UW–Madison’s Lee discusses his art, experience as an immigrant in The Great Discontent interview

UW–Madison’s Taekyeom Lee, an assistant professor of graphic design in the School of Education’s Art Department, was interviewed last month by The Great Discontent (TGD), a media company “committed to telling the untold stories of today’s artists, makers, and risk takers.” In the interview Lee speaks about his experience as an immigrant, his goals as an artist and educator, and his history with disability.

Lee (right) working with a UW–Madison student

Lee was born in South Korea, and came to the U.S. as an international graduate student. Speaking about how he landed in the Midwest, Lee says he was admitted to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he earned his master of fine arts degree.

“Right now, I’m teaching at University of Wisconsin–Madison,” Lee says. “I applied to this school (as a grad student); I didn’t get admission. I like to tell my students this story because, okay, I’m here, I’m teaching you right now, but it wasn’t just one shot from the beginning to the end. Life is not just full of success stories but many ups and downs. You have to deal with the challenges, difficult situations, and learn how to navigate them.”

Lee adds: “There’s an English term I really like: trajectory. It may seem I’m just going upward. But when you zoom in, it is always up and down. The most important thing is to keep pushing in the direction you want to move toward.”

Much of Lee’s work combines different art forms and mediums to create something new. His experience with sculpture influences his graphic design experimentation, for example. Lee also explores the use of different senses, recognizing society’s reliance on sight, especially with art. 

A retinal detachment that Lee suffered as a graduate student where he had to endure a three-month long, face-down recovery has inspired this work.

“Quite a lot of people have an invisible disability, we just don’t know,” Lee tells TGD. “It can be permanent, it can be temporary. It can be mild, it can be severe. But there are all different types — there’s a spectrum of accessibility and disability. I want to teach these things to my students, how to embrace it, experience it so they can design for a better future.”

“And what design really truly is,” Lee concludes, “is an attitude.”

Read the full TGD feature on Lee (featuring photos by Art Department alum Annika Carter), or learn more about the Graphic Design for Accessibility course he is spearheading at UW–Madison.

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