Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Korean Painting Lesson

A one-time experiential class in Korean folk painting was offered at the Buddhist English Library, located at Anguk subway station, seconds walk from exit 6. According to the advertisement for the free class, up to 12 participants could attend. Unfortunately, only 4 people, and of course all female, registered. Very sad for the hosts who prepared a lot and had four assistants to augment the head painting teacher.

The teacher introduced a very famous 18th century folk painting to us - one of the most famous works of art by painter 신윤복 (born 1758), otherwise known by his artist or pen name Hyewon. His most famous piece is entitled "다노풍경", Dano for the spring celebration day and 풍경 meaning scenery; in short, the scenery of Dano. Dano is a traditional Korean holiday celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Korean lunar calendar. Traditionally on the day were special rites, singing and dancing, of course drinking, the playing of folk games like Korean traditional wrestling (씨름), and the presenting and eating of beautiful delicate foods symbolizing spring. To prepare for Dano was for the young ladies to wash their hair elaborately in iris-petal water to scent it and prepare it for the celebration. This hair-washing scene is part of the scene inside the women's court depicted in 신윤복's painting ... young women preparing themselves for Dano. We only painted a small portion of the scene, a court lady stepping on a traditional swing, but in the foreground of the original painting are young women gathered around a stream in the different stages of washing and scenting their hair.

This painting, although done in the 18th century, has been relatively well preserved and the colors, though somewhat faded over the march of decades, largely retained, which says a lot for the natural dyestuffs of the time as well as the hardiness of the natural paper products. "다노풍경" is a picture depicting the court and its ladies in the Joseon Dynasty. The original painting has been designated National Treasure No. 135.

Before we started painting, our teacher briefly introduced the famous painting to us and stressed how this painting depicted traditional court life. Therefore, by emulating the painting we would be participating in cultural knowledge advancement related to the Joseon Dynasty.

While we were painting, the four assistants constantly moved around the room to "advise" us on mixing colors properly. They insisted that we copy the color and design of the original as closely as possible. I've done a little research on why this copy technique is so important, and basically there are no copyright laws regarding old paintings and Korean art in general. Rather, to emulate exactly is to reach a higher realm of expertise and respect as a "great artist". Ok, I don't want to be a great artist. I made tons of color mistakes, but I wouldn't let anyone mix my colors. We had the basic pictures printed on the paper anyway, so what really could go wrong?

Of course a class, ceremony or celebration is NEVER complete without the closing ceremonial picture-shoot, so here we all are with our "original" paintings.

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