Visual Artist Yowshien Kuo Shows How Physical Fitness Can Fuel Creativity
Creativity is one of those broad subjects that we tend to view in somewhat narrow terms. The word “creative,” when said aloud, likely evokes references to the arts: painters, musicians, writers and the like. Indeed, even here at Guided: St. Louis, that is without a doubt the primary focus of our coverage and conversation.
But the arts can actually be a somewhat convoluted and, excuse the pun, abstract manifestation of creativity. Arguably the sciences represent a more potent distillation of the creative process, which is to say the application of human ingenuity toward solving a problem. Some even believe that our ability for creative abstract expression is a facet of the analytical ability of the human mind.
The artistic fruits of Yowshien Kuo’s creativity are well documented. His work seems to scratch almost every visual arts itch: it’s wonderful to view from a design standpoint—utilizing elements of decorative arts from across many traditions, from political cartoons to western paintings, making sharp observations about contemporary American society while also remaining deeply personal. He has taught at the university level and is a member of the Monaco gallery collective on Cherokee Street. Some might even remember him as a fixture in the St. Louis experimental music scene.
One need look no further than Kuo’s Instagram feed to see the wit and humor that is so central to his work. But between the show announcements, videos from the studio, works in progress and quirky asides, there is a lot of footage from the gym—which, at first glance can seem a bit odd, somewhat shoehorned into an otherwise wholly aesthetic presence.
Kuo is aware of the apparent incongruousness of this part of his social media presence but doesn’t share the notion that it might be odd. “Why wouldn’t I share the main sort of driving factor that gives me a lot of strength to be doing my art … and then show people how they coexist.”
What high school has taught a lot of people is that athleticism and the arts do not go hand in hand. It’s a trope of television shows and movies about high school that those worlds don’t mix. If we’re being honest, these attitudes are often carried into the culture at large. But as wellness and self-care have come to take a prominent place in our culture and the excesses of rock ‘n roll, art and fashion are slowly replaced by yoga and veganism, more and more we are finding that physical well-being is not the antagonist of creativity, but maybe instead is a foundation upon which to live a creative life.
This is a philosophy that Kuo is happy to extoll the virtues of, even to the point that it lives alongside his artwork in the arena of his public persona.
“When I was in my 20s, I would to lie to people when I was going to the gym. I would tell them I was sleeping, because I was an aspiring artist and it was better to be sleeping or pretending to smoke than it was to be going to the gym.” Such is the separation that once existed, but Kuo has noticed this trend is changing. “I’m really enjoying this newer movement of creative people being focused on self-care, fitness and health.” And maybe the coexistence of those things shouldn’t be something of a novelty.
Common sense and science tell us that physical health corelates in myriad ways to emotional well-being, which likely impacts productivity in most things. For some reference, the Mayo Clinic asserts that “physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier, more relaxed and less anxious.” They also point out the benefits of exercise on sleep, energy levels, sex drive, staving off illness and even promotes it as a fun activity. Never mind the satisfaction that comes with a sense of accomplishment.
Like many of us, Kuo has found key parts of his life disrupted in the recent past. He can still go to his studio, provided he takes numerous precautions. He hasn’t been going to the gym, and his teaching schedule has undergone several adjustments, netting him more time at home. “A half hour or an hour extra is a really big deal … with that little bit of extra time to focus in on putting together information and spending an hour or two each day doing research.”
At the urging of friends—and with the extra time now available—Kuo has started to make workout guides that he offers to anyone who wants them. They utilize Kuo’s research for the last several years in physical health training and body composition. “My experience teaching naturally lends itself well to creating the guides to share,” he says. “I’m happy to do it, and it keeps me accountable to keep up with my own guides. It is mentally and physically rewarding for me.”
The workouts are accessible to everyone regardless of one’s fitness goals or experience. Many of the guides provide variations for less weight or different positions to increase or lessen the amount of resistance for each exercise. Most exercises assume little equipment availability as they are intended for home workouts; some even utilizing household items.
This is where the application of creativity really came to bear on the project. Kuo explains, “If you don’t have access to weight equipment, and you just have essentially your body weight and movement, how can we hit that mark? How many reps do I really need to get in?”
Each guide focuses on a different muscle group, which will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time with a trainer or done any sort of research into weight training. They also provide tips on form for safety and effectiveness. Kuo is diligently working to provide several guides for each muscle group. This is essential to the effectiveness of the workout. Kuo explains, “You cycle through so you’re never really doing the same thing week after week but you’re training those muscle groups still. That’s to stimulate muscle growth. People will get results a lot quicker that way. They’ll also feel good—they won’t feel like they’re just repeating something. Everything will feel a little bit fresh, a little bit like you’re exploring something different each time.”
Anyone interested in receiving Yowshien Kuo’s workout guides can contact him at email@example.com or follow his Instagram @Yowshien—which you really should do anyway. For the time being, the guides are free and arrive on more or less a weekly basis.
Furthermore, Kuo intends to continue releasing them beyond the moment of surreal tragedy we currently exist in. For anyone trying to best utilize their newfound free time, adding a fitness regimen is a good way to go. In doing so, you may find yourself less stressed and with new energy to put toward your own creative endeavors. Could there be a better time to exercise those physical and creative muscles?
Images courtesy of Yowshien Kuo.