtai district. Perhaps it’s the luxury of knowing I do have access to the “pocket” that is limiting my Beijing experience. I hope to express this in my art in the future but also embrace the fact that I can interact with both local and international communities in Beijing.
BYLR: And do you feel yourself to be part of any artistic pockets as well?
EY: As a student, I feel it is difficult to fully be a part of artistic communities. But I’ve reached out to a diverse range of artists in Beijing through things like seeking a summer internship, researching my Extended Essay, and organizing the veterans charity auction. From painters to photographers, gallery business owners to digital art curators... they all have their own passions and aspirations, and the influence they can have inspires me to pursue my own passion.
BYLR: What is your favorite place outside of Beijing?
I’ve travelled to many different countries and cities outside of Beijing, from London to New York, and Hong Kong to Singapore. I believe every place is special in its own way and all have their own prominent art community. I know this sounds cliché, but I’m sure I would love it anywhere I decide to go after graduation.
BYLR: What are your plans for the future, then? Do you have a dream university that you hope to attend?
EY: I am planning to study economics and art history at university to have a balance between the art and business world. Because of my interests in business, I am not planning on applying to art colleges but to pursue an MBA degree. My dream university does seem ambitious (Yale) but they have one of the best economics and art history program in the U.S. I am considering other countries too, and also open to new options and programs that I am discovering along with my college research.
BYLR: So in the end, how do you see the importance of art in your own life, especially as you look forward beyond high school?
EY: Even though I do not plan to become an artist in the future, I find creating art, painting especially, to be extremely relaxing. It is something I’ve always done and hope to continue in the future no matter how busy I will be. Even during the extremely stressful IB life in school, painting allows me to separate myself for a few hours and not think about all the work I have. I believe that this form of relaxation is beneficial to leading a balanced life with all my responsibilities.
BYLR: Thinking about the visual arts vs. the literary arts, one of the key differences is, of course, the use of language. How has your study of English (or any other languages) changed your path in life? Do you think study of a foreign language brings the world closer to you, or does it pull you farther away from your roots, or both?
EY: Even though Chinese is my first language, English is used more in my life at school and with friends. Other than Chinese and English, I’m currently also studying French as a third language. I believe that language is the key to knowledge and culture, and the languages I learn can allow me to connect with a more diverse group of people.
BYLR: Does visual art transcend the need for translation?
EY: I believe that translation is not necessary to understand a piece of artwork because the visual language is sufficient in expressing ideas. However, the cultural significance and context according to the artist’s intention needs to be studied, and language does take a part when studying art. This is one of the reasons why I chose to study French, as I believe it will give me insight into the history of the arts.
BYLR: That's a worthy goal - good luck! And a final 'wild card' of a question our theme of maps... If you were your own country, what would you be called? What can you tell us about that place?
This questions is super difficult for me to answer. But I believe that my country would probably be named after me and would naturally become a dictatorship. (: Although I have no idea where in the world my country would be located, I hope the borders would be undefined because there are no cultures I completely belong to, and being confined to a single region would be restricting for me.
BYLR: That sounds like a fascinating country we'd like to visit (as long as that dictator is a benevolent one)! Thank you so much for your time, Emily, and for contributing your powerful sculpture 'Center' to our first issue of BYLR (notice we placed it right in the center). Best of luck in your future goals!
- Interview over email, April 20-24, 2017
NOTE: Emily Yuan's surname appeared incorrectly as 'Wang' in the print edition of Issue 1.
We apologize for the error.