Today’s art, tomorrow’s technology
The field goes by many names. In the United States, it’s known as “entertainment technology”; in Britain, it’s “creative technology” and the Japanese refer to it as “content technology.”
Many students in the field are smart enough to be lawyers or doctors, but give up the stability of an office job in favor of working on movies, paintings, animated features, computer games, musicals or digital media projects.
The frontiers of culture technology are being pushed forward in Korea in large part by two schools: the Graduate School of Culture Technology at KAIST and the Korean National University of Arts.
The Graduate School of Culture Technology at KAIST
Lee Joon, 34, is a recognized media artist, having been one of the select 17 artists to show their work at an an exhibition held by the Samsung Museum of Art, Leeum. He received his bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering, and industrial design from Seoul National University and earned his master’s in music, science, and technology at Stanford University.
Lee Seon-hee, 23, last year became the youngest person to ever pass the national exam for public administration in a technical post. She skipped middle school, graduated from Daegu Science High School a year early and studied computer science at KAIST. “I want to work for the Ministry of Information and Communication or the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, where I can draw up cultural industry policies,” Ms. Lee said.
They may come from totally different backgrounds, but Mr. Lee and Ms. Lee (no relation) live and work under the same roof ― the Graduate School of Culture Technology at KAIST. They’re not so different from the school itself, which is a congregation of diverse but talented people.
“The 21st-century culture industry needs talented specialists in, for example, arts, science, humanities or sociology, and people who can look at a whole picture without prejudice,” said Wohn Kwang-yun, the chair of the Graduate School of Culture Technology. “That’s why we selected students based on creativity, flexibility and global experience rather than their major or age.”
Twenty-seven of the students have a background in science and technology, 21 with humanities or sociology and 19 with art or design.
The graduate school conducted two rounds of admissions in 2006, once in August and once in November. In August, the competition rate (applicants per seat) was 2.8 for the August round and 4.9 for November ― much higher than for other graduate schools at KAIST. It also showed dramatic growth, considering that the school only opened last year in June.
Lee Eun-young, 32, is a recording artist in a doctorate course at the school. She majored in vocal music at Seoul Art High School, music production & engineering at Berklee College of Music, and music technology at New York University. She released an album, titled “Sound Diary,” under her stage name of ARing in 2004. She did all the work for the album, planning it, composing and performing the songs, and even mixing the tapes. A single from the album was even used in a TV commercial for a cosmetic product.
“I’ve been interested in brain science, robot and digital media,” Ms. Lee said. “I decided to study culture technology in order to do everything multimedia.”
Lee Soo-jin, 27, (no relation) was in charge of planning the exhibition “Robot from Paik Nam June to Hubo,” which opened in January this year at the Gaya Gallery. Currently in a doctorate program, Ms. Lee said that she likes the curriculum because it allows her to work in various fields, including technology, humanities and the arts.
Culture technology’s first footprint in Korea can be found at the Korean National University of Arts, and the school has never lost interest in it.
Hwang Ji-woo, the president of the university, talked about culture technology in his inaugural speech on March 2. “If [information technology] led Korea in the 20th century, [culture technology] will take the lead in the 21st century,” he said, adding that the university should stand on the front line of the change.
The university comprises six departments, including music and drama. Many of the students have abundant experience in their majors and some are prizewinners from competitions both in Korea and abroad.
The university focuses on raising professionals in the fields of film, music and drama, while the graduate school at KAIST is more interested in the industry that melds art with information technology.
“Most classes are centered on practical training, and there are a lot of assignments,” said Kim Seong-min, 27, the student head at the School of Film, TV & Multimedia. “It’s not easy to graduate unless you work hard and sleep only a few hours.”
The university also encourages students to seek firsthand experience. “I stayed up all night yesterday at a shoot for a TV commercial for a cosmetic,” said Kang Se-an, 26, in the multimedia department.
“I have to direct three stage performances in three years, and participate in a professional performance directed by the lecturer at least once [before graduation],” said Kim Hyun-woo, 30, who is studying directing for her master’s at the school of drama.
“The students are sure that they’ll be in this industry for the rest of their lives, so they study nearly 24 hours a day,” said Song Ho-eun, 27, in the formative arts department at the school of visual arts. “That’s probably why more graduates of this school play active roles in the fields of art and culture outside of the school.”
There’s certainly money to be made in the field. The Ministry of Culture & Tourism estimates that culture technology accounted for about 24 percent, or 10 trillion won ($10.5 billion), of the 43 trillion won generated by the cultural industry in 2003.
“The contribution of culture technology to the industry is expected to jump to 20 trillion won by 2010, and to create 90,000 jobs,” said Suh Byoung-moon, president of Korea Culture and Content Agency.
by Lee Na-ree