[KS] Negative evidence-rice images on Korean ceramics
Hyung I. Pai
hyungpai at eastasian.ucsb.edu
Sat Apr 27 15:28:12 EDT 2002
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"
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
> >ceramics (incl. celadons, onggis, fine wares) of all(?) of Korea's
> >periods. Artists depict all kinds of things but never rice nor any
> >references to rice, rice paddies, or harvest celebrations. Of course,
> >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
> >believed to be contained in rice, but haven't been able to figure out
> >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.
> >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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