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06/19/2017 Special > Special


[Insight] Art at the Tip of a Brush

History and culture of Korean calligraphy


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A white, prickling brush stained with black ink grinded on a stone embroider a hanji (traditional Korean paper made of mulberry trees). While writing is just an ordinary routine of a civilization, there can be found the art and soul.  Seoyae refers to Chinese calligraphy which dates back to when Korea appointed its official language as Chinese- Goryeo dynasty. Based on the artist’s character and skills, the written words gleam their specialty. Continued for centuries, Seoyae is again attracting the public attention for the humanities fulfillment.
South Korean calligrapher Hyun Byung-chan is demonstrating the art of Korean calligraphy. (Photo courtesy of YTN)

Retracing the course of Seoyae
The earliest pieces of Seoyae is found in many Buddhist Sutras of the Goryeo Dynasty. Even though there is documentation regarding the existence of seoyae in the Silla Dynasty, the actual work is not yet found. Seoyae is an expression of the artist’s aesthetic consciousness. The special point in the Korean calligraphy is that not only does Seoyae involve the beauty of the words, but also involves training the artist’s spirit. Goryeo was a devout Buddhist dynasty and thus developed a calm, concentrated Goryeo Font.
Then in the Joseon Dynasty, corrupted Buddhism was abandoned and in 1446, King Sejong invented the Korean language. Since then, diversity of characteristics, fonts, and styles of the Korean calligraphy was augmented.
Chusa font's characteristics are very harsh and sorrowful. (Photo courtesy of Goodsense Tistory)

The beginning was the Gojeon font, meaning traditional. Its peculiarity is that the time spent on writing took longer and the edge of each letter was sharp, but soft. Then during the 15 to 17th centuries of the warring state, the national calligraphy style changed to the Gungseo font, meaning the shape of an archer. It resembles the shape of an archer who needs to quickly shoot an arrow, while concentrating. This font developed in this era, because communication through epistle ought to be immediate but accurate. At the end of the Joseon Dynasty, a scholar of the Realist school and a calligrapher Kim Jeong-hui with his pen name Chusa, developed a daring but unique Chusa font. Kim used to be exiled for political reasons and his sorrow was developed into the Chusa font. It does not have a regular structure, and the touch of a brush is very harsh.
Modern Korean calligraphy
After the Japanese annexation of Korea and the Korean War, South Korea was not able to enjoy arts and prosperity. After the rapid economic development, South Korea suddenly began to pay a careful attention to traditional arts, and among them was seoyae. There are often two types of people who learn calligraphy- children and the modern adults.
The former is the case which their parents force them to learn the Chinese letters through interesting calligraphy. Because learning a language by playing with brush and ink intrigues children’s attention, their parents choose this way of education. In addition, the primary reason of teaching Chinese is because for centuries, Korea’s official language was Chinese letters and many classic literature and history books are written in Chinese.

On the other hand, the latter is the case which modern adults who lost the joy in their busy life try to find their hobbies through calligraphy. The new South Korean trend allowed the supply and demand of the calligraphy market prospered which in turn led to the easy and cheap access to it. With a set of seoyae pens and brushes with the calligraphy practicing books sold at book stores, anyone can enjoy expressing their aesthetic consciousness through writing arts.
Calligraphy practicing books are easily found at book stores. (Photo courtesy of Glecole)

Kim Ju-hyun
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