[KS] Negative evidence-rice images on Korean ceramics

Hyung I. Pai hyungpai at eastasian.ucsb.edu
Sat Apr 27 15:28:12 EDT 2002

Dear list,
I will answer this inquiry in three parts based on my opinion as an 
archaeologist: There are three issues involved-
1) who did the collecting of these objects-were they 
anthropologists/archaeologists or art historians: This question is crucial 
because the last two hundred years of avid excavations, collections and 
classification have determined what kinds of objects are now displayed in 
Ethnographic museums vs Fine Arts Museums.
2) The Criteria for collection_ Archaeologists and anthropologists were mainly 
interested in studying the past universal stages of the development of man 
throughout the world . As a result, pottery, bronzes, stone tools, weapons etc, 
and the interpretation of their designs were focussed on so-called "stage 
markers" -primitive vs. savagery, vs civilization. Hence, remains of 
agricultural tools, subsistence activities like shell mounds, or agricultural 
motifs were highly regarded as crucial research materials. And they is why such 
kinds of objects now belong to Ethnographic collections around the world. They 
were not interested in beautiful objects but ones that indicated so-
called "customs, lifestyles and technological indicators."
3) The Aesthetics of art collections- ceramics on the other hand were mostly 
collected by art historians, rich bourgesie collectors from Europe and America, 
and antiquities dealers whose looting throughout the world (still continues) 
focussed on co-called centers and remains and relics of gret civilizations. 
Their collections were mostly devoted to the aesthetics, age, and monetary 
value of the objects and monuments (if they came from ancient Egypt, Greece,or 
China etc.) that lent visibility to the museum and the prestige of the 
collections. That is why most of the ceramics, paintings, sculpture (all 
European criteria for arts and crafts) collected in arts museums do not have 
corresponding relations to anything that the anthropologists were interested in-
of course there was overlap and still is some overlap esp in Bronze age and 
Metallurgy periods that were from great ancient civilizations like Bronze Age 
Chinese bronzes for example.
3) Onggi- is an entirely different category since they were not valued as 
art/folk objects till they started disappearing-they were utilitarian purposes 
for Korean food storage and kimchee jars for centuries.
Most art and archaeological objects due to the nature of the preservations are 
from burial remains and so, burial items are rarely functional items but mostly 
religious and decorative. 
So in conclusion, we have to be careful about interpreting the negative 
evidence as some lapse in "life force" or some amorphous "historical/Choson " 
spirit"-the collections in museums now are all products of the last century of 
collectors and collections (Colonial Japanese collectors, Korean Chaebol, 
European museums , Christies, Sothebys, etc) whose tastes, deep pockets, and 
mutual competition have influenced what we now take for granted as the "Korean" 
cultural heritage."
preserved in museums, universities and art galleries.
Quoting Vladimir Tikhonov <vladimir.tikhonov at east.uio.no>:

> There is an accepted theory in Korean archeology that the picture on the 
> famous "Nonggyeongmun Ch'eongtonggi" ("A bronze vessel with 
> Agriculture-related design"; dated usually as bronze age artefact) 
> depicting a man (genitalia emphasized) with something resembling a hoe in 
> hands, is actually about either agriculture or some agriculture-related 
> ritual. You may view the object on National Museum's website.
> V. Tikhonov
> At 16:23 24.04.2002 -0700, you wrote:
> >Dear List Members,
> >is there anyone out there (best would be curators and art historians), who
> >has any idea why there seems to be a total ABSENCE of rice motifs on
> Korean
> >ceramics (incl. celadons, onggis, fine wares) of all(?) of Korea's
> historic
> >periods. Artists depict all kinds of things but never rice nor any
> >references to rice, rice paddies, or harvest celebrations. Of course,
> there
> >are countless idiomatic references to rice in Hangul with many indications
> >of the importance of rice in Korean life (and even death).
> >I do suspect a cultural taboo, perhaps because of the enormous "life
> force"
> >believed to be contained in rice, but haven't been able to figure out
> where
> >such a taboo would have to come from. Why this important omission, why the
> >taboo, why is there no indication through the literature or oral
> >traditions. Or is there?
> >Your comments and the passing on of the problem to pertinent sources will
> >be greatly appreciated.
> >Sincerely,
> >Mike Reinschmidt
> Vladimir Tikhonov,
> Department of East European and Oriental Studies,
> Faculty of Arts,
> University of Oslo,
> P.b. 1030, Blindern, 0315, Oslo, Norway.
> Fax: 47-22854140; Tel: 47-22857118
> ----------

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