Artistic Integrity and Dignity vs. Practicality and Survival

Popular tech-savvy novelist Kim Young-ha quits Twitter and blogging after a series of controversial online debates with literary critic Cho Young-il.






The debate centered around the systemic problems in Korea’s literary scene and the tragic death of aspiring screenwriter Choi Go-eun, Kim’s former student at Korea National University of Arts (KNUA).

Kim on Monday closed his Twitter account, which had more than 30,000 followers. On his blog (, Kim posted an apology to Cho and his late student Choi, announcing he will no longer be writing online.

“When I started this blog and Twitter a year ago, I had a certain hope that I would be able to communicate with people outside my room,” Kim wrote in his last blog entry.

But I should’ve known that I am not someone who is capable of such interaction … I will now take care of my immature ego and dark desires in isolation.”

Kim, who has been broadcasting an audio podcast about literature and actively interacting with his readers online, ran into a debate with literary critic Cho early this year.

It began as Kim posted an entry on his blog regarding the result of this year’s “Sinchun Munye,” Korea’s annual literary contest that discovers aspiring writers. It is one of the very few ways to break into the competitive and exclusive literary scene in Korea.

Kim wrote in his entry that what makes someone a writer is “their dignity,” not “the recognition of others,” intending to encourage those who did not win the contest. Cho, who had been critical of the contest and the systemic barriers that prevent young writers from succeeding either financially or artistically, wrote that Kim’s advice is rather impractical and unrealistic.

While Kim suggested an artist is responsible for his own survival ― no matter how harsh the reality is ― Cho claimed that every artist, if necessary, should join some sort of movement to change the current system, to ensure their financial security and fulfill their artistic goals.

The debate continued till the tragic case of aspiring screenwriter Choi Go-eun came to light.

Choi, who graduated from KNUA’s film program in 2007, was found dead last month in her studio in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province, after suffering from hyperthyroidism and financial destitution.

Prior to her death, Choi had put a handwritten note on the door, asking her landlords for leftover rice and kimchi.

In response to Choi’s death, Cho suggested boycotting watching Korean movies for better treatment of screenwriters in the industry, while Kim posted a blog entry stressing his former student did not die of starvation, but mainly of her disease.

Kim also wrote that one should find his own purpose, instead of waiting until the world changes.

To this, author Kim Sa-gwa, another former student of Kim who had attended his class with Choi, replied, “Why do we have to choose between life and art?” and “Just because one fights against the rules of society, it does not mean his artistic drive has died.”

In his last blog entry, Kim expressed his remorse for his late student. “Most importantly, I’d like to ask forgiveness from Go-eun,” he wrote. “I wasn’t a helpful teacher while you were alive. And I’m no help even after you are gone. I am really sorry.”

Call it a bout of reflection and perspective with my old age but this article hit a nerve with me for many reasons. One because it’s applicable to everyone and two, are we ‘sell outs’ just because we go the practical route and forego the ‘indie’ lifestyle of doing ‘artsy’ endeavors for the sake of our passions or couldn’t we do both?  What exactly defines ‘dignity’ and not just the connotations that come with the title? Something to ponder over…

Several examples:

1.  Hyun Bin doing “artsy” films and low key dramas like Worlds Within and Friends vs. Kim Eun Sook’s flashy, bigger than life dramas

2. Moon So Ri- Extremely talented actress who gives Jeon Do Yeon a run for her money in the acting chops trying to go mainstream for “money making purposes” by starring in dramas? Much better suited for the movies, no?

And a few others, who else?


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2 Responses to Artistic Integrity and Dignity vs. Practicality and Survival

  1. blue says:

    I heard about this earlier. Stories like these just make me more pissed about the fat paychecks received by the talentless “Hallyu” stars.

  2. joonni says:

    I read this some time ago but didn’t respond immediately because I had some thoughts in my head but I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to say anything.

    I didn’t don’t but I am going to say it anyway.

    There seems to be two types of problems that are being conflated in the debate.
    1. Who do you produce art/literature for?
    There is the assumption by many artists and critics that art for commercialization is not really art. Artists can’t keep their dignity or integrity. But why is this??? Why can’t art be commercial?
    2. If you do art and want to survive, the art has to be valued monetarily. That means it will be caught up in the capitalist system. So when Cho is asking for change to the system, he is asking a change in the way art is valued. But art, more so than other material things, is evaluated by its history, by its potential, by its creator, etc. These things are even more difficult to evaluate. So how can you institutionalize art?

    Anyway, I don’t know if I am making any sense.

    ARTSY stuff is valued more critically but has less commercial value. FLASHY dramas have more commercial value but less critically. The age old questions of trying to find the middle ground and the artists/writers/actors who are stuck in the middle trying to make a living and pursue their talents. But why is the burden all on them? What about us a consumers of this stuff?

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