|Kim Sun-hyun, a professor at Yonsei University Wonju College of Medicine / Courtesy of Kim Sun-hyun|
Professor believes in 'power of art' to heal people
By Dong Sun-hwa
Messages are woven into every painting. So when a painting captures your eye, you have to listen to your inner voice and work out what this attraction is telling you about your current emotional state. It might be the color or structure that appeals to you, or perhaps it evokes childhood memories. Regardless of the reason, it is a form of self-discovery that can lead to inner peace and a better understanding of yourself.
This is the gist of art therapy, according to Kim Sun-hyun, a professor at Yonsei University Wonju College of Medicine and the president of the World Art Therapy Conference. Kim, who also leads the Korean Trauma Association, is known as a trailblazer in the promotion of art therapy in Korea. Her career spans more than two decades.
|French artist Henri Rousseau's 1897 painting, 'The Sleeping Gypsy,' was used as a cover for Kim Sun-hyun's 2022 book, "The Power of Masterpiece 2." Courtesy of Kim Sun-hyun|
"For instance, French artist Henri Rousseau's 1897 painting, 'The Sleeping Gypsy' ― which features an exhausted gypsy sleeping under the moonlight and a lion musing over her ― delivers a message of encouragement to people, telling them that even a ferocious carnivore hesitates to attack a bone-tired person," Kim said during a recent interview with The Korea Times at her office in central Seoul. "It looks as if it is protecting her from other threats."
Today, most people are well aware of the therapeutic effects of art. But back in the late 1990s, when Kim was a college student majoring in ceramics, hardly anyone was interested in this field.
|Professor Kim Sun-hyun gives a lecture about art therapy at Tsinghua University in China. Courtesy of Kim Sun-hyun|
|Professor Kim Sun-hyun's book "Why Do My Eyes Linger on This Painting?" (2023) / Courtesy of Kim Sun-hyun|
Kim's career hit a turning point in 2006 when she became Korea's first medical professor majoring in art therapy at CHA University Medical School. Knowing that art therapy has still a long way to go in Asia, she established a conference involving Korea, China and Japan and began publishing a series of books for the general public, such as "The Power of Masterpiece" (2015) and "Why Do My Eyes Linger on This Painting?" (2023).
"My books present paintings that actually had some therapeutic effects in clinical settings," Kim explained. "They can help people relieve their stress stemming from love, friendship and work. In fact, people can find comfort and solace just by appreciating them, as artworks can stimulate our brain in a positive way."
|Professor Kim Sun-hyun poses with children who participated in her recent art therapy session. Courtesy of Kim Sun-hyun|
At the same time, she has had a hectic time consulting people who were hit hard by traumatic events and disasters. She gave her helping hand to "comfort women" ― sex slave victims coerced to serve Japanese soldiers during the 1910-45 Japanese occupation period ― the victims of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster that killed 304 people, as well as those who fell into depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In the case of comfort women, they looked powerless and bored when I first met them," Kim said. "They had nothing to do except watch TV. So I connected them to the world of art, hoping they could spend the rest of their lives doing something meaningful and entertaining. I let them draw what they wanted to, and they came up with the paintings reflective of their own experiences and Korea's history."
She added, "I also consulted children who had to stay at their homes over the past few years due to the global health crisis. It is particularly crucial for them to interact with different people in the early stage so that they can improve their social skills and acquire the language. But they could not do so. To make it worse, some of them fell prey to child abuse and neglect because their parents still had to go to their work and make a living. So I thought I had to help them. I listened to their inner voice through their paintings, analyzed their emotional status, and gave them advice."
|Professor Kim Sun-hyun during her art therapy session / Courtesy of Kim Sun-hyun|
When her patients visit her, Kim first suggests they pick a painting they love the most. Then, she asks them the reasons behind their preference, help them explore their inner mind and recommend some paintings that can bring positive energy. Sometimes, she let her patients draw their own paintings or craft artworks.
"There are no side effects associated with art therapy, but it can only be done by those with the appropriate training," Kim stressed.
Kim has a lot of things on her plate these days. However, she dedicates most of her time to writing a book for Korea's MZ generation, which will hit the shelves in April.
"There is a generation gap dividing the MZ generation and the older generation," Kim said. "Besides narrowing this gap, I want to provide comfort to young people who will play a pivotal role in our society in the days ahead."