Dahee Kim: A New Instructor with Unique Perspectives
By: Emma Keinath-Lopez
April 11, 2023
Dahee Kim, “김다희” in Korean, taught the very first ceramics class I took at the Art Association of Jackson Hole. She uses a method called “throwing off the hump” which basically means you start with a large amount of clay and make your piece on top of that large mound. This technique is relatively uncommon, as many people typically throw their clay directly on the wheel. “Throwing off the hump” can be daunting at first, especially for newbies, but I felt comfortable under Kim’s direction. Even though Kim is a new teacher, she navigates the wheel with expert authority, and clearly has experience directing novices like myself. Dahee Kim’s journey to the Art Association and her passion for teaching the arts is as unique and inspiring as her craft.
Kim grew up in South Korea before moving to the states soon after college. The years of her youth were very formative of her identity as a multi-medium artist. She has been creating art ever since she could hold a pencil. Her parents were very supportive of her artistic exploration which helped tremendously in her journey. Kim says that a big inspiration for her work was her father, a lover of art himself. Her father loved Bob Ross, and they would watch his videos over and over again together.
Kim recalls a story her mom told her when she was just two years old, “I would spend four or five hours drawing and be so happy. My mom told me that I once cut my finger with scissors and didn’t notice at all and continued drawing for hours.” Some might say Kim became lost in this world of artistic expression, but she was very much found. This feeling of happiness that Kim describes is still the main driving force behind her work today.
In psychology, this “zone” that Kim enters when she creates art could be described as a “flow state.” In Flow: The Psychology of Happiness, Hungarian-American scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines this state as, “Concentration is so intense that no attention is left over to think about anything irrelevant or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted.” The benefits of working in this state include deep concentration, pursuing meaningful work, and overall elation. Many artists experience this state of mind, as creation is a powerful mechanism to inspire one to be present in the task at hand.
Kim always knew that creating art felt right, but during her adolescent years, she thought she wanted to pursue being a lawyer. When her high school art teacher strongly suggested that she pursue an art major in college, Kim realigned her priorities with her passions. When it came time to take one of the most important pre-college tests in South Korea, the CSAT (College Scholastic Ability Test), she studied hard so that she could get into a good college to continue her studies. Kim describes this test as one of the most intensive and stressful experiences for South Korean students. They spend years preparing for this one test that determines whether they will be able to get into a university. There are great lengths taken to ensure students pass this exam. Planes do not land or take off during the exam, vehicles stay clear of roads to ensure students can make it on time, parents pray, and police escort students to their testing sites. Since Kim was entering college as an art major, she stayed after school to prepare for a painting skills test in addition to the main university test.
Kim passed these stressful tests and in 2009 enrolled herself at Seoul National University of Technology and Science majoring in Ceramic Design. Here she learned how to throw off the hump, plaster molding, hand building, and computer design. She blended her love of ceramics and drawing by creating painted designs on her ceramics pieces. Kim started to develop her own artistic style which she describes as delicate patterns. “Recently, I love to make pieces inspired from lace patterns, especially from nature like grapes, leaves, fruits, etc. I am passionate about making more detailed decorations on my ceramic art pieces.” While in college, she also pursued studies in education, and says, “I wanted to be the professor. I always wanted to teach and taught part time while in college.”
Kim graduated in 2014 and soon married her husband Chris. After two years in South Korea, they moved to the United States. Her focus on ceramics was put on pause as she dealt with health issues in her family, followed by being a new mother.
Today, Kim teaches ceramics classes at the Art Association of Jackson Hole. She has found a place to dive back into teaching, and says that she is so excited about this new endeavor. Kim explains how art education is incredibly important for youth, “Art education helps kids’ minds, and gives them a sense of achievement. They are proud of producing things for themselves. Their imagination is just amazing!”
When I was throwing off the hump in Kim’s class for the first time, I told her that I was pretty bad at ceramics. She insisted that I was not, and to keep practicing at it. Kim emphasizes that there is no “bad” art. She says, “Picasso is a great artist, but to some people his work looks terrible. What you express – that’s what matters. There will always be some people who will like it.”
Dahee Kim explains that since moving to Jackson, she has been exploring new styles of art. Kim tries to make pieces that people will like because she understands the reality behind creating art for a living. She says, “I struggle with the choice of making something I love or making something other people will love. I feel like I need to put the “Jackson theme” in my pieces for people to buy them and notice my artwork. It’s sometimes hard to be inspired by making things that you don’t love.” It is true that a ceramic bowl with a fox on it would sell pretty fast here in the popular mountain town of Jackson. This conundrum plagues many artists who make a living off of selling their art. Many must weigh popular opinion with their own vision.
Kim understands the styles that are popular in Jackson, but still pursues styles of her own as well. The balance of following one’s own artistic passions with the mindset of creating a profitable business is key for artists. Kim has experienced a life an ocean away from Jackson, and people would greatly benefit from her unique artistic expression. These are the types of experiences that bridge worlds and spread new ideas. Even though Kim might be shifting her style a bit as she adjusts to new clients in Jackson, she says that it’s important to be open to new styles and ideas because otherwise you may isolate yourself and limit your ability to grow. It’s a balance on both ends of expanding yourself while also sharing and nurturing your own artistic style and experience.
Dahee Kim’s artistic impact on the community of Jackson is growing day by day. The Art Association is incredibly thankful to have her teaching various ceramics classes in our studios and sharing her unique techniques with students of all ages. Outside of the Art Association, Dahee Kim works in her home studio on ceramics, drawings, and paintings – oftentimes producing work for private clients. Kim shares that she is also working with Teton County on their initiative Road to Zero Waste (R2ZW) Public Art Program. She was selected to create an art installation in the town of Jackson, where she will use recycled clay and crushed glass bottles as a glaze in a large public art display. Kim is excited about this opportunity to implement her art in Jackson as well as partnering with this positive initiative.
Every road an artist takes is different from the next, and we are fortunate that Dahee Kim’s road includes a stop at the Art Association of Jackson Hole. If you are interested in exploring new ways to create art, take one of Kim’s ceramics classes and explore all of the wonderful classes and teachers that the Art Association has. Identity of a place is important, but so is opening our eyes to new ideas and opportunities that greatly enrich our lives.