Pushing the boundaries of art: Wonaje Lee

Kodee Christensen

Assistant professor of graphic design Wonjae Lee arrived at Washburn University in 2017 and brought his expertise and knack for artistic revelation with him. 

“I studied electrical engineering [at University of Iowa] until I changed my major to art, specifically in design,” said Lee. “Now, I am doing both and it’s fantastic to be good at both. During my childhood, I liked making stuff. Back then, we had to choose one over another. But I was fortunate to study multiple disciplines while I was in college.”

Lee’s upbringing in Asian culture influenced his ability to pursue art in higher education. While his engineering pursuits were not his first choice, he has found a way to blend the two studies into a unique form of art.

“Every semester, I need to update myself on something. Either a more developed concept and theories or design techniques and technologies,” said Lee.

This drive to stay up to date on the latest advancements in art and technology has impacted Lee’s students in his classes to also stay updated.

“Photoshop is always changing, but Wonjae tries to keep us up to date,” said senior graphic design major Morgan Roberts. “He focuses a lot on the principles of graphic design. He’s very process oriented, which I think is very helpful in graphic design.”

Lee’s arrival at Washburn meant the advancement of art at the university in new ways, specifically his ability to merge different subjects with traditional art.

“It was an opportunity, because graphic design as a field was moving towards that cross discipline area,” said Lee. “There was a huge opportunity for me to start teaching these courses and teaching at this college. When they [Washburn] hired me, they were open to my suggestions and they already knew my experience. Most of the faculty, they wanted to have this type of learning curriculum in the art department, so it was just the right fit.”

In his classes, Lee tries to create an atmosphere of openness and creativity.

“I want to create works that reflect my teaching philosophy and techniques,” said Lee. “So I’m constantly working on my own work and exhibitions.”

One of Lee’s current projects is creating promotional material and designing medals for the first Korean and American Adaptive Sports Festival in Kansas City, which is a special olympics and paralympics event happening this summer.

“This is very historical because it is the first time we’re doing this event in America,” said Lee. “These teams will go on to Korea for the Korean paralympics. It’s a huge deal right now.”

As a word of advice, Lee encourages his students to be open to trying new things and stepping outside of their comfort zones. He says that each experience can add to their ability to create art.

“It’s not just about making art,” said Lee. “It’s about everything. Students need to be reading books, experiencing different things. They should challenge themselves to gain another skill set like sports or other areas of studies. Be an open person and be open minded, because there are a lot of critiques.”

Edited by Adam White, Jason Morrison