2023 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Adult second place

Title: Unraveling the Meanings and Symbolism in Art

What is art? In what ways does art influence and shape our perception of reality? Kim Jung-Hyuk’s “The Glass Shield” explores how our imaginative capacity for unconventional fun dwindles as we age. The creativity that motivates M and the Narrator to extend their yarn across subway cars stems from childlike curiosity and excitement that society suppresses due to its novelty. Despite the seemingly harmless nature of their yarn unraveling, a train employee confiscates it due to a bomb scare caused by other passengers' fear. The society offers no place for those who deviate from the norm unless art comes into play. Art provides a refuge for creativity, an asylum for imagination, and the salvation of M and the Narrator's livelihoods. However, it also serves as a double-edged sword and transparent shield that cannot entirely block reality from view.

Art is a manifestation of an artist's emotions and perspective. Although we might not fully grasp the significance of red and blue yarn on a green background, “It was like an artist's painting, like the landscape of heart” (189), it does not mean we cannot find our meaning in it. The story implies that the value of art lies in its capacity to be shared. By connecting with individuals who interpret the same piece in varying ways based on their personal experiences, art can bring together a diverse group of people and create a community through a single object's relatability. However, the issue arises with society's demand for comprehension. This is exemplified by the existence of the Professional Art Reporter, whose role is to decode art and present it in an easily digestible format. Paradoxically, even professionals do not truly comprehend art. Although the photo shoot is intended to represent freedom, the professional and photographer seek to recreate the subway scene with the yarn, revealing their lack of imagination to see the potential freedom in a childlike sword fight. They can only appreciate it in hindsight.

“The Glass Shield” is a short story about two characters, M and the Narrator. The storyline follows these two as they navigate through mutual life experiences. M and the Narrator have a familial relationship despite not being related by blood. These two are inseparable. They live together, attend interviews together, and support each other despite their failures and society's misunderstanding. Companies hiring only for one position will either try and convince them otherwise or decline the offer. Their friendship goes beyond a “typical” friendship such as a platonic relationship. This sentiment is indicated when the Narrator says, “We were once asked if we were homosexual” (187). This statement only further shows their friendship is seen as loving and endearing to the public eye. It is unclear how long they have known each other. In the story, they are 27 years old. Their friendship embodies the strength and resilience of interpersonal relationships while representing two different ways of living that struggle to reconcile. M and the Narrator almost seem like two sides of the same coin, with the former living impulsively while the latter is pragmatic and worried about societal judgment. Although they have collaborated on interviews and encouraged “fail-aholics,” their relationship is not meant to last, as they are both falling behind in society. Riding the subway circle line is a metaphor for their circular approach to interviews that is not making progress.

Art acts as a catalyst for transformation, leading to a significant turning point. Similarly to the process of unraveling yarn, the more time the Narrator and M spend on artistic pursuits and perfecting their interview techniques, the further apart they drift. Nevertheless, the string still connects them, and the tension keeps them united. However, unlike the subway's circular path, the bus journey takes a toll and turns fun art into tedious work, causing the Narrator to recognize that their paths diverge. The loss of fun creates a decisive turning point, forcing them to take different paths as the adult and child grow apart without even realizing it. “The Glass Shield” portrays the journey from childhood to adulthood, and despite the shield being made of plastic, it is as delicate as glass. Art serves only as a temporary haven against harsh reality until it inevitably breaks down.

Finally, in “The Glass Shield,” Kim Jung-Hyuk explores the significance of art as a refuge for creativity and imagination. As we age, our imaginative capacity for unconventional fun diminishes, but art provides a temporary escape from societal norms and expectations. However, the value of art lies not only in its ability to offer condolence but also in its capacity to connect people with varying interpretations. The story follows M's and the narrator's inseparable friendship, representing two different ways of living while struggling to reconcile. Art becomes a catalyst for transformation and leads to a decisive turning point. Moreover, as the two characters age, they unconsciously select separate paths due to a decrease in enjoyment. “The Glass Shield'' highlights the fragility of childhood innocence and the role of art in providing a refuge for creativity against the harsh realities of adulthood.