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Overcoming challenges through art

BYUH student says answers will come in moving forward, just as progress happens when painting

Ya Yun Lin with her canvas and painting materials.
Photo by Sugarmaa Bataa

Ya Yun Lin, the first-place winner of the Kula Manu’s art division, said her confidence to submit her art to the journal’s competition didn’t come as instantly as it seemed. After studying as a visual art student at BYU–Hawaii for nearly four years, she said she gradually felt more secure displaying some of her art to the public in her senior year.

Lin grew up with her family in Taiwan and said she has loved drawing since she was 12 years old. She said she wanted to draw on the wall and paper at any time, and as soon as she recognized her passion for art, she said knew she needed to focus on painting in her education. Instead of going to a regular high school, she said she decided to attend a professional art school in Taiwan and take her passion to another level.

Lin said the decision she made during her early years raised several questions among those she met and even her closest relatives such as, “What do you want to do in your life with your art? Is there any future career for you?”

She said many people tried to convince her to change her direction because they thought her future career would not be stable.

During these challenging stages of her life, she said the younger version of her could easily be overwhelmed by the negative opinions from people. Lin recalled she would easily lose her desire to paint when she compared her artwork to her peers. She said she felt inadequate and didn’t measure up with the other 50 students in her class.

“I felt I had lost my interest back then. I lost my confidence and I didn’t know why I was there,” said Lin about that time in her life.

Moving forward

Despite the discouragement she received from others, Lin said she moved forward and continued to learn more about the art of painting at BYUH. Because of her past experiences, she said she sometimes felt insecure about how people interpreted her art.

Although the feeling of insecurity still comes and goes, Lin explained she strived to change her point of view and be more selective in her reactions to people’s responses. “Now I listen to my professors the most,” she shared. “I need to humble myself because sometimes I won’t know what problems I have until someone tells me. That’s why I need to follow what my professor tells me to improve.”

As she became more mature in her experiences, Lin said her attitude toward competition changed, and as she improved her skills, the feelings of insecurity started to dissolve. She said she no longer sees competition as a damaging experience, but instead she sees it as an exciting challenge to accept. She said through the learning experiences she had at BYUH, she was able to see everyone has the same opportunity to grow.

Ya Yun Lin’s masterpiece self-portrait titled “Who am I?”
Photo by Sugarmaa Bataa

Accepting new challenges

In her last year of college, Lin said she opened up to participating in more competitions and exhibitions. The first competition she participated in was BYUH’s on-campus literary journal, the Kula Manu, and she won first place.

She submitted one of her masterpiece self-portraits that was inspired by Zin Lim, an artist and instructor from Korea who pursued his art education in the United States. She named the painting “Who am I?,” which she said answers an overarching question she has had in her life. Lin said the painting depicts herself at a point in her life when she felt like she was stuck somewhere and not sure where to go.

Lin said she learned that answers will come as people move forward, just like how she made progress in painting. She said she found joy when she received a reward for her first oil painting from the Kula Manu. She would not have experienced this feeling if she had given up on her passion for painting, Lin said.

Progressing with more practice

Her confidence continued to grow after being placed in this competition and as she makes more and more paintings, she said. During the final project, for the Bachelor’s of Fine Art Show, she was able to make 50 other small portraits of her friends. She said it enabled her to be more familiar with the pattern of painting people’s portraits. Lin said, “I felt touched by the people’s reactions and excitement when they saw their self-portraits I painted. They said they felt they matter.” As an introverted person, she said she finally found a more intimate connection with people by painting their portraits. Lin said she felt accomplished when people could feel the joy that she portrayed in her painting.

Zhiyun Zhang, a friend of Lin majoring in visual arts from Taiwan, said doing oil painting is really time consuming because it takes a long time to dry and layer. Zhang said regarding Lin’s dedication to her artwork, “I can see Lin has a lot of patience in her personality because most of her paintings take a month to finish, and she always completes it.” Zhang said she was able to witness Lin’s effort when she created the 50 portraits for the BFA exhibit, from the time she made the chart for people to sign up for modeling until the final display of her work.

Artist stands besides some of the 50 smaller portraits she painted of people at BYU-Hawaii for her art show. The portraits have colorful backgrounds and are close-up of each women's face.
The artist talks about the 50 small portraits she painted for the art show.
Photo by Uurtsaikh Nyamdeleg

Jeff Merrill, an associate professor in the Faculty of Arts & Letters, said, “[Lin has] always been one of the most joyful students to teach. She is really eager to learn, and if you give her critique, she never gets discouraged. Even if it’s hard, she’ll laugh and go for it.”

Merrill said her progress partially comes from her humility in learning, and he said that’s the mentality every artist should have.

Merrill continued, “There is a barrier between amateur work and professional work. Because she was willing to put in the time and effort and do a lot of work, I think that propelled her past the [barrier]. She’s in the realm of professionalism now. I would just congratulate her and let her know what a great job she’s done.”