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'Understanding Korean Art: From the Prehistoric through the Modern Day'
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승인 2011.12.09  13:30:07
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“Understanding Korean Art: From the Prehistoric through the Modern Day” is one of a series of five textbooks put forth by the Korean Cultural Research Institute which was founded in 1958 by the Ewha Womans University. The series, Ewha’s Korea Studies Series for Globalization, was written with the purpose of promoting understanding and appreciation for Korean studies and culture around the globe and to create a better understanding of Korea in the modern world.

“Understanding Korean Art,” the fourth textbook in the series, focuses on all aspects of Korea art including painting, sculpture, dance, music, and other forms of Korean art that developed with a unique national style. This was influenced by the kinship-based societies noted throughout Korea’s history, as well as the various climatic influences of the peninsula that affected and helped shape these societies.

Divided into seven chronological chapters, the text takes the reader on a journey from prehistoric times where visual arts, predominantly sculpture, earthenware, and drawings carved into rock, served not only practical uses, but also influenced and were influenced by the primitive religious beliefs. Korean dance and music also originated in this time period playing an important part of prehistoric farming and harvesting rituals.

The text then takes us through the era of the Three Kingdoms and Unified Silla (BCE 57-CE 935) where tomb art and Buddhist art reflected the tastes of the dominant Korean aristocracy. During this period “Kiakmu,” a Buddhist mask dance, and “Cheoyongmu,” another mask dance, also reflected Buddhism’s influence and were developed as a performance for ceremonial prayers to a guardian god of the state. At this time, Korean music split into two distinct types that were played in the royal courts; “dangak,” which was influenced by music from the Chinese Tang dynasty and “hyangak,” Korean indigenous music.

Later, after the Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1910) dynasties, Korean art, dance, and music reflected Confucian and Taoist values as these religions gained prominence. Court dances and religious dances went their separate ways which lead to Korean folk dances and professional dances that were performed for large audiences. Similarly, music also split into two distinct types; “pungnyu,” music for the privileged middle class, and “minsokak” or “folk music,” by the lower class.

In modern times, Korean art, dance, and music reflects the influence from the West but also displays the struggle to remain uniquely Korean. As globalization grows and Korea continues to increase its importance in the global community, there has also been an increasing interest in Korean culture, especially Korean art. However, there are still relatively few foreign scholars who conduct academic research specifically in the area of Korean art. With limited research available in English, this text proves to be a useful tool in understanding the history and development of various Korean art forms. Complete with a detailed glossary of terms for each art form and supplemental CD containing graphics, music, video clips, and useful data, this text is highly recommended for those curious to learn more about Korean art forms and academics alike.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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