For those who don’t know Robert Yang ’15, rest assured that it is pretty obvious that he’s an artist from his mix-matching and color coordination alone.
Clad in a beige blazer, a striped t-shirt and leather ankle boots, Yang is the spitting image of trendiness; however, far from being presumptuous and withdrawn, as is sometimes the case with fashionable people, Yang’s bright, genuine smile is contagious.
After a moment of breezy nonchalance, Yang started talking about his intense interest in the visual arts. Currently enrolled in ”Aspects of Western Art II” and ”Drawing I,” he is already well on his way to taking the history/practice route to exploring architecture, which he admires for its concrete application to the real world. “I want to make art that can contribute to society, especially the people around me,” Yang said. Admitting that his initial fascination with the arts was sparked by Japanese anime like Naruto and Yu Yu Hakusho, he described how he would shut himself up in his own room and bring the characters to life, occasionally embarking upon complex role-play reenactments. Instead of abandoning his childhood passion as most of us do, Yang has decided to keep it up and develop his passion in Professor of Art Steven Levin’s drawing class this semester. His scrupulously drawn outlines reflect his perfectionist tendency as an artist; he also lingers after class to find ways to improve.
Yang shook his head at the mention of obsessive-compulsive perfectionism: “It’s the manifestation of a professional musician,” he said. Born into a family of musicians, Yang started playing music at the age of five: His mother is a pianist, his father a violist and his grandfather plays the erhu, a traditional Chinese string instrument. “Continuing to play throughout high school was really tough for me because of the impossible workload,” Yang said. After slaving away at homework until midnight, he would still have to practice for an hour before going to sleep. As a result, Yang had a falling-out with his cello. These days, however, it can be seen bouncing on the back of a J. Crew blazer in its chic shiny black case. During senior year, Yang was accepted to both Williams and the Cleveland Institute of Music, an independent conservatory in Ohio where he decided to spend his first year out of high school to hone his instrumental talents. “The decision of taking a year off [before Williams] was pretty obvious, given the opportunity to play with the newly-appointed principle cellist, Mark Koseer,” Yang said. “This would be the opportunity to see if music is something I could do for the rest of my life.”
Surprisingly, this experience made Yang rediscover the love of his life: Despite the sheer intensity of practicing at least six hours a day, he ended up enjoying both the rigor and reward of studying nothing but music. “You know what the best thing is,” Yang said, smiling: “That experience sort of laid the foundation and helped make playing at Williams even more enjoyable.” When swamped with new music and techniques to master, it is hard to notice the improvements. “But now everything is starting to pay off and sink in,” he said. Yang tries to devote one to two hours to playing each day. “It’s not really hard because it’s more of a coping mechanism to me, a way to simply forget myself and the world and just play the music,” Yang said.
Yang, who is currently playing in the Berkshire Symphony, the Chamber Ensemble and taking cello lessons, is also preparing an individual recital, entitled “From Russia, with Love,” to be performed on Saturday. Outside the domain of Bach, Mozart and Tchaikovsky, Yang is also renowned as a notorious Spotify user: He listens mostly to indie music, bossa nova and classical jazz. “I am open to all kinds of music, though [I’m] a diehard Radiohead and The Nationals fan,” Yang said. He also works as a DJ at WCFM, which he finds really gratifying: “You can’t imagine how great it was to have someone come up to me telling me how much they enjoyed the music I had chosen,” he said. When asked what he envisions himself doing with music after college, Yang shrugged. “Maybe I’ll go to graduate school. Maybe I’ll form a chamber music group. But I’ll definitely teach my grandchildren music,” he said.
As is often the case with student artists here, one talent is simply not enough. Yang is also the creator of the Williams Photography Journal, to which anyone can submit photos. “People here don’t say, ‘Let’s chill at the [Williams College Museum of Art] or the [Francine and Sterling Clark Art Institute],’ and that frustrates me because I don’t feel like paintings and sculptures are accessible to everyone. The visual arts at Williams are somehow underrepresented,” Yang said. That is why Yang wants people to appreciate art in a more direct and pleasurable way through photography. “It’s the art of the masses: Anyone can pick up a camera and capture instants that are precious to them,” he said. For aspiring amateur photographers, Yang says that it doesn’t take much but courage to inspire others.
Finally, I inquired about his taste in fashion. “Oh I just started getting into fashion three or four years ago,” he said. “I just want to present myself in a clean and pleasant way, not only to make a good impression on other people, but also to feel good about myself.” Without a doubt, beneath the perfectly curled hair and impeccably chosen outfit, Yang is a down-to-earth artist who relishes creating art for everyone.