Jules Does

Jules Does K-Pop Academy: Week 5!

Posted on: October 21, 2014

All photos from the KCC – thank you!

The honourable students of the 6th K-Pop Academy. And me.

This week we had the exciting opportunity to learn about Korean art history, particularly the history of the visual arts of painting and pottery. The course for the day was split into two halves – first a lecture on Korean art (as well as introducing us to the basics of art history) followed by a trip to the British Museum’s Korea gallery. There was also a fun treasure hunt-type quiz, but you’ll have to wait to find out how I did!

Our lecturer for this afternoon was Dr Charlotte Horlyck, a lecturer in Korean Art History from SOAS.

Dr Horlyck and her attentive students.

Korean art, especially in its early stages, is *not* a monolithic thing. Art developed differently in each of the Three Kingdoms (and, of course, prior to that as well) in response to different materials, techniques and stimuli. Our lecture today focused primarily on art from the Koryo (918-1392 AD) and Joseon (1392-1897 AD)periods, both lengths of time centuries-long with relative political stability. In times of political stability it is arguably easier to make art because you can spend more time thinking and less time killing people. You heard it here first.

There are important differences between the two periods in terms of technology, of course, but also in terms of guiding philosophies. In Koryo, the main ideology was Buddhism, so many artefacts remaining from the period are ritual objects or devotional paintings/paintings of significant religious figures. By contrast, Confucianism ruled the day in the Joseon period, and emphasised scholarship as the most important aspect of life, particularly for the elite. Even today, school and learning have a huge importance for countries which once subscribed to Confucianist thought.

We also grappled with a few key questions of art history: how do we date an object in relation to others? Is complexity always an improvement? Who used the object in question? Was it for public or private use? Would the ordinary people have engaged with it at all? What is it made of? Are those goods rare or difficult to prepare in some way? How was the object received abroad, if at all? What is the object’s relationship to other similar (or different) objects? It was brilliant, like being back in undergrad lectures. Dr Horlyck got us to examine the question of technological/artistic development through a game where we had to put two sets of pictures in order – one set showed cars and the other showed handaxes. The cars were easy to arrange because 1) they’re relatively new technology and 2) we’ve been exposed to a wide range of images of cars through various media. The hand axes proved much more difficult. In the end our little group went with the fairly simple ‘complexity = development’ arrangement and were correct. Dr Horlyck did point out, though, that this timeline doesn’t tell you much about how long each style of object was in use; the simplest axe could have been in use for thousands of years before a small change in shape or style led to a rapid development in the technology.

Dr Horlyck talked us through some key aspects of Korean art, including celadon porcelain, which was popular both in Korea and abroad, and some key features of Korean painting. We looked at the work of Kim Hong-do (1745-1806), arguably the most famous Korean painter, whose work is interesting for its lack of single-point perspective. Figures are instead placed in a scene in relation to each other, not an external feature. He also painted ordinary people going about their lives, an act which was revolutionary given the fact that most artists were supported by the court and therefore were expected to paint mostly elite scenes like processions and so on.

‘Dancing Boy’ by Kim Hong-do

The painting above is a good example of how Kim set people in the context of one another, not necessarily in line with their background. It was also featured in the incredibly popular drama, You From Another Star, where it is given to the protagonist Do Min-Joon by an admirer in the epilogue to Episode 4. I wish I could have found a still of it hanging in his home, but it’ll have to wait.

We also examined contemporary Korean art, as well as the growing presence of Korean artists in international galleries and festivals. Dr Horlyck explained that this kind of cultural exportation amounted to a form of ‘soft power’, where a country can have influence over other cultures through art, food, literature, television, government etc, i.e. not by invasion or other displays of military might. Hallyu is definitely soft power at its most expert.

On our way.

After the lecture, we walked from the KCC to the British Museum (yes, I was wearing heels and yes, that was a mistake). Song PD filmed us on our way and asked us questions, which must have made for a weird sight for the people trying to go about their day on the Charing Cross Road. At one point, a group of us became detached from the others and got a little lost, but we all made it to the museum at the same time in the end.

Art Quiz of Glory!

Once we were there, we were given a fun quiz to do in the Korean Gallery. It was partly a treasure hunt and partly a quiz, as well as a test of our Hangul abilities. We had to identify false statements, fill in blanks on maps and in sentences, put things in order, spot odd-ones-out, and so on. The gallery itself is fairly small  but we were kept busy running from exhibit to exhibit in search of answers. Even in our rush to find answers and hand in our quizzes early, we had a great time looking at the beautiful works of art and peering inside the reconstructed scholar’s room, or sarangbang (literally ‘love room’, eh, eh).

A bit of post-quiz peace.

The resemblance is uncanny.

Ruby and Hye Rim marked our quizzes at lightning speed and announced the winners – Leilani, Melissa, Daniel, Hassan and… me! We each got beautiful little wallets or purses with an image of Korean ladies in traditional dress playing traditional instruments.

Quiz Winners!

After that, Ruby told us something very exciting about the class happening two weeks from now. We’ll be splitting into teams to promote the 9th Korean Film Festival, and the team that does the best will win tickets to see Donghae and Eunhyuk perform here in London! It was good that Ruby told us not to scream, or the gallery would have become unbearable! We were certainly all very excited and motivated to win.

In front of the sarangbang.

After the class we all went our separate ways, apart from those who stayed to take advantage of the *huge* number of Korean restaurants around the British Museum. This week’s homework is quite challenging, especially for someone without much artistic skill, so I might wind up arguing that a PowerPoint presentation is art… Watch this space!

Some of my fellow students with our beloved Song PD 🙂

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2 Responses to "Jules Does K-Pop Academy: Week 5!"

[…] the current exhibition at the KCC and write a review or to make a version of an artwork we’d seen on Saturday and give it some art historical background. As you may remember from previous homework, I am not […]

[…] 1910. The evidence for traditional styles of dress can be found in art, such as in the drawings of Kim Hong Do, but also in excavated tombs – Lee showed us a number of pictures of artefacts recovered from […]

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